Price on Politics: Way too early predictions for the 2024 GOP presidential primary

Price Wilborn, Commentary Editor

In just under a year, the 2024 primary election season will get underway in America. During the 2020 primary season, the Democratic field consisted of over 20 candidates, with the first two debates being broken up into two nights each.

The 2024 Republican primary is shaping up to be similar in size and scale. Donald Trump’s loss in 2020 fractured the GOP in ways that have not been fully healed. Republicans across the board – from moderate to MAGA – will inevitably throw their hats in the ring.

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley served as the first female Governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017. President Donald Trump appointed Haley as his U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a role she held from the beginning of 2017 to the end of 2018. 

According to Britannica, Haley “focused on creating jobs and cutting small-business taxes” while “support[ing] new voter ID laws and oppos[ing] Syrian refugee resettlement in South Carolina.” As governor, Haley received national attention for signing a bill into law that removed the Confederate Flag from flying at the state capitol following the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that killed nine African-Americans.

As Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley championed President Trump’s foreign policy initiatives in the UN General Assembly while occasionally breaking rank with the administration while representing the nation on the world stage.

On Jan. 20, Haley told Sean Hannity that “it is time for a new generation. It is time for new leadership.” When asked about other possible candidates, she told Hannity that “most of them are my friends, and, you know, let the best woman win.” Eleven days later, the Charleston, South Carolina, newspaper the Post and Courier reported that Haley was planning an official campaign announcement on Feb. 15. On Feb. 14, Haley made her plans official in a tweet, with the official announcement coming the next day.

Going into the 2023 GOP primary, Haley has the chance to stake a claim as a moderate alternative to the former president. She was known to go against the president from time to time as UN ambassador and was critical of both Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s response to the Jan. 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Using her experience in the Trump administration with her occasional resistance to the former president’s policies and rhetoric position her to be an alternative that attracts moderate Republicans who are unsure of the current trajectory of the Republican Party.

Playing the moderate role will be something many candidates try to do, however, and this will hurt Haley’s already slim chances of securing the nomination.

Mike Pence

On July 15, 2016, Donald Trump tweeted the announcement of his running mate, his choice to be his vice president – Governor Mike Pence of Indiana. At the time, Pence was chosen to appeal to traditional conservatives.

Prior to serving as Vice President, Pence served Indiana in the House of Representatives. He was elected in 2000, serving until he was elected Governor of Indiana in 2012. According to the Trump White House website, Pence “established himself as a champion of limited government, fiscal responsibility, economic development, educational opportunity, and the U.S. Constitution.” As Governor of Indiana, Pence “brought the same limited government and low tax philosophy to the Indiana Statehouse,” enacting tax cuts while attracting new investment.

As Vice President, Pence served loyally as Trump’s number two. Pence supported the president throughout the administration’s time in office. Pence served as a moderating influence on Trump while playing a visible role in advocating for and implementing administration policy.

This changed, however, on Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters attached and breached the U.S. Capitol. On Jan. 5, the day before the 2020 election results were to be certified by Congress, President Trump attempted to pressure Pence into overturning results. This followed Trump’s repeated unfounded claims that the election had been “stolen” by the Democrats and that there was widespread voter fraud.

When rioters breached the Capitol Building, Pence refused to leave. Pence stayed calm and collected, trying to convince the president to overturn the results. Pence resisted pressure from Trump and his supporters, certifying the election results later on the evening of Jan. 6.

Since Jan. 6, Pence has reveled in his heroic role he played on that day. Pence has made himself out to be a protector of democracy, contrasting with Trump’s role. He has made moves that position him to run in 2024, should he decide to do so. His book “So Help Me God” was released in November. The book centered around his time as Vice President, detailing his thoughts and feelings surrounding Trump and Jan. 6. 

In interviews, Pence has remained noncommittal while making it clear that “I think we’re going to have new leadership in this party and in this country. And I have every confidence that our voters will rally behind our standard bearer and we’ll give the country a new beginning.”

Pence’s contrast to President Trump will allow him to compete with Haley as a moderate in the field. Like Haley, Pence has experiences serving and leading with Trump, but Pence has four years of this compared to Haley’s almost two years. Pence will be able to draw upon his calm demeanor on Jan. 6 and his mitigating influence on Trump while he was in office to draw moderates while appealing to Trump supporters by clinging to each positive achievement the administration made.

Mike Pompeo

Another name that has been touted as a possible 2024 GOP presidential candidate is former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who served in the Trump administration in these capacities for the entirety of the president’s term. Prior to his time in the Trump administration, Pompeo served in the House of Representatives for the Fourth District of Kansas.

Pompeo has made moves in recent weeks and months that signal his urge to get in the race. On Jan. 24, 2023, Pompeo released a book titled “Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America that I Love.” The book’s description states that “Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spearheaded the Trump Administration’s most significant foreign policy breakthroughs. Now, he reveals how he did it, and how it could happen again.”

