President Donald Trump has yet to formally concede the 2020 presidential race, but he’s already planning to run again in four years’ time.
Both Axios and The Washington Post have reported in recent days that Trump is telling those close to him that he plans to run again in 2024. And his decision on Wednesday to publicly endorse Ronna McDaniel for another term as chairwoman of the Republican National Committee sends a clear message that the soon-to-be-ex-President has no plans to relinquish his death grip on the GOP solely because he lost the 2020 contest.
And here’s the most frightening thing for rival Republicans with an eye on 2024: It’s very hard to imagine anyone can keep Trump from the 2024 nomination if he wants it.
Why? Because Trump is not just the dominant figure in the party (and among the party’s base) right now. He is the only face of the party, the result of a four-year campaign designed to eradicate all dissenting voices from within the GOP, while turning the remainders into willing supplicants. What that campaign has wrought is a devastated GOP landscape where Trump is effectively like the Eye of Sauron – a totally dominant and terror-inducing presence for everyone it looks upon.
Consider what we know of the candidates in the 2024 mix.
Vice President Mike Pence, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will all probably take a pass if Trump indicated he wants the nomination again, knowing they aren’t likely to beat him and don’t want to destroy their future chances by trying.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio might run even if Trump was in the race, but we’ve seen this movie before. Trump beat both of them soundly in 2016 – and that was before he got elected president.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse? Both might run as the anti-Trump candidate whether or not the 45th president is actually in the race. But while they might have a slim chance of winning the nomination without Trump in the field, they would have no chance if the ex-president was running.
Trump has transformed the base of the Republican Party over the last five years from a group of people generally connected by similar views on economic and social policy (lower taxes, smaller government, protecting the unborn, appointing conservative judges) into what is best understood as a cult of personality revolving around him.
Whatever Trump says, the base takes as truth. Whoever he likes, they like. Whoever he attacks, they attack. It’s borderline Pavlovian. And it’s made all the more remarkable by the fact that Trump’s views on lots of issues (size of government, debt and deficit, trade) are anathema to where the party’s base (and its elected leadership) was just a decade ago.
The numbers are startling. In Gallup’s last pre-election poll, 94% of Republicans approved of how he was doing his job. Among “conservative Republicans,” who comprise the majority of the GOP base, Trump’s job approval was 97%. Yes, 97%!
Will Trump lose some of his luster once he is out of the White House and not top-of-mind for people every minute? Sure. Some. But Trump has no plans to totally cede the spotlight shining on him. He is already rumored to be considering starting a TV network to challenge Fox News’ dominance of conservative mindshare. He’s started a political action committee that will allow him to raise money and dole out dollars to candidates running in his image. And then there is his Twitter feed – and its 88.9 million followers – where Trump will undoubtedly continue to throw out the red meat that has made the party’s base so loyal to him.
Now, whether Trump actually runs again in 2024 is a harder question to answer. He will be 78 years old in 2024, and who knows whether the various legal entanglements he will face once he leaves office trip up or change his plans.
But what’s clear is that unless the Republican base undergoes a drastic rethinking of its opinions of Trump, the next Republican presidential nomination is his for the taking.