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Larry Donnelly: The 2024 race for the White House has begun - but who could run for the Republicans?

Our columnist sounds out the potential GOP field.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

IT MAY BE patently absurd to the rest of the world, but it is an inescapable reality that the campaign to be the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States in 2024 has already begun.

While no candidates have officially announced just yet, male and female aspirants are travelling across the country to test the waters. And political watchers are increasingly paying attention to their itineraries.

Speculation as to which candidates are serious and which ones are not is well underway. Next year’s congressional mid-term elections are actually a valuable tool in this regard.

Presidential hopefuls who are judicious enough to and lend a hand to the 2022 incumbents seeking re-election, insurgents mounting primary challenges, and newcomers looking to knock off Democrats can all trade their high-profile backing for much coveted lead-in endorsements during 2023.

This is especially so in early primary or caucus states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, although the huge role they enjoy during the process is the subject of unprecedented scrutiny.

The other giant variable in efforts to assess the potential field of Republican candidates is the question lingering in everyone’s mind: will Donald Trump run?

He’s still very popular within his party: approximately 50% of Republicans currently say that he is their preferred 2024 candidate.

But Trump’s numbers have dipped recently and, when asked in an NBC poll, a majority of Republicans say that they are more loyal to their party than to the former president.

Ultimately, it’s downright impossible to predict what Donald Trump will do, but my
suspicion – and that is all it is – is that Trump will not make another bid.

For one thing, potentially having to answer to criminal charges in more than one jurisdiction is a substantial impediment to laying the groundwork for a campaign, even if Trump has a significant advantage on that front.

Additionally, the small coterie of people whose counsel he will take on board have to know deep down that capturing lightning in a bottle for a second time is exceedingly rare.

Nonetheless, the former reality TV star has proven on numerous occasions that he is
always capable of shocking our collective systems.

If he can do it again, it will put paid any analysis of the putative contenders and their odds, for it presumes that Donald Trump will be endeavouring to be a king or queen maker, not attempting to reclaim the throne for himself. It also assumes that no other Trump will enter the fray.

At any rate, let’s analyse the prospective field.

donald-trump Source: PA

Three lanes

When examining the field right now, there are three rough categories in which to place the runners. 

There is the “pox on Trump” lane, the “Trump is great, but I’m not him” lane and
the “God, Trump and country” lane.

In the first lane, the “pox on Trump” category, are Republicans like Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, ex-Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan, and the US Senator from Utah, Mitt Romney.

These are traditional conservatives who find Trumpism anathema and lament the direction of the American right. Their messaging may be amplified by the media, yet has been tuned out by those who would need to hear and then heed it.

Hogan is the only one now toying with a quest for the presidency. I see no path to victory for him or anyone of this ilk.

The shrinking crowd of Republican voters instinctively drawn to this lane, however,
could be a factor if they choose to coalesce around Mike Pence.

By virtue of being Donald Trump’s vice-president, who was completely faithful to his boss until the 6 January Capitol riots, Pence is situated in the second lane – the “Trump is great but I’m not him” category.

In his heart, though, the former congressman and Indiana governor is a disciple of Ronald Reagan.

In the event that he chases the nomination, he will play intensely to what has
morphed into the GOP’s middle ground: those who maintain a sneaking regard for Trump and resent attacks on him by the media and the left, but who think he went too far in many respects.

My sense is that Pence will struggle to get traction. And being something of a yesterday’s man who is not esteemed by Trump won’t help.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s United Nations ambassador and former governor of South Carolina is also in the second category, and is a more credible and compelling potential candidate than Pence.

A first-generation American – her parents immigrated to the US from India – Haley is
an articulate politician who is a committed conservative with an impressive CV.

At the same time, owing to her ethnic background and gender, Haley can arguably appeal to a broader swathe of Americans than any other Republican.

A general election pitting Nikki Haley against Vice President Kamala Harris – provided Joe Biden decides not to pursue a second term and Harris is selected by the Democrats – would be the fascinating match-up of dreams for avid fans of US politics.

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us-ambassador-to-the-un-nikki-haley-holds-news-conference-at-the-united-nations Nikki Haley Source: SMG/PA

Trump die-hards

In the third category -  “God, country and Trump” – are a cadre of US Senators, such as Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley. Each is unquestionably a Trump sycophant.

The unvarnished truth is that none of these three could command the same devotion or inspire the same allegiance as the man they revere.

An intriguing dark horse here is the outspoken South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. It would be an uphill fight for the largely unknown quantity from the sparsely populated home of Mount Rushmore.

The top prospect for the staunchest Trump die-hards appears to be Florida Governor
Ron DeSantis.

His bullish approach to opening his state’s economy in the face of public health warnings on the danger posed by Covid-19 and his unwavering dedication to Trumpism have made him a national figure.

My guess is that if Donald Trump is not a participant, he would gravitate to DeSantis’s corner.

From this remove, my view is that Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are the two strongest of the bunch. But I believe firmly that Haley represents the GOP’s best chance at winning the White House in 2024 by a considerable distance.

That said, Donald Trump retains huge influence over the party’s grassroots, many of whom he is responsible for bringing inside the Republican tent. And he is a big DeSantis fan.

There is obviously a long, long way to go in this ridiculously protracted race. And
again, all of these dynamics change massively if Trump jumps in.

For instance, Nikki Haley has said that she will not be a candidate if he does. Ron DeSantis might bow out too.

There will be plenty of fun and games ahead on the road to Columbus, Ohio or
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – two of the cities vying to host the 2024 Republican National
Convention.

There’s only about 1,150 days to go. But who’s counting?

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie.

About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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