Pompeo’s website states that “as our nation’s most senior diplomat in the Trump Administration and President Trump’s chief negotiator, Mike helped to craft U.S. foreign policy based on our nation’s founding ideals that put America First.” The site places emphasis on peace-making deals like the Abraham Accords and the strengthening of alliances.

This would be one of the largest themes in a Pompeo candidacy: attaching himself to Trump-era policies. When it comes to foreign policy, Pompeo has a unique ability to create an image unlike Pence and even Haley. Pompeo was on the ground negotiating all around the world, representing the administration and fighting for its values.

Pompeo’s military service, service and the House of Representatives and time in the Trump administration can help him in a possible 2024 campaign, but there is little else that Pompeo has to offer than attaching himself to the former president. If Trump were not already in the race, this would be a perfect way for Pompeo to set himself apart from Pence and Haley, who are actively trying to distance themselves from the former president. Instead, Pompeo will get attacked by the former president, and when compared to Trump and others in the race, he will get lost and have slim chances to secure the nomination.

Ron Desantis

The name that has been thrown around as Donald Trump’s largest competitor for the Republican nomination in 2024 is that of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. If anyone has the best chance at beating Trump to the GOP nomination, it will be DeSantis.

DeSantis has served as the Governor of Florida since 2019. Prior to serving as governor, DeSantis served in the US House of Representatives from 2013-2018 and served in the US Navy from 2004-2019, being deployed to Iraq in 2007. DeSantis graduated from Harvard Law School in 2005.

Throughout his time as Florida’s governor, DeSantis has leaned into the right-wing values promoted by Donald Trump in 2016 and beyond. During the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis was slow to enact policies that slowed the spread of the virus. Just last month, DeSantis announced an “Initiative to Make Protections from COVID Mandates Permanent, Enact New Protections for Free Speech for Medical Practitioners.” In doing this, DeSantis hopes to ban vaccine passports and mask and vaccine requirements in the state’s public schools and businesses.

DeSantis made national headlines earlier this year when he rejected a new Advanced Placement African American studies course from being taught in the state’s schools. According to CNN, “the rejection of an Advanced Placement African American Studies course follows efforts by DeSantis to overhaul Florida’s educational curriculum to limit teaching about critical race theory.”

Critical race theory has become a talking point for Republicans across the nation in recent years, and Florida has been no exception. DeSantis has seized this as a way to make national news and promote a right-wing agenda to prevent “indoctrination” of the state’s and nation’s children.

As governor, DeSantis has made himself out to be a younger alternative to Donald Trump. Throughout Trump’s time in the White House, DeSantis worked with him time and time again. In supporting Trump’s policies whole-heartedly, DeSantis has created a way for him to appeal to the Republican base as a fresh, young face who will support the policies the base supports.

Polls have shown DeSantis is more popular than the former president in some key categories, while others show DeSantis as just trailing or even surpassing Trump among Republican voters. DeSantis has a real chance at being the 2024 Republican nominee for president and, according to Morning Consult, could be the GOP’s best chance at beating Joe Biden in a general election matchup next year.

Donald Trump

Just a week after the 2022 Midterm Elections, Donald Trump announced his bid for president in 2024. Trump hinted for months about running again, so when he announced on Nov. 15, being the first Republican to do so, very few people were surprised.

Since his announcement, Trump has been the frontrunner in GOP primary polls. The hold the former president has on the Republican party is strong, with former Biden White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain calling Trump “the undisputed leader of the Republican party.”

This makes Trump a hard candidate to beat. His record, while being disliked by Democrats, is loved by Republicans. In 2016, Trump activated a GOP base that had not voted in large numbers before, which greatly contributed to his win. Since 2020, that same base has remained loyal to the former president while vilifyingJoe Biden, Kamala Harris and other high-ranking democrats across the federal government.

In doing this, Trump supporters have shown their appetite for the former president’s reelection. Far-right voters love him because he speaks directly to their concerns, and they feel represented while doing so.

The fact is that moderate Republican candidates cannot accurately represent the values and beliefs of large portions of Trump supporters. This is why there has been an increase in the far-right candidates running for and/or being elected to high positions in state and federal government, like Marjorie Taylor Green in Georgia or Kari Lake in Arizona.

All that Donald Trump has to do to secure the GOP nomination is exactly what he has done in the past – stand firm and attack his fellow candidates. All the GOP candidates who will inevitably be on the debate stage will have similar views, so personal attacks will be the most common form of “debate.” Unfortunately for the other candidates, this is where Trump shines.

Donald Trump has an easy job in 2024 – defend his record. Haley, Pence, Pompeo and DeSantis have an uphill battle, but DeSantis could pull out a victory and take on Joe Biden in the general election.

Commentary editor Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.

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