Republicans are already making moves toward the 2024 election, jockeying to succeed former President Donald Trump now that he has departed Washington, either by picking up his mantle or by trying to steer the party in a new direction.
A handful of ambitious GOP politicians are positioning themselves against President Joe Biden and building the political operations that will allow them to travel and campaign with fellow Republicans.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the failed 2016 GOP presidential candidate who bolstered Trump’s effort to throw out states’ 2020 votes, aimed for blue-collar workers this week with a message lambasting Biden’s decision to re-enter the Paris climate accord, asking: “Paris or Pittsburgh?” He is offering to send those who sign up for his email list “Pittsburgh > Paris” bumper stickers.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, last week launched a political action committee called “Stand for America” that she told supporters in an email that she is focused on the 2022 midterms. “There is nothing ‘normal’ about an agenda focused on socialism, defunding the police, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All,” Haley wrote, characterizing the agenda of some progressive Democrats, which Biden does not share.
And in what seemed to be a nod to his own ambitions, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted a countdown to Election Day 2024 Thursday morning on Twitter. “1,384 days,” he wrote.
“Not having a Republican in the White House opens it up so that other people feel that they have an opportunity for 2024,” said Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican chairman in Iowa, traditionally the first state to vote in the presidential nominating process.
Kaufmann pointed out that, with a governor’s race and a Senate contest on the ballot in Iowa in next year’s midterms, “there’s going to be opportunities for people to come into the state before 2022 to be helpful to some of our candidates, and those races will heat up very, very shortly.”
It’s far too early to gauge the forces that will steer the 2024 Republican presidential primary, with Biden’s presidency in its infancy and Trump’s future clouded. Presidential primaries typically do not kick off until after the midterm elections. Still, potential candidates typically spend the two preceding years building political infrastructures and campaigning for potential allies.
And on the Democratic side, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a close Biden ally, insisted over the weekend that the President will run for re-election in 2024.
“He is planning to run again,” Coons told Politico. “He knows that we are at the middle of an absolute turning point, a pivot point in American history. And he’s up for the challenge.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that Biden is not focused on politics at this point, and will “wait until sometime into his first term to speak more about his political plans moving forward.”
For the GOP field, the Senate’s upcoming impeachment trial is the first key milestone. If enough Republicans join Democrats to convict Trump, they could bar him from ever running for federal office again — staving off years of speculation about whether Trump would seek another term. But if Trump isn’t convicted by the Senate, then he would loom large in the 2024 picture.
That could force Republicans who worked in his administration — former Vice President Mike Pence, Pompeo and Haley among them — as well as Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill who are eyeing 2024 — to proceed cautiously.
“The last thing they need to do is look like they’re trying to cut the president off at the pass, if you will. They need to be seen as being helpful and being productive,” said Drew McKissick, the South Carolina Republican Party chairman.
Trump “actually had coattails” in Iowa, Kaufmann said, and any Republican considering a run in 2024 faces “a lot of wait and see” as Trump makes decisions about his own political future.
Kaufmann said any Republican senator who votes to convict Trump in the Senate’s upcoming impeachment trial, though, would “be DOA if they actually voted for that.”
Tied to questions about Trump’s own future is whether Republican voters will look for someone who was a close ally over the last four years, or will seek a new direction after Trump became just the fifth president in the last 100 years to lose their bid for another term.
The group of close Trump allies could include Cruz and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, the two Republicans who led the effort to reject the Electoral College votes that made Biden president, as well as Pompeo, and potentially even Trump’s children.
Pence faces a precarious path too, after a falling-out at the end of the Trump presidency over Pence’s refusal to attempt to block the counting of Electoral College votes from states where Trump baselessly claimed there had been voter fraud. In his hometown of Columbus, Indiana, on Wednesday, in his first remarks after attending Biden’s inauguration and departing Washington, Pence stuck to his familiar public approach of heaping praise on Trump. But it’s not yet clear whether Republican voters would reward him as Trump’s loyal lieutenant, or penalize him for their break in their final weeks in office.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Florida Sen. Rick Scott both made highly unusual moves in 2020, paying for their own advertisements in swing states backing Trump. Those senators have signaled they’ll make up a “no caucus” of sorts, along with Cruz and Hawley, positioning themselves against nearly everything that Biden proposes.
Haley, meanwhile, has distanced herself from Trump in some ways. She called him “badly wrong” for stoking the January 6 riot at the US Capitol during a speech earlier this month to the Republican National Committee, and said his actions were “deeply disappointing.”
“His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history,” she said then.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the fiercest GOP critics of Trump’s actions, including his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has also not ruled out a 2024 bid.
“I do want to be a part of the discussion about where we go as a party and where we go as a country so I’m going to try and continue to be involved and speak up and let people know what I think we should do,” Hogan said in a December interview aired on Bloomberg.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a longtime Trump ally, broke fiercely from Trump late last year. He aired television ads urging Americans to wear masks, and referred to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results as an “absurdity.”
“Republicans now need to say, thank you, Mr. President, for your service. Thank you for the good things you did while you’re in office that we agree with, and we now need to move on to make sure that we’re stating Republican principles that matter to the people in this country … and the fundamental challenge for Republicans is to move on,” Christie said on ABC in December. “Move on.”