As he considers another White House race, polls show that former President Donald Trump is the most popular figure in the Republican Party. But it wasn’t always that way.
Competing at one stage against a dozen rivals for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, Trump won nearly a third of the vote in the primary states. He even lost to the Iowa Cox, which started the nomination process.
But he was nevertheless able to win because those in the party who opposed his divisive politics brand could never unite around a single opponent to deal with him. And with Trump considering another White House bid this summer, the same dynamics could repeat itself.
With a growing list of candidates preparing for their own presidential election, even a Trump reduced by two impeachments and increased legal vulnerability could lead to a broken, multi-candidate holding a commanding position in the GOP primary.
Republican strategist Mike Duheim said, “I’m afraid it could end in the same way as 2016, which basically everyone thought everyone else should come out with,” said Republican strategist Mike Duheim, who suggested campaigning for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that year. Gave 6 “I think every big candidate has realized that one by one he will have better shots against Trump. But of course everyone thought he or she should take that shot and no one got out of the way. … and then it’s too late. “
A growing list of potential contenders is raising concerns about increasingly shameless action, high-profile lectures, running ads, meeting with donors, and making repeated visits to early voting states.
That party now has more than a dozen potential candidates, including former Trump vice president Mike Pence, his former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and Sensei Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Rick Scott and Tim Scott who could follow the former president’s policy. People like Anti-Trump Lane, Rep. Liz Cheney and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan are raising their profiles.
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron Descentis is increasingly seen as Trump’s successor, even by the former president’s most loyal supporters, and Trump’s allies see him as his strongest potential rival.
While some, such as former South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley, have said they would not challenge Trump if he ran ahead, others, like Christie’s, seem to be shooting for the fight even if they seem to be the longest-running contestants.
“It simply came to our notice then. I probably won’t make a decision until the end of the year, ”Christie said in a recent interview.
The former governor and 2016 candidate has called on the party to move forward from his ongoing obsession with Trump and the 2020 election.
“For me, this party needs to move in a new direction from the point of view of personality and continue to have someone who can bring strong leadership, strong leadership that the country needs, but nothing else. The drama that goes with it, “he said.” I hear the same thing from donors that I hear from voters – they’re very concerned that we can’t keep ourselves in 2024. Nothing but the welfare of the country. ”
Pompeo, who has a busy travel schedule and plans to return to Iowa this summer, said in a recent interview that he is spending time reading and listening to former President Ronald Reagan’s speeches as he prepares for a possible race.
“We’re getting ready to fight,” he said in an interview last month when he spoke to evangelical Christians at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee.
He said he and his wife would sit down after the midterm elections and “think of our way through it, pray our way through it and decide where it would be best to serve. It could again present themselves for the elected office. We have a different path.” We can choose. But we will not move away from these things that I have been working on for 30 years. They are very important. “
In the meantime, he has made a potential lane out in the same mold as Trump.
“He was a disruptor that was most needed in 2016, no doubt,” Pompeo said. And now the job is to accept those compromises, sets of policies and protect them and build on them. And it is going to be. Work hard to do it, true perseverance and character leaders to do it. “
The increasingly open discussion comes when Trump faces a cascade of growing legal troubles.
The congressional committee investigating the January 6 deadly uprising has released increasingly damaging information about the last weeks in Trump’s office, when the judiciary began its own extensive investigation. In Georgia, prosecutors investigating Trump’s possible illegal interference in the state’s 2020 election last week stepped up their efforts by subpoenaing members of Trump’s inner circle. And in New York, Trump, his son-in-law and his daughter Ivanka have agreed to answer questions under oath next week in a civic investigation into his business practice by the Attorney General of New York.
Mick Mulvani, a former South Carolina congressman who served as Trump’s acting White House chief of staff, said the move suggested that potential candidates “could see an inauguration two months ago where no one was.”
“Trump fatigue can be a real thing,” he said, as voters ask themselves if they could vote for another candidate if they “get the same policy without all the luggage.”
At the same time, Trump has seen some of the primary candidates he supports falter. Those who won, including Ohio GOP Senate nominee JD Vance and Pennsylvania GOP Senate nominee Mehmet Oz, did so with nearly 30% of the vote, meaning two-thirds of the party’s voters went against Trump’s choice.
“I don’t think anyone will underestimate Trump. There’s a reason he’s the most preferred in every single Republican primary, “said GOP strategist Alex Conant.” That said, I think there’s a recognition that many Republican voters are looking to the future and ready for what happens next. “
How much remains an open question. During a trip to Iowa this week, Arkansas Sen. Cotton refused to weigh in on Trump’s position. But he said he “hopes to be an effective national leader, not just for my party, but for the American people, my role in the Senate and whatever role I can play in the future.”
Still, he argued, candidates should inherit Trump.
“I know that Donald Trump is very popular among our voters who appreciate his four years of success in a very hostile environment. They don’t want Republicans who are fighting that legacy, because they see that legacy as a great success, ”he said Thursday in Cambridge, Iowa.
Trump, meanwhile, is moving forward with his own case.
On Friday night, he campaigned in Las Vegas with his pick, Adam Laxalt, for the Nevada Senate. And on Saturday night, he will hold a rally in Anchorage, Alaska, to campaign with Republican Kelly Shivakar, whom he has backed in his race against U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and others, including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who is now running for Congress.
Connaught said it was understandable for candidates to continue testing water for the time being.
“A lot of potential candidates are realizing that no matter what Trump does, 2024 could be their last best chance,” he said. “There are very weak Democrats in the White House, Republicans seem to be winning, and if it’s not Trump, they’re basically sidelined for the next 10 years.”
Nevertheless, Connaught, who served as communications director for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidency, cited Mills.
“It seems increasingly clear that there are a lot of people running for president. And when I think there’s an appetite for something different, Trump’s alternative needs to be to rally around one candidate, ”he said. “It never happened in 2016. And it may not happen in 2024.”
__ New York Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and Tom Beaumont of Iowa des Moines contributed to this report.