His campaign for president, which he announced in November, was lackluster—lack of energy, lack of a fresh or coherent message, lack of support from top officials. He has been roundly criticized for saddling the party with weak candidates in the midterm elections, likely costing the GOP control of the Senate and some key governorships. Some leaders have long seen him as a loser. What’s different now is that some, including former House speaker Paul D. Ryan, say it out loud.
This nomination contest unfolds in stark contrast to the 2016 race, particularly in the slow pace of activity. Although Trump waited until June 2015 to announce himself as president in the 2016 election, at this point eight years ago the GOP contest was underway. Candidates had appeared at a forum in Iowa, many competing for staffers, endorsements, pledges of money and media attention.
This year, Trump is the only announced candidate. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is drawing strong interest from donors and many mainstream Republicans after a major re-election victory. Other Republicans are looking at running but are in no rush to get in the race.
Eight years ago, the 2016 race started as an apparent free-for-all with a huge field of well-experienced candidates. Today, the 2024 nomination campaign looks like a contest dominated by Trump and DeSantis. If there’s an analogy, it could be the 2008 Democratic race, where competition between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton choked out other qualified candidates.
Trump is weaker than he ever was; DeSantis has not been tested nationally. That gives other prospective candidates hope that there will be a vacancy for someone else.
Those others will count on stumbling blocks from Trump and DeSantis. Without it, they could struggle to find enough oxygen to sustain themselves long enough to prove themselves viable contenders.
The main problem is that Trump could still dominate a divided field of challengers, piling up delegates under winner-takes-all rules with only a multiple of the vote — as he did in 2016. He won the nomination even though a majority of the Republican primary voters supported others.
Republican strategists who oppose Trump as their nominee acknowledge that a large and divided field is the former president’s best friend as he attempts a comeback, but they aren’t sure there will be a way to unite around a single rival. Some polls now show DeSantis ahead of Trump in a head-to-head contest should it quickly transition to a two-person race, but that’s before any campaign.
After a slow start, Trump gets on the trail and the GOP 2024 campaign season begins
The state of play in the early states highlights Trump’s challenges. The Washington Post reported on Jan. 22 that the former president is struggling to win approval from elected officials and other prominent Republicans in South Carolina, a state where he once enjoyed strong support after winning the overcrowded 2016 primary with 33 percent of the vote. the votes.
Trump still has the support of Senator Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.), who famously said he was done with Trump after the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. “Count me out,” Graham said, quickly scrambling back into the Trump camp. Trump also has the support of South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, who was elevated to his current position when Trump appointed the then-governor. Nikki Haley at the start of his presidency as US Ambassador to the United Nations.
Haley appears to be on the verge of announcing her own candidacy for president, after awkwardly pondering whether she would ever challenge her former boss. She’s putting together a campaign team and recently told Fox News, “I’ve never lost a race.”
The state’s other senator, Sen. Tim Scott (R), is actively weighing a candidacy, one that would likely have as its core message a contrast to the harshness of Trump’s years in office and DeSantis’ culture war focus.
In New Hampshire, Trump’s action Saturday came just days after a University of New Hampshire poll showed DeSantis the majority favorite among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. In the new poll, 42 percent say they favor DeSantis and 30 percent Trump. The trendline for Trump has been steadily declining since the summer of 2021, when he was favored by 47 percent. DeSantis was also the second choice of 30 percent of New Hampshire Republicans, to Trump’s 14 percent.
Trump’s 2016 win in New Hampshire after finishing second in Iowa (he claimed the election was stolen by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas) provided the springboard that, with a win in South Carolina, put him on the path to the nomination put. Today, a majority of Granite State Republicans say they hope he doesn’t even run — and a larger majority say they hope DeSantis does.
“There is a growing desire among people, even those who have been with him in the past, to see who else is out there,” said Jim Merrill, a Republican strategist in the state.
Iowa could present its own challenges for Trump. Evangelical Christians have played an important role in previous primaries. Before 2020, the three previous GOP caucus winners – Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, in 2008; Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania, in 2012; and Cruz in 2016 — had deep ties to Christian conservatives.
As president, Trump received significant support from the evangelical community, largely because of his nomination of three Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn the law. Roe against Wade. It is not clear today whether he can count on such conservative voters in next year’s caucus vote.
Leading Iowa elected and former elected officials remain neutral for now. That number includes some who have been Trump supporters. Around the time of his November announcement, Trump’s team pressured elected officials to support him, unsuccessfully, according to a Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment freely.
Besides Trump and DeSantis, the list of possible candidates is long and includes Mike Pence, who under normal circumstances would have a potentially strong reputation as a former vice president. His ties to the evangelical community would give him a foundation on which to build support. But as a former vice president who has broken with the former president, his prospects seem much more challenging.
There are other Republicans who will try to find a way to appeal to Trump loyalists, as well as those hungry to move on from the Trump era. Among them is Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state, who has hinted at a possible candidacy while promoting a new prisoner-less book this month. The future field also includes never-Trumpers such as Larry Hogan, the former governor of Maryland, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.
DeSantis’ schedule is affected by Florida’s legislative session, which will not end until later in the spring. DeSantis, like George W. Bush in 1999, will use the session as an excuse to delay any formal announcement and to emphasize his government priorities and compile a record that he can use to present a contrast to Trump, who did nothing. content since leaving the Presidency.
But he won’t be spending all his time in Florida. His forthcoming book, “The Courage to Be Free,” is due out at the end of February. He’ll be doing a promotional tour that will probably take him to some of the early states in March. A campaign announcement, if any, is not until early summer when he will experience the difference between running for governor in a major state and running for president.
Christian leaders are beginning to break with Trump — in view of DeSantis
There is one other aspect of the Republican race that could get the party into trouble, though that will come after what could be a blood-curdling campaign for the nomination. That is the prospect of someone other than Trump winning the nomination and the question of how the former president will react. He has shown himself to be a sore loser, and few think he would leave quietly. Can anyone imagine Trump with his arms raised holding hands with the person who defeated him on stage at the national convention in the summer of 2024?
Despite all the potential problems Trump faces, President Biden’s political allies and some leading Republicans still see him as the most likely Republican nominee in 2024 and a formidable general election candidate. His influence on the Republican Party remains significant; his main supporters remain loyal.
But the fascination and excitement that greeted him in the summer of 2015 has waned. Whether anyone can take advantage of that is the biggest question about the Republican race.