Former Vice President Mike Pence sometimes inspired memes and mockery for his devotion to former President Trump during their four years together in the White House. But last week, Pence told a town hall of voters that there will be better candidates than Trump in 2024.
Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters last year that she would stay out of the 2024 presidential primaries if Trump were a candidate. But in Las Vegas over the weekend, Haley called for a new wave of leadership for the GOP.
Nikki Haley gives remarks at an event for then-Pennsylvania Republican nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz, as he receives an endorsement from the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, October 26, 2022.
In his own speech in Las Vegas, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recounted a Washington Post story describing him as Trump’s most loyal cabinet member. But in that same speech, Pompeo argued that the party had to go beyond “celebrity and personality” to win elections.
After Trump demanded unrelenting allegiance from his subordinates for four years, fear of the old boss may no longer be a factor as the former CEO’s former allies consider becoming his future rivals.
“At this point, you can’t run for the Republican nomination without walking past Trump,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign.
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“Whether it’s testing the waters or taking the first step toward an actual campaign, they need to make it clear they’re not going to disrespect the former president,” Conant said. “If you’re interested in running for president, an important litmus test for any viable candidate is: can you run against Trump.”
The former president may be at his most politically vulnerable point since leaving the White House in the wake of this month’s disappointing interim results for the Republicans. The disappointment was largely caused by losses by Trump’s hand-picked candidates in Senate and gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania and Arizona, as well as gubernatorial races in Wisconsin and Michigan.
A Marist poll conducted after the midterm elections found that 54 percent of Republicans and Republican independents believe Trump is not the best candidate for the party to take back the White House in 2024, compared to 35 percent who say he is it is.
Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis addresses supporters on election night after winning his race for re-election in Tampa, Florida, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, as his wife Casey listens.
A YouGov poll conducted after the midterm elections also found that 41 percent of Republican voters said they would choose Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the party’s nominee in 2024, compared to 39 percent who preferred gave to Trump. Eight percent said they chose neither as a possible candidate.
Despite the uncertainty, Trump has already officially declared his candidacy for the 2024 campaign. But that hasn’t deterred his potential challengers, even those who worked alongside him for four years.
That was on full display in Las Vegas last weekend at the meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, where several potential 2024 contenders were in attendance.
“We keep losing and losing and losing. And the fact is, the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump put himself above everyone else,” said Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey who was one of Trump’s first advocates in 2016 and an informal adviser during his White House term.
Others were less willing to go directly after Trump.
Haley said the party should “look in the mirror” and avoid power struggles. She also told those in attendance that she wanted to be president “in a serious way.”
Pence has spent the past week promoting his new memoir by repeatedly saying he believes the party will have better choices than Trump by 2024 and repeatedly referred to the achievements of the “Trump-Pence administration” in Las Vegas.
Pompeo appears to be Trump’s latest acolyte to begin to distance himself from the former president. While the former Secretary of State did not explicitly criticize Trump by name in his speech in Las Vegas, his recent remarks unmistakably focused on the style of his old boss.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 25, 2022 in Orlando, Fla.
“We were told we would be tired of winning; I’m tired of losing. Bitterness and obsession with the past lie beneath America,” Pompeo said, adding that the party needed “leadership that puts principle above politics again.”
Republican strategists argued that the likes of Pence, Haley and Christie had ambitions to run for the White House that predated Trump and were unlikely to stand in the way of the former president testing the waters.
Yet Trump remains a force in the party. He is officially the only candidate in the race, and his loyal following gives him a solid footing in a possible primary.
Doug Heye, a former spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, said he sees parallels between the current climate in GOP politics and 2016, when Trump navigated a fractured field of challengers and eventually consolidated support even among those like Pence, Pompeo and Haley who had originally supported another candidate.
“The only thing that will make this different is when someone puts their hat in the ring, and then we have to see what happens,” said Heye.