Former Vice President Mike Pence—the guy who declined to take a stand against Donald Trump after he sicced a deadly mob on Pence and his family at the Capitol—will be heading to the primary proving ground of South Carolina. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s runner up in the CPAC straw poll, is staying put in the Sunshine State for now, content to throw barbs at fellow Floridian Sen. Scott as he searches for a path to retaking the upper chamber.
Even Trump has his “deep bench” of favorites, as he put it this week on a Fox News podcast with Lisa Boothe. If he doesn’t run, Trump likes DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former White House press secretary and Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Sorry Pompeo.
Jeff Kaufmann, chair of the Iowa Republican Party, is nothing if not abuzz with GOP primary anticipation. “Iowa’s going to be hopping,” Kaufmann told Politico.
Of course, we know what the last “deep bench” of Republicans produced—Trump. And at the moment, Trump still has this truly tragic bench of GOP hopefuls boxed in until he decides how badly his ego, his pocketbook, and his legal standing need a presidential-sized boost.
“I would almost call it a shadow campaign,” one New Hampshire GOP operative told Politico. “It’s kind of operating in this silo as if he doesn’t run again.”
Effectively, any Republican who wants a shot at 2024 has to proceed as if Trump isn’t running or they risk being caught flat-footed if he ultimately bows out. While incumbent presidents who fail to get elected to a second term are relatively rare breeds, those who lose and consider running again are rarer still. Not since former President Gerald Ford lost the presidential contest in 1976 and toyed with the idea of running four years later has a group of presidential hopefuls had to confront that potentiality.
And as everyone on the right either willingly concedes or enthusiastically asserts—it’s Trump’s party now and he can take it or leave it.