One thing was Donald Trump’s unimpressive campaign announcement. Republican party members’ collective shrug toward Trump over the past week or so has quickly become his genuine issue.
The Republican Jewish Coalition conference was held in Las Vegas over the weekend, where a number of potential 2024 challengers appeared. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, one of the Republicans who had previously said she would defer to Trump if he ran, now said she is considering running in a “serious way.”
A super PAC backing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s main foe, intends to start airing TV advertising in Iowa on Friday. Even the information that Elon Musk was removing Trump’s Twitter ban didn’t get through.
Fox News Sunday devoted more time discussing the Taylor Swift concert ticketing disaster the morning after his account was restored, a development that was originally thought to have significantly boosted Trump’s campaign.
Bob Vander Plaats, an evangelical leader in Iowa who is influential in primary politics in the first-in-the-nation caucus state and who served as a national co-chair of Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign in 2016, said of the people discussing [Trump’s announcement of his campaign]: “It’s almost like it didn’t happen.” That, in my opinion, is what’s telling—that people think we should probably move forward rather than look back.
Trump had bent the GOP to his will ever since he easily won the Republican nomination for president in 2016, and even after his defeat four years later. He had destroyed Republican dynasties, reshaped the party’s infrastructure in Washington and the states to serve his interests, and hand-picked congressional and statewide nominees.
Leading Republicans are no longer cringing before Trump, and many aren’t listening to him at all for the first time since he rode down the escalator in 2015. They either avoid talking about Trump’s candidacy or publicly reject him by supporting DeSantis. Despite the fact that the Florida governor is not yet the “leader of the Republican Party,” as Wyoming senator Cynthia Lummis put it.
Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman and crusader against illegal immigration from Colorado, called Trump “one of the best presidents we’ve ever had” but acknowledged that “there are a significant number of people out there who really are opposed to him, and I don’t think will change their minds over the course of the next two years.”
You can’t deny that’s a problem for him, he continued. Obviously, I’m concerned about his electability.
The odds are still in Trump’s favour to win the GOP nominee. In a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted this week, Trump still led DeSantis by 15 percentage points among Republicans and independents who lean Republican. Trump might defeat his rivals even with less-than-majority support if a large field of more orthodox Republicans split the primary vote in early nominating states, as they did in 2016.
He profited from open conflict with more conservative Republicans during the 2016 race, and he will have them to disparage once more in 2024. He referred to DeSantis as “Ron DeSanctimonious” this month in a preview of the upcoming campaign and claimed in a racist outburst directed at Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin that his name “sounds Chinese.” Most of Trump’s competitors, including DeSantis and Youngkin, have not faced national scrutiny. Additionally, none of the Republican candidates have ever served as president.
One Republican strategist close to Trump said, “His unique selling point is, ‘I did this, I fixed the economy, I gave you the Abraham Accords, I kept peace, I fixed the border with no help from the Washington politicians.'”
The strategist advised Trump to remind Republicans of their preferences for his administration and to underline that, in contrast to his rivals, he has “done it before.”
But Trump has also lost, and in doing so, has brought the GOP down with him. The GOP is determined to win in 2024 after a midterm election in which they failed to capture the Senate. And while concerns about electability always affect presidential primaries to some extent, the early stages of the 2024 contest are, in the words of one seasoned GOP operative in Iowa, “just about winning.”