As Trump 2024 hopes fade, GOP frontrunners scramble to get ahead

Graig Graziosi
Friday 15 January 2021 00:20 GMT
Vice President Mike Pence oversaw the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory on Wednesday.
Vice President Mike Pence oversaw the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory on Wednesday. (Getty Images)
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Donald Trump has already teased that he plans to run for president again in 2024, returning to the world of presidential politics with a revenge campaign aimed at rectifying his baseless, conspiratorial allegations that massive voter fraud cost him the 2020 election.

Regardless of his intentions, Mr Trump may not be allowed to run again in 2024. The House impeached Mr Trump for a second time, alleging he committed seditious acts by inciting the violent siege at the Capitol. If he is convicted in the Senate, the president may be barred from seeking public office ever again.

Even if he is not barred, Mr Trump’s aides told Politico that he is being warned against running again by aides and other Republican allies.

The president reportedly has his own reservations about a second run, as he would have to provide financial details ahead of a second run that could make him vulnerable to ongoing investigations into his finances underway by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James.

So, if Mr Trump does not carry the Republican banner in 2024, who will?

Plenty of GOP heavy lifters are vying to become the face of the post-Trump Republican party, some by appealing to Mr Trump’s base, others by trying to place as much distance between themselves and the president as possible. Here’s what we know:

The Second in Command: Mike Pence

Mike Pence speaking in Georgia (Getty Images)

Up until the events of the Capitol riot, Vice President Mike Pence appeared to be a potential shoe-in for GOP frontrunner in 2021. The logic went like this: Mr Pence would have been a perfect bridge between the traditional GOP and the populist base that Mr Trump activated. Since Mr Pence was the president's right hand man, it stood to reason he would be a popular pick among Mr Trump’s base, but his more measured and traditional approach to Republican politics would put “Never Trump” Republicans and conservative fence-sitters at ease.

However, that equation changed dramatically after the attack on the Capitol. Mr Trump held Mr Pence responsible for accepting the states’ electoral votes that confirmed Joe Biden would be the incoming president. Rioters who attacked the Capitol said they wanted to hang Mr Pence, who was whisked away during the opening clashes on the Capitol steps.

Considering his newfound place in the gallery of people Mr Trump holds accountable for his loss, it may mean Mr Pence has little to no chance of winning over the president's base, making a 2024 run much more difficult for the outgoing vice president.

The Ambassador: Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, is overseeing funding cuts to the international body (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

Former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, announced she was forming a PAC, which many political analysts suggest is a precursor to a 2024 presidential run.

Ms Haley has proven popular in both the traditional conservative and populist conservative circles. Rumours from the Trump media world circulated ahead of the 2020 election suggesting Mr Trump was going to replace Mr Pence with Ms Haley as his vice presidential candidate.

Ms Haley also would give the Republicans a candidate that could undercut Democrats' social arguments focused on promoting diversity.

Almost every House Republican that defeated a Democrat in the last election was either a woman or a person of colour, a reality which may convince Republicans that their next candidate should come from one of those demographics.

Ms Haley was one of the featured speakers at the Republican National Convention and was praised for not degrading into the hysterical ranting that characterised the speeches from members of the Trump clan. Her hardline stances against “socialism” and her support for small businesses would likely make her a strong candidate for bridging the gap between traditional Republicans and Mr Trump's populist base. She has also managed to be one of the few Trump-associated political figures to escape the president's administration without marring from his election fraud claims or the attack on the Capitol.

The “Anti-Trump”: Larry Hogan

Gov. Larry Hogan announced the discovery of Gideon McKean's body after five days of searching (AP)

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has spent much of his time during Trump’s time in office positioning himself as the “anti-Trump”.

Months after the coronavirus pandemic began, Mr Hogan wrote a scathing editorial explaining how he and his wife managed to secure medical equipment for the state thanks to their connections with the South Korean government after their attempts to secure help from Mr Trump fell on deaf ears.

He released a video after the 2020 election in which he lamented the current state of the Republican party, calling it the party of “Lincoln and Reagan” – not the party of Trump – and claiming the party “can’t win national elections”.

Traditional Republicans blame Mr Trump’s conspiracy campaign alleging massive voter fraud as partly responsible for the party’s Senate losses in Georgia, which resulted in Democrats retaking the Senate.

Mr Hogan has positioned himself as a bipartisan Republican. He now co-chairs the bipartisan organisation “No Labels” that advances centrist political ideas.

Naturally, Mr Hogan would likely face vicious opposition from Mr Trump's base, but his staunch opposition to the Trump playbook could allow him to win back moderate conservatives who voted Democrat in 2020 to oppose Mr Trump.

