As he has twice before, Donald Trump is once again campaigning to be “elected” President of the United States, although he has little interest in actually “serving” as President. And this time, his presidential ambitions may well prevent the Republican Party from securing the nation’s highest office for the foreseeable future.
In 2016, Trump launched a presidential campaign largely to antagonize his critics and publicize his many business ventures, and surprised everyone — maybe even himself — when he fully captured the Republican Party and declared victoire. In 2020, he ran again because he needed the legal protection offered by the office and felt entitled to re-election. When he lost, he refused to admit defeat and claimed, without evidence, that the result was illegitimate. Now he’s back in the ring because he wants to take back what he believes was “stolen” from him.
It is still far from certain, however, that we will see a Trump-Biden rematch in 2024. Indeed, it may prove difficult – if not impossible – for the former president to secure the Republican nomination.
By the time Trump became the official GOP nominee in 2016, most “never Trump” Republicans had fallen into line. And the few people who continued to publicly oppose him after his election victory either retired or lost their positions during his presidency. This allowed Trump to enter the 2020 race with a tight hold on the party. However, a lot has changed since then.
After poor Republican turnout in the 2022 midterm elections, many prominent Republicans — including some who backed Trump’s “stolen election” story after his 2020 defeat — turned on the former president. Large swathes of Republican voters concerned about Trump’s political prospects due to his myriad legal fights have also begun to demand that someone else represent them in the upcoming election. Meanwhile, his lucrative stunts, such as his bizarre NFT trading card business, have left even his most loyal allies unable to defend him.
Faced with a diminished Trump, several other contenders for the Republican nomination have emerged.
Number one among these new contenders is undoubtedly Florida’s recently re-elected Governor Ron DeSantis. In recent years, DeSantis has raised his profile within the Republican Party by positioning himself more to the right of Trump and taking a stand against vaccines, LGBTQ inclusion and the so-called “wake-up call” in general. Two major polls already predicted DeSantis would beat Trump in a head-to-head race for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Several other veteran Republicans are also testing the waters for a potential race, such as former Trump officials Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley. And rising GOP stars like Glenn Youngkin are also waiting backstage to see if they should throw their hats in the ring. Many Republican voters and party insiders hope that one of these candidates can carry the legacy of the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) movement and save it from being tossed into the dustbin of history due to the Trump’s personal responsibilities.
At this point, the best-case scenario for the GOP would be for Trump to drop out of the race, support a consensus candidate like DeSantis, and then stay relatively quiet. However, anyone who is even familiar with Trump’s character knows that this is a highly unlikely scenario.
Another scenario that could work for the GOP would be one in which Trump’s growing legal troubles lead to criminal charges, leaving him virtually unable to support a presidential campaign. Even that, however, would not be the end of Trump’s problems with the Republican Party.
In such a scenario, the Biden campaign and Trump himself would force the Republican presidential nominee to declare their position on Trump, forcing them to either align themselves with a possible criminal or anger Trump’s ever-loyal supporters. trying to distance themselves. of the former president.
And that goes to the heart of the difficulty the GOP will face if it chooses anyone other than Trump as its candidate in the 2024 election.
If the party does not nominate Trump, a significant portion of Republican voters who believe their leader has been betrayed by the party could suddenly become “only Trumpers.”
From the Republican vote depression to mail-in ballot conspiracy theories to fomenting the January 6, 2021, insurrection, Trump has consistently shown he’s willing to burn down the house rather than hand it over. someone else. So it’s almost certain that if he feels aggrieved by the GOP, he won’t hesitate to say and do whatever is necessary to turn his supporters against the party. Trump could even launch an independent third race if he loses the GOP nomination.
Of course, Election Day 2024 is a long way off and things can still change.
Trump could be truly discredited or even imprisoned by the end of 2023, which could lead his followers to wash their hands of him and unite behind an alternative GOP candidate.
Even if Trump manages to stay in the game until the election, political partisanship may still trump personal loyalty, and Republicans in MAGA could vote for whoever the GOP nominates just to avoid another Democratic presidency.
Of course, another economic downturn or major foreign policy disaster could also weaken President Joe Biden’s re-election chances against whoever ends up being the Republican nominee.
Right now, however, the rifts Trump created within the Republican Party seem deeper than ever. With Trump still desperate to be elected president, it’s unlikely the GOP will be able to unite behind another leader and change his electoral fortunes anytime soon. So, for now, the 2024 election looks like President Biden’s election to lose.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.