Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president. Some rival campaigns may yet persist, and it is of course true that the overwhelming majority of the delegates for this summer’s Republican National Convention have yet to be allotted.

But after this week’s Iowa caucuses, in which the 45th president delivered a crushing blow to both runner-up Gov. Ron DeSantis and third-place finisher former Gov. Nikki Haley, there can be no serious doubt: The GOP is still Donald Trump’s party, and he will be the party’s nominee for the third straight presidential election.

I do not arrive at that conclusion lightly. I am a Floridian who moved to the Sunshine State during the COVID-19 pandemic, as so many others did, in no small part due to Gov. DeSantis’ exceptional leadership and statesmanship. I am deeply grateful for his stewardship of our great state, which has moved from purple to solid-red under his watch.

Accordingly, this column has been supportive of his presidential aspirations, even as his campaign has struggled to gain traction.

But as the Florida legislative session swings into high gear and as the DeSantis campaign grapples with a 30-point blowout in Iowa after betting it all on a highly touted grassroots mobilization effort, the “full Grassley” visiting of all 99 Iowa counties, and endorsements from popular Hawkeye State leaders such as Bob Vander Plaats and Gov. Kim Reynolds, it is time to face reality.

There is no shame in losing a primary to a former president who remains highly popular within his party. And there is also no dignity in needlessly prolonging the inevitable when there is no viable path to victory. That is now the case for DeSantis; following Iowa, there is simply no path to victory.

And the longer DeSantis stays in, especially given the polls showing him in a distant third in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, the more damage he does to his already weakened standing in Tallahassee — and the less likely he is to lead Florida through another dynamic legislative session.

It is time for Ron to come home. Doing so swiftly is not merely in the best interest of the Republican Party, as it revs up for an expensive general election matchup against an incumbent president; it is also in the best interest of Ron DeSantis himself. DeSantis is a smart man and a serious leader who may yet be president one day.

Surely, he sees the writing on the wall, his rhetoric this week notwithstanding. No baseball fan likes seeing a washed-up ex-all-star hang up the spikes too late, and no political junkie likes seeing a once-formidable presidential candidate endure multiple distant third-place finishes, as the polling now suggests will be the case for DeSantis in the Granite and Palmetto States.

Nikki Haley should, of course, also drop out. She is going to lose in New Hampshire, and she will get crushed in the upcoming primary in her home state. But as much as Haley’s own brand of uninspiring, corporatist Republicanism may represent an unwelcome return to the GOP’s forgettable Bush-era yesteryear, she is at least polling high enough in New Hampshire where it is not delusional for her to remain in the race through Tuesday’s primary there.

The same cannot be said for DeSantis, who polls very poorly in New Hampshire. (DeSantis seems to now be focusing on South Carolina, where he is not faring much better in the sparse recent polling.)

Haley is a paradigmatic spiritual “BoomerCon” (boomer conservative) and doctrinaire neoconservative who, like the Bourbons of old, has “learned nothing and forgotten nothing” from the GOP’s post-2016 course-correcting turn toward nationalism and realism. She is the wrong choice, at the wrong time, to steer the Republican Party — let alone the United States itself — through this era of ascendant populism and de-globalization.

Nikki Haley must be defeated in this primary. Most cross-tab polling this cycle shows that the leading second choice pick for those who would ideally like DeSantis, this columnist very much included, is not Haley — it is Trump. If that is the case, then DeSantis should strongly consider dropping out even before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, so as to maximize Trump’s chances of delivering a crushing, campaign-ending defeat to Haley.

There is no honor in denying the undeniable. Donald Trump is going to be the G OP presidential nominee. I look forward to voting for him against Joe Biden. I hope my fellow conservatives all follow suit.

Josh Hammer on January 20, 2024

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