Trump's 2024 plans have frozen the field for other likely Republican candidates. Breaking away from him could risk an early campaign-sinking rage tweet, GOP insiders say.
Summary List PlacementRepublicans eyeing a 2024 presidential run have a huge problem. The man they have stood behind for the last four years is now standing in their way. President Donald Trump has already frozen the budding field of 2024 White House hopefuls with his own plans to run again in four years, according to eight GOP strategists who talked to Insider. His loss to President-elect Joe Biden did not clear him from the stage the way some Republicans had hoped. And Republican operatives believe Trump would walk into the next presidential election cycle as the front-runner in a party whose base of supporters have now become diehard loyalists of his. While he publicly continues to fight the 2020 election results, Trump has privately told his allies he's already laying out plans to run in the next election cycle. That prospect has got everyone, including Vice President Mike Pence and a raft of Republican senators walking the thin line of publicly continuing to support Trump while hoping he'd step away and let them have their shot at getting to the Oval Office. It's a difficult spot to be in for Pence and the likes of Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who are widely seen to be harboring presidential ambitions. But Republican strategists tell Insider there's still a chance for possible 2024 candidates to break free of Trump's icy grip on the party. The first one to stop walking the line for Trump could find themselves with a strong shot at the White House in 2024. None of them has so far shown they'd be willing to make such a move. "Who's the first guy or girl to step out and tell Trump, 'You've done well, now it's time for somebody new'?" said one veteran Republican strategist unaffiliated with any of the potential presidential candidates. The strategist requested anonymity to discuss sensitive calculations by Republicans eyeing the White House. The trick for the broad swath of Republicans eyeing the next presidency will be finding a way to make a clean break with a vindictive Trump without angering him or facing the wrath of his base. Republican strategists who spoke with Insider say a Trump rage-tweet can still sink an ambitious Republican, but that power will likely wane over time. The clear risk is ending a White House bid before it's even been officially announced. But the reward could be carving out clear turf in the crowded field and garnering much-needed attention to win in Republican primaries four years from now. "It's like threading a needle while riding a bike," the GOP strategist said.
Georgia on the mind The broad field of Republican hopefuls started threading that needle — and pedaling fast — as soon as it became clear that a pair of Georgia Senate runoffs would decide whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate come January 20. Campaigning for endangered Republican incumbents Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue has quickly become the popular option for the wide-open field of likely contenders not named Trump. It's a safe way to keep their name in the news without ticking off the man standing in their way. Loeffler and Perdue are working to fend off Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively after none of them received the 50% vote threshold needed to win on November 3. Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both believed to be eyeing White House runs, traveled last week to Georgia to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue. Cotton flew in on Thursday and Pence went there Friday. Trump, who narrowly lost the state to Biden, has so far stayed away. Speaking with reporters earlier this month, Rubio said of Trump, "If he runs in 2024 he'll certainly be the front-runner and will probably be the nominee." But Rubio deflected questions on whether he himself would run again. Pence was considered the de facto and favored front-runner for 2024 before the election. He has spent the last two weeks ducking questions on whether he supports Trump's baseless claims of rampant voter fraud and that he won the election. The vice president ended a coronavirus press briefing on Thursday refusing to answer questions from reporters. And when he landed in Georgia on Friday, his staff shuffled journalists away as they yelled questions at him. In Washington, other 2024 prospects have struggled to square their support of Trump with his efforts to overturn the election. Hawley on Friday sidestepped the question when reporters at the Capitol asked him about Trump's efforts to lobby Michigan lawmakers to overturn Biden's win there. "I'm obviously not privy to the conversation," the Missouri Republican said. "But I don't really have concerns with him talking about the situation with elected officials." GOP strategists told Insider that possible contenders can keep dancing around Trump for a little while, but will have to start deciding where they stand when the next presidential race starts to kick into high gear two years from now. In the meantime, that vacillating between near-total support for Trump and keeping the president at arm's length has not gone unnoticed by Republican donors looking for a horse to back in the next presidential election cycle. One longtime Republican donor who supported Jeb Bush in 2016, told Insider this week that he had been looking forward to backing Haley in 2024. But he soured on her last year after she wrote a book declaring her support for Trump and when she backed his recent efforts to undercut the election results. Representatives for the likely candidates including for Pence, Cotton, and Haley did not respond to Insider's requests for comment on their 2024 plans and what they'd do if Trump makes it official that he'll run.
'The only way is if you take him on' At least one man is not beholden to Trump. That means he does not have to wait on the outgoing president's decision before he plants his own 2024 flag. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is widely considered to be planning a White House run in four years. The popular governor said he wrote-in long-dead President Ronald Reagan on his 2020 ballot rather than vote for Trump. Hogan is a favorite among moderate Republicans looking for someone in the mold of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney or former Arizona Sen. John McCain who died in 2018. Speaking on Monday at the Ronald Reagan Foundation in Washington, Hogan said it was time for new leadership at the nation's capital but stopped short of saying he's the man to fix those problems. "The average citizen is completely fed up with politics as usual. They think that Washington has been fiddling while America burns on the world stage," the two-term governor said. "The solution, according to the professional politicians in Washington, is to give them more power. More power in Washington won't fix the divisiveness and dysfunction." Hogan never mentioned Trump by name throughout his roughly 45-minute speech although it was clear who he was targeting in his broad indictment of Washington politics. "I've been making the case that if Trump is gonna stay in and hover over this and toy with running, it blocks everybody else's path," said a Republican strategist and Hogan supporter. "The only way is if you take him on." But other Republican strategists said Hogan's chances of winning the GOP nomination in four years are slim because the base is still very enthusiastic about Trump. Just four years after entering the White House as a political outsider, Trump was able to bring in the most votes in history during the 2020 election for a Republican incumbent. And that was despite him presiding over a deadly pandemic that had killed more than 230,000 people by Election Day and wreaked havoc on the economy and left millions of Americans jobless. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, another likely 2024 contender, has had no problem challenging Trump as he carves out room on the stage for himself although some in the GOP question his seriousness about running in the next cycle. Sasse, an on-and-off-again critic of Trump's is among just a handful of Republican senators who have publicly rebuked the president's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
Forever Trump Since losing the 2020 election, Trump and his family have been doing everything they can to hold on to power inside the Republican Party. Trump announced on November 11 that he was endorsing Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, an ally of his, to continue running the GOP. It was an unprecedented move, one Trump adviser, said that would amount to a 2024 candidate controlling the party's apparatus, likely giving him special treatment the other candidates wouldn't get.
I am pleased to announce that I have given my full support and endorsement to Ronna McDaniel to continue heading the Republican National Committee (RNC). With 72 MILLION votes, we received more votes than any sitting President in U.S. history - and we will win! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2020
Just two days after the election, Donald Trump Jr., also a would-be 2024 candidate, tweeted that the other possible contenders were afraid to support his father in his claims that he'd won the election. It was an overt demand for a public show of loyalty. Within minutes, Haley and Cotton, both considered top contenders for the next Republican nomination, tweeted their support for the president. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is also considered to be eyeing a White House bid has been publicly defending Trump. Trump advisers told Insider that despite the president's public attempts to overturn the election results, he's already laying out his plans for the next White House race, an implicit acknowledgment of his loss to Biden. "He's not going to concede, he will immediately announce he is running for president. And whether he really does or not, — what it does — it keeps him in the party leadership role," a former adviser to Trump's 2016 campaign told Insider. "Pompeo, Cotton, Pence, Haley, what are they going to do?" Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Sarah McBride made history becoming the first openly trans person elected to a state Senate seat. In 2018, she explained why the Trump administration wouldn't discourage her work.
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