How a crowded GOP field could help Trump in the 2024 campaign | Iowa News

By JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — As he eyes another run for the White House, polls show former President Donald Trump is the most popular figure in the Republican Party. But it has not always been so.

Competing at one point against a dozen rivals for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, Trump won only about a third of the vote in key early states. He even lost the Iowa caucuses, which kicked off the nomination process.

But he was able to win nonetheless because those in the party who opposed his divisive policies were never able to coalesce around a single rival to confront him. And with Trump mulling another White House offer as early as this summer, the same dynamic could play out again.

With a growing slate of candidates lining up for their own presidential races, even a Trump diminished by two impeachments and growing legal vulnerabilities could command a dominant position in a fractured, multi-candidate GOP primary.

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“I’m afraid this will end the same way it did in 2016, when everyone thought everyone should get out,” said Republican strategist Mike DuHaime, who advised the former New York governor’s campaign. Jersey Chris Christie that year. “I think every major candidate realized they would have a better chance against Trump one-on-one. But of course everyone thought they had to be the one to get shot and no one stepped aside. … And then it was too late.

Anxiety is mounting as a growing list of potential rivals take increasingly brazen action, delivering high-profile speeches, running advertisements, courting donors and making repeated visits to early voting states.

That group now includes more than a dozen potential candidates, including Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, his former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the Senses. Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Rick Scot and Tim Scott, all of whom could run over the former president’s policies. In the anti-Trump lane, figures like Rep. Liz Cheney and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan are raising their profile.

Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is increasingly seen as Trump’s heir apparent, even by the former president’s staunchest supporters, and viewed by Trump’s allies as his potential challenger. the most formidable.

While some, like former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, have said they won’t challenge Trump if he continues with a run, others, like Christie, appear to be aiming for the fight, even though they appear to be long-time contenders.

“I’m really thinking about it seriously. I probably won’t make any decisions until the end of the year,” Christie said in a recent interview.

The former governor and 2016 nominee urged the party to let go of Trump and his lifelong obsession with the 2020 election.

“For me, it’s about the party going in a new direction from a personality point of view and continuing to have someone who can provide strong leadership, tough leadership, which the country needs, but that doesn’t have all the other drama that goes with it,” he said. “I hear the same things from donors that I hear from voters – that they are very concerned that we are can’t put ourselves in a position to have everything except the good of the country by 2024.

Pompeo, who has had a busy travel schedule and plans to return to Iowa this summer, said in a recent interview that he spent time reading and listening to former President Ronald Reagan’s speeches while he was preparing for a possible race.

“We’re preparing to stay in the fight,” he said in an interview last month as he wooed evangelical Christians at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee.

He said he and his wife would sit down after the midterm elections and “think about our path, pray through it and decide where it would be best to serve. It could be about running for office again. We can choose a different path. But we’re not going to give up on these things that I’ve been working on for 30 years now. They count too much.

In the meantime, he sketched out a possible path in the same mold as Trump.

“He was a disrupter who was most needed in 2016, there’s no doubt about that,” Pompeo said. And now the task is to take this set of understandings, this set of principles, to defend them and build on them. it takes hard work to do it, leaders with real courage and character to do it.”

The increasingly open discussion comes as Trump faces a cascade of mounting legal troubles.

The congressional committee investigating the deadly January 6 insurgency has revealed increasingly damaging information about Trump’s final weeks in office, while the Justice Department has launched its own sprawling investigation. In Georgia, the prosecutor investigating Trump’s potentially illegal interference in the state’s 2020 election last week has stepped up its efforts by subpoenaing members of Trump’s inner circle. And in New York, Trump, his namesake son and daughter Ivanka have agreed to answer questions under oath starting next week as part of the New York attorney general’s civil investigation into his business practices.

Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina who served as Trump’s acting White House chief of staff, said the moves suggest potential candidates “could see an opening where there was none.” not two months ago”.

“Trump fatigue could be a real thing,” he said, with voters wondering if, if they voted for another candidate, they “could get the same policies without all the baggage.”

At the same time, Trump has seen some of his endorsed primary candidates falter. Those who won, including Ohio GOP Senate candidate JD Vance and Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, did so with about 30% of the vote, meaning two-thirds of voters in the party opposed Trump’s choices.

“I don’t think anyone is underestimating Trump. There’s a reason he’s the most wanted endorsement in every Republican primary,” GOP strategist Alex Conant said. it is recognized that many Republican voters are looking to the future and are ready for what comes next.

To what extent remains an open question. During a trip to Iowa this week, Arkansas Senator Cotton declined to comment on Trump’s position. But he said he hoped to be “an effective national leader, not only for my party but for the American people in my role in the Senate and in any other future role that I may play.”

Still, he argued, candidates should embrace Trump’s legacy.

“I know that Donald Trump is very popular with our constituents who appreciate the successes he has delivered over four years in a very hostile environment. They don’t want Republicans running against that legacy because they see that legacy as a great success,” he said Thursday in Cambridge, Iowa.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to move forward with his own events.

On Friday night, he campaigned in Las Vegas alongside Adam Laxalt, his choice for the Nevada Senate. And on Saturday night, he will hold a rally in Anchorage, Alaska, to campaign with Republican Kelly Tshibaka, whom he backed in her run against U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, and others, including former U.S. Governor ‘Alaska Sarah Palin, who is now running for Congress.

Conant said it makes sense for the contestants to continue testing the waters for now.

“A lot of potential candidates realize that 2024 might be their last best chance, no matter what Trump does,” he said. “There’s a very vulnerable Democrat in the White House, the Republicans look likely to win, and if it’s not Trump, they’re essentially sidelined for the next 10 years.

Still, Conant, who served as communications director for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid, noted the similarities.

“It seems to be increasingly clear that there will be a lot of presidential candidates. And while I think there is an appetite for something different, the alternative to Trump needs to band together. around one candidate,” he said. “That never happened in 2016. And it might not happen in 2024.”

__ Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in New York and Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa contributed to this report.

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Denise W. Whigham