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Trump Appears to be Clearing the 2024 Field, but Does He Want That?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Former Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan finally came to his senses and opted not to run for president. That's one person who had zero shot of clinching the 2024 nomination having a "come to Jesus" moment. We still have some dead weight in the ranks, but there hasn't been a deluge akin to the 2016 crop. 

NBC News observed that the 2016 race felt like half the Republican Senate caucus was running; it's somewhat true. There were also many governors whom many projected to be presidential material that got exposed quickly. The 2024 race has some familiar names other than Trump. Ron DeSantis will supposedly announce in the summer, but we have former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy for now. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could toss his hat into the ring. Other than that, it's all quiet on the western front. It's a sign that Trump is a candidate clearing the field, as other names tossed around for president are sitting this one out. 

NBC News succinctly pointed out that when you're running against a former president who commands a die-hard and loyal slice of the Republican base or an incumbent president, the political mountain could be unscalable. For Trump, however, you want as many people jumping into the ring as possible since he could re-clinch the nomination with 35-40 percent of the vote if 2024 resembles the candidate jungle of 2016 (via NBC News):

Republicans have an open presidential primary in 2024, and the Senate is packed with hyper-ambitious and self-confident politicians, many with national followings and barely concealed presidential aspirations. Yet nearly all of them are taking a pass at a White House bid next year after former President Donald Trump launched his attempted comeback campaign in November. 

“This cycle is shaping up to be very different from every cycle since 2000, where it seemed half the Senate was campaigning for president,” said Alex Conant, who worked for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in his Senate office and then his 2016 presidential campaign. 

That year, the GOP field was so crowded with senators — Rubio, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — that Conant recalled a candidate forum in New Hampshire where a crop of candidates took part from a Capitol Hill studio. None of them have expressed interest in running this cycle. 

[…]

Cruz, Hawley and Rick Scott, whose seats are up in 2024, have chosen to seek re-election rather than roll the dice on a White House run. 

“I’ve never said I was going to run for president,” said Hawley, 43, who has been steadily raising his national profile with foreign policy speeches and headline-grabbing legislation. “I have not visited Iowa or any of those places. So I hope to run for re-election” in the Senate, he said. 

Rick Scott said simply, “I’m running for the Senate.” When asked if that means he’s definitely not running for another office in 2024, he replied, “Right.” 

One exception to the Senate trend is Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who is inching toward a 2024 presidential run but hasn’t announced a final decision yet. 

Cruz, the runner-up to Trump in the 2016 contest, crisscrossed the country during the 2022 midterm election cycle, stumping for fellow Republicans and building up chits. But in recent weeks, he has made clear he plans to run for another term in the Senate and help his party win back control of the chamber.

It's a double-edged sword for Trump. Being able to clear the field is a quality a presidential candidate likes to hold. It saves you time and money, two of the most valuable political resources. However, Trump isn't like other candidates, which is a blessing and a curse. He can't run as an outsider anymore; his most effective messaging strategy from 2016. The pervasive whining and ranting about the 2020 election are also grating on voters he needs to convince for a second chance at the White House. His supporters are already animated about that, but the 2020 shenanigans and other acts of rambunctiousness might have cost the GOP a red wave year in 2022. 

It should be clear to anyone right now that in 2024, there are enough voters to block Trump from winning, with a significant chunk coming from the Republican Party now. They can't handle the "bull in the china closet" routine, entertaining as it may be. And being a former president, Trump must be, for lack of a better term, more boring. There's still plenty of time for him to change his tune, and he can—but admittedly, he might look uncomfortable doing it. He commands a room and is good off-script, but we need to focus on the economy, the military, securing the border, and virtually rebuilding the country. Trump can do that and expound on reinforcing security standards for our elections; election integrity is crucial. But we all know he'll go off the rails about 2020 and how he won, even knowing that Biden will never be removed under those circumstances. Again, I can easily vote for Trump in 2024 should he win the nomination—I'm just not as confident that he can win, which will require him to smash through the blue wall again.

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