GOP White House hopefuls move forward as Trump considers run

Former President Donald Trump. AP photo.

Donald Trump ended his presidency with such a firm grip on Republican voters that party leaders fretted he would freeze the field of potential 2024 candidates and delay their preparations as he considered another run.

Posted: Apr 18, 2021 9:08 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Less than three months after former President Donald Trump left the White House, the race to succeed him is already beginning.

Trump's former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has launched an aggressive schedule visiting states that will play a pivotal role in the 2024 Republican primaries and he has signed a contract with Fox News Channel. Mike Pence, Trump's former vice president, has started a political advocacy group, finalized a book deal and later this month will give his first speech since leaving office in South Carolina. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been courting donors, including in Trump's backyard, with a prominent speaking slot before the former president at a GOP fundraising retreat dinner this month at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort where Trump now lives.

Trump ended his presidency with such a firm grip on Republican voters that party leaders fretted he would freeze the field of potential 2024 candidates, delaying preparations as he teased another run. Instead, many Republicans with national ambitions are openly laying the groundwork for campaigns as Trump continues to mull his own plans.

They’re raising money, making hires and working to bolster their name recognition. The moves reflect both the fervor in the party to reclaim the White House and the reality that mounting a modern presidential campaign is a yearslong endeavor.

“You build the arc before it rains,” said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist who worked for Jeb Bush’s presidential 2016 campaign, among others. “They’re going to do the things they need to do if he decides not to run.”

Trump, at least for now, is giving them plenty of leeway, convinced they pose little threat to his own ambitions.

“It’s a free country. Folks can do what they want," Trump adviser Jason Miller said in response to the moves. “But,” he added, “if Present Trump does decide to run in 2024, the nomination will be his if you’re paying any attention to public polling of Republican voters."

Polling does indeed show that Trump remains a commanding figure among GOP voters, despite his loss in November to Democrat Joe Biden. Republican leaders, including those who may hope to someday succeed him, have been careful to tend to his ego and make clear they have no plans to challenge his standing.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, last weekend awarded Trump a new “Champion for Freedom Award," which the group publicized — complete with a photo of a smiling, golf-attired Trump holding a small, gleaming cup — even after the former president went after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a profanity-laden speech.

A day later, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who many consider a top-tier 2024 candidate, told The Associated Press that she will sit out the race if Trump runs again.

“I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it," she said in Orangeburg, South Carolina. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made.”

The deference is, in part, an acknowledgement of Trump's continued power. Even out of office and without his Twitter megaphone, Trump remains deeply popular with the GOP base and is bolstered by an $85 million war chest that can be shared with endorsed candidates, spent on advertising and used to fund travel and pay for polling and consultants.

Trump is making plans to soon increase his visibility, with aides discussing options to hold rallies as soon as late spring or summer. “There’s a pretty strong demand out there to get President Trump on the road,” Miller said.

Many Republicans acknowledge Trump would leap to the front of the pack if he chooses to mount a bid to become the only president other than Grover Cleveland to serve two nonconsecutive terms. Still, there is deep skepticism in many corners of the party that Trump will run again.

While people close to him insist he is serious, many see Trump’s continued flirtations as a means to maintain relevance as he has settled into a comfortable post-White House life. At Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, he's courted by candidates and met by rounds of applause and standing ovations whenever he enters the dining room.

In the meantime, other could-be-candidates are making moves, even as many of their aides insist their focus is squarely on next year's congressional elections and helping Republicans win back control of the House and Senate.

Jeff Kaufmann, the chair of the Iowa Republican party, said the activity in his state has begun even earlier this year than in the past two election cycles, with every candidate on his potential 2024 list having already visited or thinking of visiting the first state on the GOP nominating calendar.

“I know of no one — honestly no one — that is hesitating to come out," he said. "Now some are a little more subtle than others, but that may not necessarily be tied to Donald Trump. That may be just tied into their campaign style and not wanting to get too far ahead of their skis until they see if they have any traction whatsoever.”

