November 29, 2022
The former president is not bending the GOP to his will the way he used to. Donald Trump’s lackluster campaign announcement on November 15 was one thing. His real problem is fast becoming the collective shrug Republicans have given him in the week-plus since, reports Politico.
Far from freezing out potential competitors, Trump’s announcement was followed by a slew of potential 2024 contenders appearing at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas over the weekend, where at least one Republican who previously had said she would defer to Trump if he ran—former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley—now said she is considering running in a “serious way.”
A super PAC supporting Trump’s chief rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, plans to begin airing TV ads in Iowa on Friday, December 2. And even the news that Elon Musk was lifting Trump’s ban on Twitter wasn’t breaking through.
The morning after the former president’s account was reinstated—a development once viewed as a significant lift to Trump’s candidacy—Fox News Sunday spent more time talking about the ticketing debacle surrounding Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour.
“The people talking about [Trump’s campaign announcement] in my circles, it’s almost like it didn’t happen,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the evangelical leader in Iowa who is influential in primary politics in the first-in-the-nation caucus state and who was a national co-chair of Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign in 2016. Donald“That, to me, is what is telling, where people believe we probably need to move forward; not look in the rear view mirror.”
Ever since he steamrolled through the 2016 presidential primary, and even after his defeat four years later, Trump had bent the GOP to his will—reshaping the party’s infrastructure in Washington, D.C., and the states to serve his interests, tearing down Republican dynasties, and hand-picking congressional and statewide nominees.Se
Now, leading Republicans are no longer cowering before Trump, and for the first time since he rode down the escalator in 2015, many aren’t listening to him at all. They are dodging questions about Trump’s candidacy, or openly defying him by rallying around DeSantis—even though the Florida governor is not yet, as Senator Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming declared, the “leader of the Republican Party.”
“There’s a significant number of people out there who really are opposed to him, and I don’t think will change their minds over the course of the next two years,” said Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman and anti-illegal immigration crusader from Colorado who called Trump “one of the best presidents we’ve ever had.”
He added, “You can’t deny that that’s a problem for him … I’m worried about his electability, surely.”
However, Trump may still be the frontrunner to win the GOP nomination. In a Politico/Morning Consult poll this week, Trump was still running 15 percentage points ahead of DeSantis among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. If a wide field of more traditionalist Republicans split the primary vote in early nominating states, as they did in 2016, Trump could still cut through his competitors with less-than-majority support.
“His unique selling point is, ‘I did this, I fixed the economy, I gave you the Abraham Accords, I kept peace, I fixed the border with no help from the Washington politicians,’” said one Republican strategist close to Trump.
Trump’s path, the strategist said, is to remind Republicans what they liked about his presidency, and to emphasize that, unlike his competitors, he has “done it before.”
What Trump also has done, however, is lose—and drag the GOP down with him. Following a midterm election in which Republicans failed to retake the Senate, the GOP is desperate for a win in 2024. And while presidential primaries are always colored to some degree by concerns about electability, the earliest stages of the 2024 contest, as one longtime GOP operative in Iowa put it, are “just about winning.”
Research contact: @politico