With Trump increasingly signaling that he is positioning himself for yet another presidential campaign, it is a reflection of the political limbo the top Republicans find themselves in. Always aware that they are acting under Trump’s watchful eye, they proceed cautiously for fear of alienating the easily provoked former president.
“The Trump overhang in the race will not affect what these potential candidates will do at this point. Now it will eventually. All of the things you need to do now – test a embassy, raise funds, if you have an early state strategy, go to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina – these candidates can do because we have a huge mid-range election the game, ”said David Kochel, a seasoned Republican presidential campaign strategist who lives in Iowa. “All of this can go on without Trump.”
It’s a delicate balancing act that requires campaigning in a post-Trump landscape where Trump – even after defeat – continues to dwarf everything and everyone in the party.
On Thursday, a GOP presidential candidate, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, staked a potentially dangerous position in a grand speech almost calling on Trump to entangle Republicans in “quicksand of endless complaints.”
“We need to focus our attention on the future and stop wallowing in the past,” he told an audience at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. Republicans “must face the realities of the 2020 election and learn from them – and not hide. We need to discredit the extremists among us as we did before – we’ll talk more about that in a moment. We must renounce conspiracy theorists and truth-deniers, those who know better and those who are just crazy. “
But Christie never mentioned Trump although the former president continues to revel in false claims about electoral fraud and remains the party’s leading truth-denier on the outcome of the 2020 election.
Almost all of the senior GOP presidential candidates have already said they will not challenge Trump in a Republican primary. One reason: According to opinion polls by the Republicans, Trump still has an iron grip on the party. A survey by a Republican company Echelon Insights Last month showed that 68 percent of primary voters would vote Trump in 2024 and only 25 percent would prefer another candidate. Half of the respondents said they were first-time Trump voters, while 43 percent said they were first-time voters for the Republican Party.
With so much of the party still centered around Trump, Republicans hoping to run in a primary are realizing the need to pay homage to the state of the economy before Covid. But on Sunday they shied away from accepting Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud, and there was little discussion of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Instead, the focus was on the threatening “demolition culture” from the left and on President Joe Biden, who was characterized as idiot.
“In 2023, we’ll tell Joe Biden it’s 2024 and he can return to Delaware,” Cruz told 1,200 Republicans who attended the 5th annual Nebraska Steak Fry.
For Cruz, Pence and DeSantis, the cancellation of presidential talks is difficult to reconcile with their appearance at Steak Fry – an event held in the Omaha media market that airs in 10 counties in western Iowa.
“Nebraska is as close to Iowa as possible. We can see Nebraska from our house, ”said Kochel.
Of the three prominent Republicans who traveled to Nebraska for the event, Pence is perhaps the most precarious when it comes to Trump.
The former vice president fell out of favor with die-hard Trump supporters of the party when he refused to block Congress from certifying the January 6th 2020 presidential election results.
Anti-pence sentiment is so strong in some Republican neighborhoods that organizers of the event hosted by Nebraska’s Governor Pete Ricketts feared pence would be booed on Sunday. But the crowd was kind to Midwestern Pence, who kept talking about faith, abortion, and prayer.
The former vice president reviewed the “Trump pence record,” announced his pre-pandemic economic record, and bragged about Operation Warp Speed, which led to the rapid development of three Covid vaccines.
Once known for his allegiance to Trump, Pence was reluctant to discuss his former boss, but he considered Trump an ideal compared to Biden over Afghanistan, where the Democratic President’s abrupt retreat led to chaos and the deaths of 13 U.S. Soldiers led. Pence said he was in the room when Trump negotiated a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 by threatening their leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Cruz and DeSantis also focused on Afghanistan, saying the chaotic withdrawal of American troops had made the US look weak in the eyes of their opponents.
If Trump doesn’t run in 2024, DeSantis will consistently be a top choice among Republican voters because his combative nature and outspoken style reflect the fighting spirit that many conservatives crave.
“DeSantis has built a huge head start with Trump Republicans,” said Patrick Ruffini, a pollster with Echelon Insights. “What you see is DeSantis is dominant on the Trump-first lane and is pushing into the party-first lane. He’s a Trump-flavored candidate, but he’s not limited to that lead. “
A large part of DeSantis’ appeal is his talent for aggressively criticizing “alertness” and engaging Biden in political battles with him over the administration of Covid. While Biden has called for the masking and compulsory vaccination of many employees to protect people’s health, DeSantis has called itself an anti-mandate and anti-lockdown, saying that it costs people their jobs and their freedom.
“If Biden breaks the Constitution,” DeSantis said on Sunday, “we will be on the front line with a comprehensive response. That is the least we can do. “