A group of speculated 2024 Republican White House hopefuls are ramping up a pre-presidential primary this week, with pit-stops in early nominating states.
Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) will make appearances in Iowa over the next two weeks, followed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in mid-April, Politico reported. Former vice president Mike Pence is expected to visit South Carolina—a state that largely turned around President Joe Biden’s 2020 run during the Democratic primaries—while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been developing his own rumored bid in the Sunshine State.
But what makes this hypothesized Republican primary race different is the approach to the supposed campaigning. The 2024 prospective presidential contenders are solely basing campaign blueprints and structure over whether former President Donald Trump will take a crack at running for a third time.
“Trump currently has a hold over the GOP, in that it is still currently the Trump GOP. He would be the leading candidate for 2024 even if others entered the field, in that his hold over the GOP is driven by his hold over the electoral base of the party that other Republicans need in order to win election and re-election,” Dr. Robert Y. Shapiro, a professor and former chair at Columbia University’s political science department, said in an email interview. “And the GOP needs these voters to turn out in 2022 and ideally even expand in number as they did from 2016 to 2020.”
Trump’s ironclad grip couldn’t be more prevalent at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last month, where he offered the event’s concluding speech and organizers conducted their annual straw poll that revealed the former president’s massive lead over potential competitors, in the case that he decides to run.
“It is tough to see how Trump doesn’t dominate GOP politics at least until the 2022 midterms,” Dr. Ken E. Mitchell, a professor and chair of the political science and sociology department at Monmouth University, said in an email interview. “Equally, I cannot see Trump declaring one way or the other before the 2022 midterms, which means the GOP is in something of a holding pattern for 2024.”
And in fact, Mitchell’s prediction echoed Trump’s announcement last week, as he told Fox News that he won’t decide if he’ll run for a non-consecutive White House term until after the midterm elections next year, which poses major disadvantages for prospective candidates who are not known on a national scale to build a political identity within the GOP. And the longer Trump waits to make his final decision about running, the less time candidates will have to rally support for widespread fundraising and to hire a full staff.
Meanwhile, Pompeo will speak at a breakfast meeting in Urbandale, Iowa this week, and will appear at a lunch that afternoon hosted by the Bill Moose Club of Des Moines, a group of conservatives under forty, according to Politico. Next week, Pompeo will make a virtual trip to New Hampshire at a fundraiser for Bill Boyd, a state House candidate.
Rick Scott will be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 1 for an event hosted by the state Republican Party, the publication reported, and Tim Scott will head to South Carolina on April 15. Pence will also make an appearance in South Carolina for his first speech since leaving office.
And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is expected to visit New Hampshire soon, after making several appearances there.
Now, while the purpose for these speculated candidates’ visits to early nominating states could be indications of future runs for president, experts say they should instead step aside at least until after next year’s election results.
“Potential 2024 candidates should wait,” Mitchell said. “Trump lives to fight with people, both Democrats and Republicans. No GOP candidate prior to the 2022 midterms can weather the onslaught of a Trump attack. Trump has the GOP base and significant sources of GOP funding. It makes no sense for a GOP contender to declare early.”
Shapiro also noted that there “is plenty of time” for candidates to announce White House bids and that GOP presidential prospects will want to see how successful Trump-like lawmakers are in the midterm elections. “If the GOP underperforms in 2022, and the Democrats keep control of the House and the Senate, this will have occurred if the Biden administration has turned the country around on the pandemic and economic fronts, which means the Democrats as incumbents will be tough to beat in the 2024 presidential election. And 2024 will not be a good year for a Republican presidential candidate to run.”
But if the GOP shifts both congressional chambers red, Shapiro said, “then the candidates will have incentives to announce their campaigns quickly, and Trump’s decision to run or not will loom large. And if he does not run, what will matter is which other candidate he will support. The big question is, what candidate other than Trump would want to run if the GOP takes a beating in 2022? If only to take the Republican limelight off of Trump.”
Pompeo, Rick Scott, Tim Scott, Pence and Cotton, however, appear to not be waiting, and instead, are perhaps trying to build a network of political allies in the early nominating states, despite the uncertainty hovering around Trump’s third potential run.
“Right now, to do anything that looks like a presidential exploration is to suggest you think Trump is done. And the Trump-centric party base does not want to hear that just now. It may need to deal with that eventually, but not yet,” Ron Elving, a professorial lecturer and Executive in Residence in the School of Public Affairs at American University, said in an email interview.
If Trump does decide to run in 2024, the networking webs built leading up to the next presidential election would quickly evaporate, and prospective candidates who originally stood by the former president would have to remain loyal to him, according to experts.
“If Trump runs, the candidates previously loyal to Trump would have no choice but to stay loyal and wait until 2028,” Shapiro said.
“If he runs, then, of course, those who said they would support must do so,” Elving said.
One expert said that the presidential prospects should “consolidate” if Trump runs.
“If Trump does run, these candidates should consolidate. Trump would be a formidable GOP primary candidate. Opposition to Trump from within the GOP ranks would need to consolidate. Also, it would need to consolidate around a candidate more closely affiliated with Trump (say DeSantis) rather than a candidate feuding with Trump (say Romney) due to Trump’s support among GOP voters,” Mitchell said.
Although the former president maintains a tight grip over the Republican electorate, Trump’s approval ratings have skidded in recent weeks, and he does not have a strong media presence, as he’s been blacklisted from several social media platforms—an issue that would largely interfere with any campaign. His involvement in the January 6 Capitol riots damaged his reputation within much of the GOP, forming a massive ideological separation in the party.
“Trump may not run or may not be the same candidate. He appears to have lost a step due to age; he’s embroiled in lawsuits; and whether most Republicans will admit it publicly or not, he left the institution of the presidency as less than it was,” Dr. Scott de Marchi, a political science professor at Duke University, said in an email interview. “In four years, he’ll be an even less attractive candidate than he is now.”
But even if Trump does decide to run and Republican White House hopefuls are pushed out of the primary race, presidential campaigning will only boost their national brands and name recognition, potentially propping them in the spotlight for other future political endeavors.
“This state of suspended animation for 2024 hopefuls may last a while and become increasingly uncomfortable and frustrating. That is not likely to bother Trump, who will have his own timetable as always,” Elving said.
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.