(The Hill) — The prospect that Donald Trump could face challengers from his own party in 2024 is growing even as the former president inches ever closer to another White House run.
Though Trump has not officially declared his candidacy for president, he’s all but said it’s a matter of when not if. And while the former president waves off the chances of another Republican beating him for the nomination, there are growing signs he could face a formidable primary challenge once the race kicks into high gear.
Recent polling suggests many GOP voters are ready to move on from Trump. And as the Jan. 6 hearings continue to pile scrutiny on the former president, other prospective 2024 Republicans are making the rounds in early voting states, drawing fresh speculation that they’re planning to take on the de facto leader of the party.
A New York Times/Siena College poll released this week found that 49% of Republican primary voters said they would back the former president. But 47% said they would support another GOP nominee.
“People are open to another candidate,” said Republican strategist Saul Anuzis. “Looking at, from a futuristic standpoint, who are some of the younger, newer Republican leaders who are emerging around the country.”
“There are a lot of new leaders emerging that would kind of continue the policies Trump supported and don’t have some of the baggage Trump has by automatically drawing a large anti-Trump constituency to the table as you start a campaign,” he continued.
And those younger Republican leaders are crisscrossing the country and testing the waters.
Former Trump administration offices like Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have taken a number of trips to the early presidential contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire while sitting senators like Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) have also been floated as potential 2024 hopefuls.
One strategist with ties to Trump’s orbit expressed some skepticism about the likes of Pence and Pompeo challenging the former president, suggesting they were positioning themselves in the event Trump decides not to run.
Even Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who won his first and only election last November, has been floated as a possibly viable pick for Republicans. Youngkin made headlines earlier this month when he addressed Nebraska’s Republican Party.
But it’s Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who has gotten the most attention as a potential alternative to Trump.
DeSantis, a former congressman, was one of the former president’s closest allies during the Trump administration. The governor has notably received praise for keeping Florida open during the majority of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reports surfaced last week that DeSantis was planning to hold a private fundraiser with GOP megadonors later this month, while Politico reported that the governor recently convened a number of his top donors and some GOP governors in Fort Lauderdale.
DeSantis has maintained that he’s focused on his reelection bid in November, but speculation about a potential presidential run from the governor is building.
“DeSantis today is probably the most viable alternative to Trump,” Anuzis said. “A lot of people are looking at him as the next generation of Republican leaders.”
But a DeSantis run could lead to a potential showdown with Trump, who has taken credit for DeSantis’ political success.
The Republican strategist with ties to Trump’s orbit told The Hill that DeSantis is “more likely than not to run,” but argued the governor would struggle in a primary with Trump.
“A big part of his appeal is around his support for Trump and that he’s Trump’s governor in Florida,” the strategist said before suggesting that DeSantis’ support could take a hit in a potential primary if he tried to attack or criticize the former president.
While Trump is the clear frontrunner in the majority of hypothetical 2024 Republican primary polls, recent data suggests that DeSantis is beginning to close the gap.
A much-talked-about University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll released last month showed DeSantis receiving 39% support from likely Republican primary voters in the state compared to 37% for Trump.
Meanwhile, a KLAS TV-The Hill-Emerson College poll published this week showed both DeSantis and Trump beating Biden in the battleground state of Nevada.
Strategists suggest the close in the gap between Trump and DeSantis, in addition to Trump’s performance in the New York Times/Sienna College poll, is indicative of a larger trend.
“He’s on the downtrend and he has been for the past year,” Keith Naughton, a GOP strategist, said.
But Republicans also caution that Trump has the best shot of winning a primary at this moment due to his ability to fundraise, support among the grassroots, and strong name I.D.
“He’s still the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I think at this stage in the game if he were to decide to run, he would be the candidate to beat if not the presumptive nominee,” Anuzis said.
The national mood could not be better for Republicans going into the 2022 midterms. Biden’s approval ratings continue to plummet as inflation continues to rise. And with Republicans appearing to be on track to make significant gains in Congress and across the country in November, the party’s strategists say the environment is ripe for exploring a potential GOP presidential bid.
“Given how vulnerable Biden is it will draw a lot of candidates,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign.
However, party strategists warn that Trump could deal a blow to Republicans’ 2024 chances if he continued to center his 2024 message on the 2020 presidential election results.
“He’s in repeats right now. These aren’t ‘Seinfeld’ repeats, these are ‘Cosby Show’ repeats, nothing anyone really wants to see anymore,” Naughton said.
Instead, Republicans say that whoever their nominee is must be critical of Biden’s first term in office, not his presidential campaign from four years ago.
“The 2024 election is going to be about the Democrats’ record. Whether Biden runs again or not, the Democrats are going to have to define his term in office,” Conant said.
“I think for Republicans to be successful, we need to make the case that Biden was not successful and we can do better,” he continued. “If we try to make the election about who won in 2020, that is not going to inspire independent voters to get out and vote for the Republican candidate.”
It remains unclear when Trump will make an announcement, but strategists agree the former president should keep it under wraps until the midterms for the sake of his party.
“Some voters will resent a candidate looking toward the next election when we haven’t even had the one that’s right in front of us yet,” Conant said. “There’s going to be plenty of time for presidential politics in 2023.”
Brett Samuels contributed to this report.