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CNN  — 

Two things happened in the last 24 hours that make very clear that ambitious Republicans believe that a) President Donald Trump is going to lose in 18 days’ time and b) the time is now to lay claim to the I-always-told-you-he-was-a-danger-to-the-country-and-the-party title.

1) The Washington Examiner obtained remarks by Sen. Ben Sasse during a tele-town hall event in which the Republican Nebraska senator was harshly critical of Trump, suggesting that the President “kisses dictators’ butts” and has “flirted with White supremacists.” (Sasse also blasted Trump for the “way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor.”)

2) The Washington Post ran a piece on Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in which he says he cast a write-in vote for the late Ronald Reagan in the 2020 election. “I know it’s simply symbolic,” Hogan told the Post. “It’s not going to change the outcome in my state. But I thought it was important to just cast a vote that showed the kind of person I’d like to see in office.”

The timing of both of these moments is, um, not coincidental. (There are no coincidences in politics.) Let’s dig a little deeper.

Sasse’s office told CNN that he made his critical Trump comments at a tele-town hall with roughly 17,000 Nebraskans on the line. When you want something not to get out, do you usually tell 17,000 of your closest friends? Right. Even if Sasse – or some Sasse ally – didn’t leak the audio to the Examiner, you can rest assured that the senator made these comments for public consumption.

This wasn’t a mistake. This was a strategy.

Ditto Hogan’s decision to sit down for an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday and reveal to the paper that he had written in unassailable conservative hero Ronald Reagan rather than vote for either Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden.

(Sidebar: This is an act of incredibly empty symbolism by Hogan. The governor of a state is saying that the best way to express your unhappiness with the four year of Trump is to … wait for it … throw away your vote on a deceased person? Uh …)

In case you had any doubt about what Hogan was after in talking to the Post, consider this paragraph from the same piece:

“Hogan’s latest rejection of his party’s standard-bearer comes as he works to expand his political network nationwide ahead of a possible 2024 presidential bid, with a flurry of fundraisers this month for GOP candidates from Vermont to Nebraska who also cast themselves as pragmatic Republicans.”

So, yeah.

Sasse and Hogan have made similar calculations at about the same time: Trump is very likely to lose in 18 days’ time. And that defeat, which will likely be by a significant margin, will occasion a deep reexamination by Republicans of the last five-plus years – one that will produce a significant chunk of Republicans who feel as though the party needs to move radically away from Trump (and Trumpism, such as it exists).

Both men want to be at the front of the line as potential standard-bearers for that anti-Trump fervor within the party. Both have been among a relative paucity of elected Republican officials willing to criticize Trump’s conduct in office – Hogan considered a primary run against Trump in 2020 before ruling it out – and want to make sure they beat what they believe will be a mad rush to leap off the Trump yacht post-election. (Worth noting: Sasse went basically silent for months in his criticism of Trump as he was working to win renomination. It worked – and he even got a Trump endorsement!)

These are the first of what I would expect to be a number of moves made among aspiring GOP pols looking to get away from what they believe to be the Trump wreckage scattered everywhere in the Republican Party in the first week of November.

In short: The race for the 2024 GOP nomination is already on. And the expectation – among several of the potential candidates in that race – is that the President is headed to a convincing defeat on November 3, a loss that will force a reckoning within the party and open the door for their post-Trump candidacies.