The Loyalist: Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz says he will present Pennsylvania mail-in ballot lawsuit if SCOTUS takes it (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Senator Ted Cruz, perhaps more than any other candidate, was humiliated by Mr Trump during the Republican primaries in 2016. Mr Trump insinuated his wife was ugly, suggested his father might have been the Zodiac killer, and gave him the nickname “Lyin’ Ted”.

Despite this, few politicians have rolled over more for the president than Mr Cruz.

Should Mr Cruz choose to run in 2024, it’s likely he could rally Mr Trump’s base, as he remained faithful to the president and led the charge from the Senate to object to Congress’s counting of the states' electoral votes that named Mr Biden president.

However, Mr Cruz – along with Senator Josh Hawley – are facing calls from Democrats that they be removed from office. Congressional Democrats view Mr Cruz and Mr Hawley's opposition to the results of the 2020 election as complicity in the events that led to the riot at the US Capitol.

Further, one of the Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol that was found with homemade napalm and unregistered weapons carried a folder with the numbers for Mr Cruz’s Texas offices scribbled on its cover.

Even if he carries the stains of the Capitol insurrection into the next four years, Mr Cruz has a long history in the Republican party and would likely be able to rally both traditional Republicans and the party's populist base should he make a run. That said, he would also face exceptional opposition from Democrats, who would have plenty of ammunition to use against him should he enter the fray in 2024.

The Stalwart: Tom Cotton

Tom Cotton said he would be 'honoured' to serve on the court (Getty Images)

Senator Tom Cotton is a hardline Republican, running on his military credentials, law and order rule, and opposing the specter of “socialism” that the GOP levies against any and all social safety net programs.

Mr Cotton gained notoriety over the summer after he penned a New York Times editorial calling for the US military to be deployed against racial justice protesters demonstrating in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

While the idea was popular among Mr Trump's supporters, it's unclear if Mr Cotton's personality would capture the base in the same way that Mr Trump did.

Mr Cotton is calculated and does not often deal in the same kind of bombastic proclamation that made Mr Trump a permanent headline and a hero to his base.

The senator could pick up support from moderate and traditional Republicans, and potentially with conservative-leaning fence sitters, but senators traditionally have not done well in presidential campaigns – only 17 Republican presidential nominees have come from the Senate in the past 100 years – and Mr Cotton would face the same uphill battle.

The Talking Head: Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson speaking during Tucker Carlson Tonight on Thursday 7 January 2020 ((Fox News))

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson – whose show is the most watched political programme in cable television – has been touted by some as the natural heir to Mr Trump's legacy.

Mr Carlson would enter the fray with enormous name recognition, a built-in audience, a media platform, and a history of defending Mr Trump's actions, no matter how heinous.

The Fox News host constantly engages with the kind of culture war battles that animates Mr Trump's populist base, criticising the coronavirus lockdowns, racial justice protests, and espousing anti-immigrant rhetoric. He has claimed that racism “is not a real problem in America” and backed Mr Trump’s claims of massive election fraud following the 2020 election.

However, Mr Carlson has not given any indication he plans to run.

When asked, he said “no, I’m not running for anything, come on”.

Even if he did, it’s unclear if establishment Republicans would rally behind another TV personality presidential candidate following the blows the party has taken as a result of Mr Trump.  

The Pillow Guy: Mike Lindell  

Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow outlined how Trump supporters should work to pressure the electoral college to undermine the election result in Georgia (Getty Images)

It’s strange, and it’s a long shot, but the perennial Fox News guest and pillow maestro Mike Lindell could be a potential face to watch heading into 2024.

Mr Lindell, the owner of MyPillow, which is a constant advertiser on Fox News, is one of Mr Trump’s most public allies and has made numerous appearances at his rallies and on cable news circuits defending the president.

If the Pillow Guy chooses to run, it would most certainly be met with groans from establishment Republicans as he has no background in politics and his campaign would almost certainly be another conspiracy and embellishment-filled spectacle.

However, Mr Lindell is viewed by populist conservatives as a self-made, successful business owner who was loyal to Mr Trump and echoed all of the policy goals and culture war rhetoric that rallied the president's base in the first place. His lack of experience could work in his favour, as Mr Trump's populist base likely trusts establishment politicians even less after numerous notably Republican lawmakers “betrayed” the president by either not supporting his election fraud claims or by not supporting him on 6 January.  

What’s more, Mr Lindell would almost certainly have a very powerful supporter on the campaign trail: Donald Trump.

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