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Former president Donald Trump speaks during a rally, on Oct. 16, in Adel, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall/The Associated Press

This Republican primary race has developed a surreal quality to it. The front-runner to become the party’s presidential nominee in 2024 has turned his nose up at debating his rivals, a ragtag bunch of B-listers that most Americans could not pick out of a police line-up. Donald Trump has such a huge lead in primary polls it seems pointless to even hold a vote.

And yet, it is hard not to get the impression that Americans are sleepwalking toward a second Trump presidency that would be far more damaging than the first one. Their ambivalence toward President Joe Biden, a vastly underappreciated leader caught in the trap of time, seems to have inured them to the consequences of another Trump term.

Mr. Trump has made no attempt to hide his appetite for revenge against anyone who gets in his way. That includes anyone who served in his administration and sought to rein in his impulsiveness. Mr. Trump intends to use the U.S. Justice Department as his personal revenge machine if he wins in 2024. He has already said he would appoint “a real special prosecutor to go after” Mr. Biden and his family.

Mr. Trump’s advisers have made no secret of his intention to deport millions of illegal immigrants, including those who have lived in the United States for decades. He would set up detention camps for undocumented residents. “Trump will unleash the vast arsenal of federal powers to implement the most spectacular migration crackdown,” Trump acolyte Stephen Miller told The New York Times. “The immigration legal activists won’t know what’s happening.”

The language Mr. Trump has been using of late has been even uglier and scarier than usual, even for him. “We will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” he told a recent rally in New Hampshire. “The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within.” Last month, he said that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”

Mr. Biden said that, in both instances, Mr. Trump’s remarks echoed “language you heard in Nazi Germany in the ‘30s.” It is not clear that enough Americans, most of whom seem to know or care little about what happened in Europe 90 years ago, will grasp the reference.

Biden campaign officials dismiss recent polls showing Mr. Trump leading their candidate in critical battleground states as unreliable barometers of where voters are at. The election is still a year away, and a year is a lifetime in politics. Faced with the prospect of a second Trump presidency, they insist, the Democratic base will turn out in droves next year to mark their ballot for Mr. Biden. Most independent voters will join them.

Don’t bet on it.

Doug Saunders: Fear of a Trump planet: The world is watching the American voter

Encouraging results for Democrats in last week’s off-year elections in a handful of U.S. states should not be seen as a harbinger of things to come. It is true that, since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, Democrats have come out on top wherever abortion has been on the ballot at the state level. But the issue is likely to figure far less prominently in the 2024 presidential election. By returning the issue of abortion access to states to decide, the court may have helped defuse the debate nationally.

So time is running out to stop the Trump train from barrelling once again into the White House. The surest way to prevent that from happening would be for Republicans to choose someone else as their 2024 nominee. But with barely eight weeks before the Iowa caucuses, there are still too many non-Trump candidates in the race for that to happen.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s move to end his campaign should help his state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, in her bid to pass Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as Mr. Trump’s main rival. But with the South Carolina primary not scheduled until late February, she would first need to make a strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire to remain in the race until then.

She does have some momentum, not to mention her five-inch heels, on her side. Her performance in last week’s GOP primary debate was miles above the competition. Only she succeeded in putting a too-smug Vivek Ramaswamy in his place.

He blasted Ms. Haley for criticizing his use of TikTok, which has been banned on U.S.-government devices, by pointing out that her own daughter uses the Chinese video-sharing application. ”You’re just scum,” Ms. Haley shrugged, after telling Mr. Ramaswamy to “leave my daughter out of your voice.”

Alas, Ms. Haley may need a Christmas miracle to become an A-lister in time for Iowa.

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