Two major political events are happening in Georgia this week. The first, and far less well known, is a conference called The Gathering, hosted by conservative radio host Erick Erickson. Peach Pundit is onsite and will be covering the festivities. This is about as traditional of a GOP event as it gets. It’s being cosponsored by Hardworking Americans, the political action committee founded by Brian Kemp after the 2022 election cycle, and Kemp is on the speaking schedule. Other invitees include almost all the announced 2024 Republican presidential candidates, along with other high-profile GOP stars like Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Georgia politicos including Rep. Rich McCormick and former Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
By far the most notable name left off that list is former President and current GOP primary frontrunner Donald J. Trump. As everyone reading this column certainly knows, he’s at the center of the other major political event going on right now, that being his indictment by Fulton County on multiple counts related to trying to illegally change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump’s exclusion from the first event isn’t new; he was first disinvited from the Gathering in 2015 after insulting former Fox News host Megyn Kelly following her moderation of the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 election. It’s unlikely he would have shown up even with an invitation. He’s already declined to participate in the first GOP debate of the 2024 cycle next week, instead opting for an interview with Tucker Carlson that will stream at the same time.
It’s not surprising that someone facing four separate indictments by two states and the federal government, covering nearly 100 felony counts, would be skipping a political event. It’s not even totally unprecedented for someone facing criminal charges to run for President – Eugene V. Debs ran while incarcerated on federal charges in Atlanta in 1920, and Lyndon LaRouche later did so while serving time for a fraud conviction.
But Debs only secured about 3.5% of the vote on the Socialist ticket, in a time when that particular platform hadn’t developed the same track record of global failure it holds in 2023. LaRouche won a tiny fraction of a percent of the national vote as the candidate for a party no one’s ever heard of. Neither ever had any likelihood of securing a major party nomination, let alone winning the presidency itself.
Trump, on the other hand, currently leads GOP primary polls by very substantial margins. If the primary were held today, he’d almost certainly win. As the nominee of a major political party, he would have a substantial chance of being reelected President, even if he’s in court or actually serving a sentence at the time.
Let’s be direct here: this is crazy. Even taking Trump at his word, which is that he genuinely believes the election was stolen despite virtually everyone around him showing him the evidence that it wasn’t, we’d still be talking about electing someone with such a feeble grasp of reality that he can’t or won’t accept his own people telling him the truth. This is not a characteristic of anyone we’d want making decisions about deploying troops or even balancing the budget.
And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know he doesn’t really believe that. These are just things he says to make his supporters angry at “them”, whoever “them” is on any given day – Biden, the left, “RINOs”, the deep state, or anyone else against whom he has a real or perceived grievance. Nothing builds support like having a common enemy, even if you have to make one up. Fundraising off of anger instead of principles is even better: Trump has raised tens of millions of dollars that he’s spending on his own legal defenses rather than getting himself or any other Republicans elected. State and county parties are following suit, which is terrific for the beneficiaries of these donations but won’t be worth one single vote on Election Day.
None of this has the first thing to do with whether anyone “likes” or “hates” Trump, or with his performance during his term in office. He hasn’t been indicted for any actions he took in furtherance of the office of the Presidency or for being insufficiently nice to anyone. It’s entirely possible to believe Trump was the greatest President since Reagan, or even before, and still understand the fact that failing to accept the results of the last election and diverting huge sums of party and donor money to his personal use make him a uniquely poor choice as a candidate in the present day.
The theme of the Gathering this year is “Forward: Which Way”. In normal times, this title would just be an anodyne reflection of the fact that numerous GOP candidates are making their cases for the nomination to the event attendees. But it takes on a more serious tone this year. The first way is that chosen by the participants of the Gathering – listening to the perspectives of different candidates and making an honest evaluation of who they believe is best suited to lead our country for the next four years.
The other choice is the Trump way: endless grievances and appeals for cash, with actual policy as an afterthought if it’s even considered at all.