Take DeSantis out of the picture: Does Trump have a serious challenger for the GOP nomination?

We’re at least a year out from the start of the 2024 GOP presidential primaries, but the field of potential contenders is already ballooning outwards like Violet Beauregarde after an ill-advised rendezvous with Willy Wonka’s magical gum. 

While Donald Trump is the only contender who’s officially announced, Ron DeSantis is widely regarded as the other presumptive frontrunner. 

Mike Pence, too, has been the subject of significant speculation, particularly after his recent pivot to a decisively more critical tone vis-a-vis his former boss. 

Mike Pompeo’s been throwing a helluva lot of shade on Twitter — and that’s after slimming down nearly 100 pounds in the past year or so. 

Larry Hogan’s been convening donors, taking trips to early primary states, and making a lot of presidential-candidate-y noises. 

Earlier this week, Asa Hutchinson told CNN he was “very seriously” considering hopping in; in recent months, Chris Christie, Liz Cheney, and Francis Suarez have all expressed similar interest. 

And then there’s Nikki Haley:
This is beginning to look a lot like 2016. Let’s just be honest here for a minute: With the exception of DeSantis, very few of these would-be Republican presidential hopefuls have a serious shot at unseating the one man who’s actually formally announced — a man who also happens to be the only one who’s already been president, and still enjoys the loyalty of a not-insignificant portion of the Republican primary electorate. 

The majority of the Republican primary vote might be persuaded to back someone other than Donald Trump — that’s the bet that the most viable alternative, DeSantis, is likely banking on — but if said majority is split three or four ways, Trump’s practically a shoo-in.

I understand that politicians aren’t known for lacking in ego, ambition, and self-regard, but surely the Mike Pompeos and Asa Hutchinsons of the world can see that they don’t have a path in 2024? And thus, that their potential candidacies would simply elevate Trump’s built-in advantage? 

This simple fact is particularly damning as it pertains to the most vociferous Trump critics in the field of potential GOP primary contenders: If they were to run, Liz Cheney and Larry Hogan would likely be premising their campaigns on the fundamental message that Donald Trump is a unique and exceptional threat, both to the Republican Party and the country writ large. And yet, by making a quixotic attempt at grabbing the nomination for themselves — an attempt that is about as likely to succeed as Sisyphus — they’d be eating into the anti-Trump vote that would otherwise coalesce around a more viable candidate, helping to clear a path for the former president to march victoriously to the 2024 Republican National Convention, and putting him one step closer to returning to the White House.

“Hogan, one of the most popular governors in the country, continues to poll well in Maryland,” the Washington Post reported recently. “A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that 73 percent of registered voters approve of the job he is doing.” But not enough to get him anywhere near competitive with Trump — even in Hogan’s home state: “While 74 percent of registered Republicans approve of his performance, only 35 percent said they would support Hogan in a hypothetical race against Trump in 2024. (Trump received 59 percent support).” 

Liz Cheney just lost her own GOP primary by nearly 40 points — almost exclusively because of her rabid opposition to Trump. She can’t honestly think she has a shot at beating Trump himself.

If long-shot Republican primary contenders view another Trump nomination as a undesirable scenario — and indeed, many of the would-be candidates in that category have already suggested as much — they should sit this one out. Otherwise, one could be forgiven for wondering if they value their own personal ambitions over their stated principles.

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