While President Donald Trump has teased the idea of running for a second White House term in 2024, other notable GOP candidates have started to flood into the mix—including Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis—carving a crowded path towards the next presidential primaries.
DeSantis, an ardent loyalist to the president, has been rumored to be interested in running for the commander-in-chief spot, despite earlier quells insisting that the speculation is “total garbage” and that “it’s not coming from me.” Instead, DeSantis told POLITICO in August that it’s “a safe assumption” that he’d run for a second term as governor of the Sunshine State.
Although DeSantis rejected the presidential conjecture, he did receive an invitation to the Republican National Committee’s January meeting in Amelia Island, Fla.—a time when the committee assesses, analyzes and reviews the party’s presidential prospects.
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel reached out to a mass of GOP notables about speaking at the meeting and noted in an email to the committee’s 168 members last month that she will “work to ensure that all Republican candidates can be successful”—McDaniel’s most striking act of independence from Trump yet, though the president, too, received an invitation.
The list of Republicans invited to speak at the event include Sens. Tim Scott (S.C.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Miss.), along with South Dakota’s Gov. Kristi Noem, DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Other members of the GOP that were also invited to the meeting are former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and Vice President Mike Pence, both of which have been rumored to be interested in running.
As Trump sees his final days in office, Republicans are confronted with whether to continue boasting “Trumpism” ideals or to start distancing themselves from the president.
“If Biden governs competently over the next year and half, it likely boosts democratic congressional numbers and undercuts pro-Trump loyalty. However, the opposite is true as well, that is, a Biden failure favors a Trump revival,” Dr. Ken E. Mitchell, professor and chair of the political science and sociology department at Monmouth University, said in an email interview, noting that the decision “depends on the performance of the Biden administration.”
DeSantis, however, has been a staunch supporter of the president, defending his baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. The Florida governor told Fox News in November that he “would exhaust every option to make sure we have a fair count,” pushing voters to contact GOP state lawmakers who could offer “remedies.”
DeSantis has also barely acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden’s victory against Trump, as he told reporters last month when asked if he accepted Biden’s win, “It’s not for me to do. But here’s what I would say: Obviously we did our thing in Florida. The college voted. What’s going to happen is going to happen.”
“I mean Hillary [Clinton] the last week of the election was saying [Russian President Vladimir] Putin stole it,” DeSantis said. “And I just think that’s left a lot of people really frustrated with how it’s going to go. But we’re going to do the job for Florida. We’re going to push ahead. We’ll work with whoever we need to be able to do right by the state of Florida.”
But if DeSantis does decide to run for president in 2024, he can position himself as the governor who squashed the beliefs that Florida was a swing state since Trump won its support by nearly four percentage points, the widest margin since former President George W. Bush in 2004.
“DeSantis could be a strong GOP candidate in 2024 as the governor of a critical battleground state,” Mitchell said. “Florida is essential to a successful GOP executive campaign. Democrats demonstrated in 2020 they no longer need Florida as Biden secured a comfortable Electoral College win without it.”
Other experts, however, noted that there are significant hurdles that will barricade other hopeful GOP candidates from entering the presidential playing field in a post-Trump era.
“DeSantis, along with Cruz, Hawley… are all trying to capture the base of voters that support President Trump. They’re hoping this will help them in the 2024 primaries,” Scott de Marchi, political science professor at Duke University, said in an email interview. “This seems short-sighted though, on a number of dimensions,” noting that Trump or a family member may decide to run and that DeSantis, along with other candidates “do not have the charisma of Trump.”
“Up through yesterday’s Georgia Senate elections, it helped DeSantis and other Republicans to treat Trump’s phony claims of massive vote fraud as credible,” Rogers Smith, political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said, when asked whether Trump’s claims of voter fraud could help DeSantis’s 2024 White House bid. “Now they look like they contributed to further GOP defeats. So while DeSantis and other Republicans will continue to champion efforts to protect election ‘integrity,’ they are not likely to embrace Trump’s massively debunked fabrications.”
Although Trump might be propped as the leading contender heading into the 2024 primaries if he decides to run, he did lose the 2020 presidential election, after the Democrats seized control of the House just two years before. With a razor-thin margin in the Georgia runoffs will determine control of the Senate, the Democratic wave has shown that there is more resistance than support of the president, perhaps revealing an underlying need for a new face of the Republican party.
“The Republican party has a mess on its hands and a lot of this is outside the control of the grownups in the party,” de Marchi said. “Trump likely won’t go away and as [Georgia] demonstrates, he’s doing damage to the party. A lot of voters feel (rightly) disenfranchised and Trump is playing off of that. Unfortunately, instead of pushing for policies that would help these voters, Trump is engaging in grievance politics.”
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.