Republican Presidential Hopefuls Whisper They'll Run Against Trump-- But Most Are Fooling Themselves

Liz Cheney's Not Afraid Of Him Though

"Hostage" by Nancy Ohanian

Republican politicians may be evil the ones who eventually get to the Senate, are not stupid (other than a small handful like Tommy Tuberville). They know very well, for example, that anyone not named Donald J. Trump who runs against Biden or Kamala is going to be the 47th president of the United States. So almost every Republican senator is thinking about his or her chances. It's not just DeSantis and Pence who are in the 2024 sweepstakes. In fact, yesterday, Washington Post reporters Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Isaac Stanley-Becker wrote that "With months to go before the midterm elections, the shadow campaign for the 2024 Republican nomination is well underway, with at least 15 potential candidates traveling the country, drawing up plans, huddling with donors or testing out messages at various levels of preparation. The quadrennial circus-- described by more than 20 people with direct knowledge who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private machinations-- has kicked into gear despite the public hints from Trump that he too plans to join the scrum 'a third time.'"

The most recent polling of Republican primary voters-- last week by Morning Consult-- isn't even close:

  • Trump- 51%

  • DeSantis- 18%

  • Pence- 12%

  • Nikki Haley- 4%

  • Ted Cruz- 3%

  • Mitt Romney- 3%

  • Tim Scott- 1%

  • Mike Pompeo- 1%

  • Liz Cheney- 1%

  • Chris Christie 1%

  • Marco Rubio- 1%

Polling at zero percent: Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Kristie Noem, Larry Hogan, Rick Scott.

Pence, DeSantis, closet case Tom Cotton, Tim Scott, Rick Scott (4 who, according to polling last week, would lose his Senate seat to Trump JR if he decided to take him on!), Pompeo, Chris Christie... who's going to say they're running whether Trump does or not? It surely won't be Trumpanzee, Jr, the only candidate in history less prepared to be president than his father. But the fact is that the 4 reporters interviewed over a dozen GOP operatives and the consensus is that Trump "is not clearing the field, and a range of candidates plan to take him on from different angles... Some candidates and their teams have made clear that they plan to campaign on moving the party beyond Trump, who continues to dominate early polling, while the vast majority are simply plodding forward without addressing the Trump question publicly and in some cases continuing to praise him. They have been encouraged by growing concern among deep-pocketed Republican donors that another Trump run-- especially an announcement before the midterms-- would help Democrats."

At least six senators have made appearances in Iowa or New Hampshire already, joining former Trump advisers and appointees like Pence, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and former ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. Nine potential candidates, including former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, have spoken at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, laying out their vision for the future of the party, with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), a prominent Trump critic with a national profile, scheduled to speak there on June 29. Pompeo in particular has been aggressive at working donors and operatives, asking many what he needs to do to win the nomination [and going on a crash diet to lose 90 pounds]. Pompeo has told others he would run against Trump, though he has not made a final decision, people who have spoken to him say. [Pompeo doesn't have the guts to go up against Trump and if he did, Trump would drive him out of the race is less time than it took to lose that first extra chin.]
...Trump and his allies have begun preparing for an onslaught of competition, as several of Trump’s closest advisers continue to urge him not to announce a campaign before the midterm elections, since they fear it would help Democratic efforts to frame Senate and congressional campaigns around the divisive former president.
“I would be very surprised if they run,” Trump said in an interview earlier this year. But he has begun asking advisers how he should attack some of his former Cabinet members and allies, as well as candidates he previously endorsed. DeSantis poses particular problems, two advisers said, because he has gained such favor with Trump’s base.
Internal polling by Club for Growth and other private polls show Trump easily winning primaries at the moment in many early states, though such polls are historically a poor predictor of the outcome two years out.
...In Iowa, which is expected to host the first Republican caucus in 2024, political power brokers like Bob Vander Plaats, the president of the Family Leader, a Christian conservative group, has been telling people that even if Trump runs there is a good chance of a contested campaign.
“If you come at Trump from the left-- say a Mitt Romney approach-- I don’t think that would ever work,” he said. “If you came at Trump from the right-- more like a Pence or a Pompeo or a Ted Cruz or a DeSantis-- then I think people would be willing to listen.”
...In addition to the growing candidate competition, Trump is facing declining influence among the Republican high-dollar donor community who supported his 2020 campaign, as many fear the risks of another Trump candidacy, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions. In conversations with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and others, some of the party’s top donors have suggested the party needs to move on, according to the people.
“Republicans think he is declining in relevance and they want someone else,” said one adviser close to major Republican donors. “But people feel like they have to appease him. We are in the appeasement phase.”
Some activists have complained privately that he won’t talk as much about inflation, gas prices and other topics that they view as the strongest lines of attack against Biden. Christie, who is eyeing a run, said people are increasingly talking about issues other than Trump’s preferred topic: his false claims of a stolen 2020 election.
“As I travel around the country campaigning for other Republican candidates, there is more and more doubt and disinterest regarding the president’s claims the 2020 election was stolen. They care about the issues affecting them,” Christie said in an interview.
Pence views South Carolina as key to his campaign, and has repeatedly traveled to meet with donors and operatives in the state. He also has met with some of the party’s richest donors and flew to Israel on megadonor Miriam Adelson’s jet. Allies are eyeing a spring 2023 announcement.
...[S]ome donors and even allies question whether Pence-- who refused Trump’s demands to attempt to overturn the 2020 election-- can gain traction against his former boss, and he has privately and publicly shown little desire to attack Trump.
DeSantis has been quietly building his fundraising networks while grabbing national headlines for his challenges to the Biden administration and for his focus on culture war issues. Without mentioning Trump, he has told donors, “No one’s nomination is inevitable,” according to a person to whom his comments have been relayed.
Beating Trump’s 2020 margin of three percentage points in Florida has become a key campaign goal, according to three people familiar with the conversations. They said DeSantis’s wife, Casey, a former television host and among a small circle of confidants, wants him to run for president. The couple believes that the governor’s skills are uniquely matched to the current political climate, and are wary of waiting six years, by which time the tides may have shifted. DeSantis has not indicated if he would defer a campaign if Trump runs.
...Behind the scenes, DeSantis and his team think they’ve overtaken Trump with the party’s major donors, according to an ally in touch with the governor. A former aide said DeSantis has spoken about wanting to expand his dominance in that realm, including by getting a contribution from Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor who backed Trump in 2016 and has put nearly $30 million behind a pair of Republican Senate candidates this year. The two have spoken, according to two people familiar with their interactions.
...Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former homeland security undersecretary, has been among the most diligent potential candidates, planning a trip to New Hampshire, appearing repeatedly on Sunday news talk shows and recently founding a nonprofit, America Strong and Free, to pay staff and fund his policy efforts. He said last month at a Wall Street Journal event that the GOP needs to de-link from Trump and “stay away from the culture of personality.”
“There are going to be very few people standing on the stage that have the breadth of national security experience that he has,” said one Arkansas Republican operative who has tracked Hutchinson’s activities. “He is a party guy, he spoke at the convention in 2016. He is also the first to say it is time to move on.”
Hogan and Christie are also aiming to test the party’s appetite for moving on from Trump, as they have both become frequent critics of his behavior. A Post-ABC News poll released in May found that 6 in 10 Republican and Republican-leaning voters said party leaders should follow Trump’s leadership, compared with 34 percent who wanted to take the party in a different direction.