I was thinking about how the Republican Party has a major internal battle brewing between Trump and DeSantis. The GOP establishment knows that Trump and Trumpism is a drag on the party and the last election demonstrated that Trump lunatics are likely to lose. Party leaders and major conservative media have been expressing their desire to move past Trump and eyeing Ron DeSantis as their Savior. Of course, DeSantis sees himself as God’s anointed one; he had a commercial during his campaign showing himself as God’s Creation on the Eighth Day.

So in my imagination, I see an epic battle brewing. Trump will not go easily. His ego won’t allow it.

My hope is that he will fight DeSantis in the primaries, and if he loses, he will launch his own third party, to punish the Republicans who abandoned him. He has his fanatical base, and they will not easily transfer their affection to another candidate, even one who is more far-right than Trump.

So my fantasy scenario is that the 2024 elections will feature a Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate Ron DeSantis, and Donald Trump of the Patriot Party.

Having thought this through, I was delighted to discover that Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times was thinking along the same lines. He wrote:

The idea that Republican elites could simply swap Trump for another candidate without incurring any serious damage rests on two assumptions: First, that Trump’s supporters are more committed to the Republican Party than they are to him, and second, that Trump himself will give up the fight if he isn’t able to win the party’s nomination.

I think these assumptions show a fundamental misunderstanding of the world Republican elites brought into being when they finally bent the knee to Trump in the summer and fall of 2016. Trump isn’t simply a popular (with Republicans) politician with an unusually enthusiastic group of supporters. No, he leads a cult of personality, in which he is an almost messianic figure, practically sent by God himself to purge the United States of liberals (and other assorted enemies) and restore the nation to greatness. He is practically worshiped by a large and politically influential group of Americans, who describe him as “anointed.”

It is one thing for Republican elites to try to break a political fandom. It is another thing entirely to try to break the influence of a man whose strongest, most devoted supporters were willing to sack the Capitol or sacrifice their lives in an attack on an F.B.I. office. Some Trump supporters will leave the fold for an alternative like DeSantis, but there will be a hard-core group who came to the Republican Party for Trump, and won’t settle for another candidate.

This gets to the second assumption: the idea that Trump would go quietly if he lost the nomination to DeSantis or another rival. Donald Trump might have been a Republican president, but he isn’t really a Republican. What I mean is that he shows no particular commitment to the fortunes of the party as an institution. His relationship to the Republican Party is purely instrumental. He also cannot admit defeat, as you may have noticed.

There is a real chance that Trump, if he loses the nomination, decides to run for president anyway. And if he pulls any fraction of his supporters away from the Republican Party, he would play the spoiler, no matter who the party tried to elevate against him. Republican elites might be done with Trump, but Trump is not done with the Republican Party.