Pompeo, arguably the most aggressive to date, is among those who has already spent time in Iowa, as well as New Hampshire, and this week past he addressed Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s World Values Network in New York, where he was introduced by video by Republican megadonor Miriam Adelson. And on Saturday, he headlined the Palm Beach County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner at Mar-a-Lago along with Scott and DeSantis.

DeSantis, who is up for reelection next year, recently hired a top Republican strategist who served as executive director of the Republican Governors Association. DeSantis also has been using the race build a deep fundraising network that could support him if he chooses to run nationally.

The party, which for a time appeared to be paralyzed by division, has grown more united in its opposition to Biden, even as Trump continues to spar with McConnell and works to defeat incumbents who voted for his impeachment. Republicans in Congress have found common cause railing against Biden’s border policies, voting against his COVID-19 relief bill and pushing for new restrictions on voting, while railing against corporate interference in the voting rights debate.

“I think you would find broad agreement in our party that we need to be having the debate about policy," said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, who continues to face enormous backlash after voting for Trump's impeachment. “We need to be talking about policy," she said while speaking to Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service last week.

Regardless of Trump's ultimate decision, his critics and acolytes alike say they see the future of the party as dependent on maintaining their appeal Trump voters, while at the same time winning back the suburban voters who abandoned them last fall.

“I think everyone’s trying to find that magic combination of ‘Trump-plus,’ of continuing to appeal to the new voters that President Trump brought to the Republican coalition while also bringing back back some of the college-educated suburban folks that were repelled by his antics,” said Steel.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Ramsey51369875
Dakota45906452
Anoka41713438
Washington26899283
Stearns22238222
St. Louis17758304
Scott17275124
Wright16034140
Olmsted1324298
Sherburne1170887
Carver1049145
Clay815792
Rice8056107
Blue Earth750441
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Kandiyohi655783
Chisago599751
Otter Tail574978
Benton570297
Goodhue478072
Douglas467875
Mower465732
Winona454550
Itasca437556
McLeod423659
Isanti421364
Morrison419260
Nobles407748
Beltrami395559
Steele388315
Polk384168
Becker380253
Lyon360651
Carlton345254
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Pine328622
Nicollet326143
Brown305440
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Todd282132
Cass272828
Meeker256340
Waseca236222
Martin230632
Roseau209019
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Redwood174337
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Jackson121812
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Yellow Medicine114120
Pope11026
Murray10639
Swift105218
Stevens91311
Marshall88117
Clearwater86816
Koochiching83315
Wilkin81512
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Lac qui Parle75322
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Grant5768
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Norman5399
Unassigned50093
Kittson48622
Red Lake3967
Traverse3705
Lake of the Woods3253
Cook1640

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 367061

Reported Deaths: 5938
CountyCasesDeaths
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Linn20869335
Scott20044241
Black Hawk15813308
Woodbury15132228
Johnson1448383
Dubuque13374208
Dallas1118298
Pottawattamie11122168
Story1061748
Warren577988
Clinton555693
Cerro Gordo540389
Sioux514474
Webster512293
Marshall483075
Muscatine481199
Des Moines457166
Wapello4301122
Buena Vista424840
Jasper419272
Plymouth401280
Lee375855
Marion362575
Jones298957
Henry291837
Carroll285952
Bremer284560
Crawford266140
Boone264834
Benton256655
Washington253750
Dickinson248443
Mahaska230351
Jackson222142
Clay215625
Kossuth215364
Tama209771
Delaware209641
Winneshiek196934
Page192722
Buchanan191332
Cedar190023
Hardin185643
Fayette185141
Wright184637
Hamilton179949
Harrison179673
Clayton169556
Butler164934
Madison162319
Mills162222
Floyd160942
Cherokee158938
Lyon158041
Poweshiek154734
Allamakee151451
Iowa148824
Hancock148234
Winnebago142431
Calhoun138513
Cass138554
Grundy136333
Emmet134340
Jefferson132435
Shelby131037
Sac130319
Union128333
Louisa128149
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Mitchell126342
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Franklin120521
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112823
Howard104622
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Unassigned9740
Keokuk95931
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