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A Crowded Republican Field Helps Trump Enormously

At this point in the race, the 2024 nomination is Trump's to lose.

Photo: Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, via Wikimedia Commons

Former Vice President Mike Pence, the ultra-loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump until after the 2020 elections and with whom he twice shared the top ticket, filed papers this week with the Federal Election Commission to enter the 2024 GOP nomination.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who famously took down Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 GOP debates and helped pave the way for Trump to clinch the nomination, is expected to announce this week that he, too, will throw his hat in the ring.

Christie was part of Trump's transition team and a member of his innermost circle. In a 2019 CNBC interview, Christie boasted about their close relationship, saying that Trump offered him numerous high-profile positions - including that of the Labor secretary, Homeland Security secretary, special assistant to the president, ambassador to Rome, and ambassador to the Vatican - all of which he turned down. Christie's genial T.V. presence and direct private line to Trump got Christie a lucrative ABC Sunday morning talk show gig, which he now hopes to exploit.

There's also Nikki Haley, Trump's former U.N. ambassador, who was among the first to announce that she would challenge Trump, even before Trump himself had made his plans clear. We predicted that, in the right circumstances, Haley could be a formidable opponent. Haley polled less than 2% at CPAC Dallas, which we covered gavel to gavel last summer. In the latest RealClearPolitics polling averages, she has inched up to 3.3% despite a barrage of media hit pieces since her announcement.

Vice presidents and cabinet officers angling for their bosses' jobs after their term in office is as American as American pie. President Biden served under President Obama. Vice President Gore almost won the presidency in 2000 when Florida decided for Bush 43 by 538 votes.

But what makes 2024 different is that Pence is competing with his former boss for the nomination and has turned into a Never-Trumper. Only one former president has returned to win non-consecutive terms - Grover Cleveland, in 1892, after losing the electoral college in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison. [Cleveland won the presidency for the first time in 1884]. Trump supporters would love for this history to repeat and deal a final blow to antagonists who have been plotting Trump's political demise for eight years.

Among the others in the race, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the most prominent candidate with the highest name recognition. Vivek Ramaswamy, whom we profiled recently, was at 4 percent in the most recent Fox News poll. Also running is an exciting African American candidate, Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), who was first nominated to a seat by Nikki Haley when she was South Carolina governor, and later won a full Senate term on his own. No one from South Carolina has ever won the White House.

Even five candidates challenging Trump is sizable, considering that all of them dutifully sat out the 2020 primaries, which Trump won unopposed. Now, each candidate has to convince voters that Trump is suddenly not electable, a tricky feat considering that Trump created history by winning more votes in his second run than the first and still lost. No president has done that in over 100 years.

The most obvious way for challengers to attack Trump is to point out his troubles since President Biden took office. These would include Trump's second impeachment, the politically-charged January 6 proceedings, the classified documents case being pushed hard by Merrick Garland (who has proven himself to be politically motivated), the two New York lawsuits, and the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis's Georgia election case. Most GOP voters would viscerally react to any Republican candidate mentioning these Trump "deficiencies" because they believe that the former President is the target of the "swamp's" long campaign to bring him down.

Undaunted, more challengers are entering the field. There are so many that the RNC may have to open up a second overflow debate stage to accommodate them all. Politico counts long-shot contenders Asa Hutchinson (former two-term Arkansas governor), Larry Elder (former conservative media personality), businessman Perry Johnson, who failed to qualify for the 2022 Michigan governor's race, and Ryan Binkley, a Dallas-area businessman and non-denominational pastor.

A crowded Republican field would help Trump enormously. It would be difficult for his challengers to differentiate themselves from Trump on policy. Most buy into large parts of the MAGA agenda anyway, where subtle differences matter little. When everyone on a debate stage utters the same message on Ukraine, "fake news," immigration, crime, the economy, inflation, and Covid, Trump will likely stand out as the person who led on all these matters as the 45th president. No challenger who confronts Trump about 2020 election irregularities will survive the race. Just look at what happened to Liz Cheney.

Challengers could try to talk about intangible but critical code words such as "temperament," "conduct," or "avoiding drama," but invite risk if Trump counter-attacks as he is well prone to do. Trump has already used several nicknames to attack DeSantis, the most common being Ron DeSanctus.

The best hope for the challengers is to see Trump legally in trouble from all the cases brewing against him. This strategy is risky, too, as many issues - such as whether Trump can run for office from prison - are constitutionally untested.

At this point in the race, the 2024 nomination is Trump's to lose.

Related Infographic/Data Insights

GOP Primary voters favor Trump-DeSantis race
One half think legal actions against Trump are political

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