Pawtucket Times

GOP 2024 hopefuls chart paths to run against or around Trump


LAS VEGAS – Open defiance of Donald Trump, a surefire form of political suicide for Republican politician­s for much of the past six years, has suddenly become a reliable applause line.

At a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting here, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu implored Republican­s to stop nominating “crazy, unelectabl­e candidates” at a showcase of possible presidenti­al contenders. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called the 2022 midterm the third election that Republican­s lost under Donald Trump – “three strikes and you’re out.” Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie compared politician­s’ fear of Trump to their fear of being branded a communist in the 1960s amid “litmus tests based on lies.”

Others were less directly critical but no less audacious in suggesting their ambitions to challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination. Former members of Trump’s administra­tion positioned themselves as heirs to his agenda, with one of them – former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley – declaring serious interest in a 2024 bid despite once ruling out a clash with Trump. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got a rock star’s reception as he touted his landslide reelection and took up the issues that fire up Trump’s base while never mentioning the former president.

Their pitches at the RJC event – an unofficial kickoff of the presidenti­al primary season – made clear that Republican­s are not running scared of Trump and are even eager for the contest, as disappoint­ing midterm results have

set off a cascade of hand-wringing and finger-pointing in the party.

They also showed a range of theories for how to run against Trump in 2024, underscori­ng an increasing­ly public debate in the GOP about how Trump can be beat. Republican­s are divided about the wisdom of attacking Trump directly, even as they take up similar messages about electabili­ty. Potential candidates and donors are already discussing the importance of coalescing around one person to prevent a repeat of 2016, when Trump prevailed in a crowded field.

Sununu said in an interview that as governor of a first-inthe-nation primary state, he plans to take responsibi­lity for urging stragglers to drop out.

“People want to move on, there’s no doubt about that,” said Sununu, who is not ruling out a run of his own and said of Trump: “He’ll have to fight for it like everybody else.”

Some potential Republican candidates – including former vice president Mike Pence and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, – have criticized the announceme­nt this week of a special counsel for criminal investigat­ions into Trump’s conduct. But Republican­s have not rallied around Trump nearly as vociferous­ly as they did in August, when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago while probing the former president’s handling of classified documents.

“I don’t think he will be unconteste­d,” Cruz said this weekend, shortly after opening his speech in Las Vegas with a question: “How do we win?”

At a private dinner Thursday for RJC donors and VIPs, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Republican­s needed to avoid factionali­sm and unify like family, according to several people present. Speaking after McDaniel, Christie picked up on the metaphor – and said the family needed to hash things out.

“We have to have this discussion out in the open,” Christie said Saturday in his public remarks, going on to criticize Trump’s long, singular grip on the party. “We have to have this family argument. And we need to have it now.”

Others stuck to implicit contrasts – and cast themselves as effective fighters on issues that Trump has elevated. DeSantis, a onetime Trump ally who served as the RJC’s grand finale speaker on Saturday night, got some of his biggest applause when he noted that Florida this year made “ballot harvesting” a third- degree felony – one of many Republican- led changes to election laws amid Trump’s false claims he lost the 2020 election due to widespread fraud.

Audience members stood to film with cellphones. Crowding around the stage, students reached up to shake DeSantis’s hand.

“I really don’t see the establishm­ent wing of the Republican Party coming back,” said Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary in the George W. Bush administra­tion. “Not in this cycle. I do see a legitimate fair fight that can take place over this populist outsider element that is now the new dynamic of the Republican conservati­ve movement.”

Fleischer predicted that only a “courageous few” will ultimately run against Trump. And while he expected some “more liberal Republican­s” to run – he declined to specify whom he meant – he flatly said they don’t stand a chance.

A growing push to displace Trump was clear last week at another GOP gathering – a meeting of the Republican Governors Associatio­n in Florida. GOP donor Bobbie Kilberg recalled standing up in one session to call the former president a “clear and present danger to the future of the Republican Party.” Christie got a standing ovation for similarly sharp criticism, she said.

Hogan, whose speech in Las Vegas emphasized his ability to win in decidedly blue Maryland, said governors paid little attention to Trump’s presidenti­al announceme­nt, which unfolded as they met. “I came back to the hotel room later after these events and couldn’t hardly even find it on the television switching channels,” he said in an interview.

The doubts extend even to supporters of Trump’s false insistence the 2020 was stolen. Lew Sanders, a local GOP official in Arizona who echoes Trump’s election claims, said he would back DeSantis in 2024 “without question” – and has heard from many Republican­s concerned that Trump hurt their chances in the midterms. “I’ve heard it so many times it makes me want to throw up,” he said.

Andy Sabin – who donated to Trump’s 2020 reelection bid and said he put some $ 1 million into Republican­s’ midterm efforts this year – blasted Trump’s endorsemen­t choices in an interview. He said he will support “anybody but Trump” for the presidenti­al nomination in 2024, echoing other major donors who have soured on the 45th president.

Trump came close to blowing off an appearance at the RJC’s three- day gathering but was added to the program late last week after announcing his third bid for the White House. A Trump meeting with top supporters of the RJC was previously discussed but never materializ­ed, according to a person familiar with the planning, who cited scheduling difficulti­es. A Trump spokesman did not immediatel­y respond to requests for comment.

Trump focused his remarks Saturday on restoring policies of his administra­tion that Biden reversed, saying at one point, “The future in some ways is going back a little bit to the past.”

Haley, the former United Nations ambassador under Trump, pushed back on blaming Trump or bad candidates for midterm disappoint­ments, instead faulting Republican infighting and deficits in fundraisin­g and early voting. “We have to look in the mirror,” she said in a speech on Saturday. “We’re behind the times.”

 ?? ?? Former UN ambassaor Nikki Haley speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Annual Leadership Meeting at the Venetian Las Vegas on Nov. 19.
Former UN ambassaor Nikki Haley speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Annual Leadership Meeting at the Venetian Las Vegas on Nov. 19.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States