Since former President Trump announced on Tuesday that he is running for reelection in 2024, only one Republican Senator—Tommy Tuberville of Alabama—has stated publicly that he will support the former President’s campaign, according to The Hill.
And prominent Republicans like former Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was Speaker of the House when Trump first took Office in 2017, are withholding their support. On November 20, Ryan referred to himself as a “never again Trumper,” adding, “Because I want to win. And we lose with Trump. It was really clear to us in ’18, in ’20, and now in 2022,” referring to Republicans’ disappointing performance in this year’s midterm elections.
However, Trump has been here before. When he famously descended the golden escalator at Trump Tower in New York City on June 16, 2015, he had virtually no mainstream GOP support—certainly not from the Senate. It would not be until February 28, 2016 when the first U.S. Senator officially threw his endorsement behind Trump—Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who went on to become Trump’s first Attorney General. By this point, Trump had already won the 2016 New Hampshire primary.
By the time the 2016 RNC Convention rolled around in July, though—whether they were holding their noses or not—most mainstream Republicans were on board with Trump as their nominee. This was no more apparent than when his final rival in the primaries, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, received boos during his convention speech as he told the delegates to “vote your conscience.”
But even Cruz, whose wife and father had been savagely mocked and lied about by Trump, fell in line by October, manning phone banks for the Trump-Pence campaign.
On the other hand, political watchers say the Republican Party has someone this time that it didn’t have in 2016: a potential “savior” in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s been touted as the Republican alternative to Trump in 2024.
Yet the GOP has been here before, too—and with a Florida Governor. In 2015, Jeb Bush was touted as the Republican heir apparent to the White House and an easy victor over non-traditional candidate Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, DeSantis, who did have a very good election night this year, remains untested on the national stage. Further, Washington Post Chief Political Correspondent Dan Balz has pointed out that DeSantis’ 19-point victory over former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) this midterm was not that much better than the 16-point victory incumbent Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio enjoyed over his Democratic challenger, Rep. Val Demmings.
Balz also noted that DeSantis’ margin of victory wasn’t all that different from those of several other incumbent Governors. For example, Mike DeWine (R-OH) won by almost 26 points, Jared Polis (D-CO) won by 17 points and Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) won by 11 points.
DeSantis was among roughly a dozen potential 2024 candidates who spoke at the recent Republican Jewish Coalition’s two-day leadership conference in Las Vegas.
The central message of the conference: Trump can and should be beaten.
But a growing GOP candidate list was what worked in Trump’s favor back in 2016. The crowded field then splintered the primary electorate and allowed Trump—a non-traditional Republican and reality TV celebrity—to pick off rivals and become the nominee by winning just 35% or less of the vote in each of the first three primary contests.
That’s not to say that, as the former President, he’ll do it again. Just that anything can happen between now and November 5, 2024.