Republicans angling for potential 2024 presidential runs are at risk of colliding with former President Trump.
For months, Trump has floated the idea of a 2024 rematch against President Biden. But in recent weeks, he has begun to signal that he may be more likely to run again than not, intensifying a collective headache for other would-be White House contenders who have already started laying the groundwork for their own campaigns.
There’s little appetite within the GOP to challenge Trump for the 2024 presidential nod. He’s still the most influential Republican in the country, and running against him in a primary would be a major political risk for any ambitious Republican. The little polling that has been done shows Trump dominating any potential primary opponent by wide, double-digit margins.
And while a lot can still happen between now and 2024, Trump’s increasingly aggressive flirtation with a third presidential run has caught the attention of his would-be rivals.
“I think [Trump running] feels like more of a possibility now than it did before,” an aide to one Republican eyeing a 2024 run said. “That doesn’t mean you stop what you’re doing altogether. Until he says what he’s going to do, that’s not an option.”
“That being said, yeah, I think he’s putting a lot of candidates on notice, reminding them that he’s still in the mix.”
While Trump has been careful not to say too much about his plans, he has taken steps in recent weeks that suggest a sharper interest in another campaign. He’s ramped up his media appearances and press statements, and he’s planning upcoming rallies in Georgia and Iowa, the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state.
His allies have also fueled talk of Trump’s looming return to the campaign trail ahead of 2024. Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump’s 2020 campaign and a close associate of the former president, said in an interview with Cheddar’s J.D. Durkin last week that the likelihood that Trump will run again is “somewhere between 99 and 100 percent.”
“I think he is definitely running in 2024,” Miller said. “He has not said the magical words to me, but if you talk to him for a few minutes it’s pretty clear that he’s running, and I think just what we’ve seen unfold in Afghanistan recently has really just emboldened that.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress, was also recently recorded in an undercover video saying that Trump was virtually guaranteed to run for president again, especially after the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan late last month.
“President Trump, he’s going to run again,” Jordan said. “I know so. I talked to him yesterday. He's about ready to announce after all of this craziness in Afghanistan.”
A campaign announcement by the former president would almost certainly prompt at least a few of his potential rivals to set aside their ambitions for now.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, for instance, has already said that she “would not run if President Trump ran.” Likewise, Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, said earlier this year that he does not expect Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to run for president if Trump enters the race.
DeSantis dismissed talk of a potential 2024 run on Tuesday, saying that the speculation about his political ambitions is entirely “manufactured.”
“All the speculation about me is purely manufactured,” said DeSantis during a news conference in St. Cloud, Fla. “I just do my job. You know, we work hard ... I hear all this stuff and honestly it’s nonsense. So, you know, I don’t really know what to say to the rumors.”
Still, Trump’s heightened interest in a 2024 campaign isn’t freezing the field of potentials entirely.
DeSantis, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Vice President Mike Pence are set to headline Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts’s (R) annual steak fry this weekend. All three are seen as potential 2024 contenders.
Meanwhile, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a former Trump ally who ran an ill-fated campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, used a speech on Thursday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., to outline a new, post-Trump vision for the Republican Party as he weighs a potential 2024 run.
And two former Trump administration officials, Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have been crisscrossing the country for months, ostensibly to boost Republican candidates ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
The 2022 midterms have offered would-be presidential candidates at least some cover for now, allowing them to explain away their politicking as intended to help the GOP recapture control of the House and Senate. Several potential contenders, including DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, are up for reelection next year, and have said that their focus is on their reelection bids.
“All these candidates are laying the groundwork, getting exposed, building financial and political bases, doing all the things you need to do to be a viable candidate,” said Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist and former Michigan GOP chair.
“I think that as long as these candidates focus on the things that are relevant for 2022 and don't personally or politically challenge the president, they’re going to be fine.”
That doesn’t mean that Trump won’t be keeping an eye on things.
His leadership PAC, Save America, which has functioned as Trump’s primary political vehicle since he left the White House, announced last month that it had hired two staffers in Iowa.
Politico reported this week, however, that the Iowa operatives are also intended to keep tabs on other potential 2024 contenders visiting the state.
Even with his outsized influence over the GOP and near-universal name recognition, Trump still has a set of challenges to contend with.
For one, he’s been banished from both Facebook and Twitter, once his social media site of choice, and his online presence has been reduced mostly to sporadic emailed statements. He has also continued to cling to his baseless assertion that the 2020 election had been rigged against him, a claim that even some Republicans are uneasy about.