A few top Republican senators, critics of former President Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential bid, are fearful of the growing GOP primary field that appears to benefit Trump’s nomination chances.
The 2024 primary field grew to seven candidates with the most recent entrance of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) but could swell to about ten candidates in the coming weeks, triggering Republican senators to worry about a rerun of the 2016 primary when the large field of candidates failed to establish enough support to overcome Trump’s solid share of the electorate to cruise to the nomination.
Before DeSantis entered the race on May 24, some Republicans speculated he would carve supporters away from Trump’s base, but polling on May 31 by Morning Consult revealed Trump still leads by 34 points over his closest potential competitor. Trump’s continued preeminence over the crowded field, including DeSantis, who many view as Trump’s biggest rival, appears to be attracting yet more GOP candidates into the race.
“A replay of 2016? Yeah,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the Hill.
A number of these people are in low single digits, so my hope would be that, if after a few months their numbers don’t get better, that they decide to drop out so that it becomes a two- or three-person race. I think that would be the best development, as far as I’m concerned.
But more, not fewer, candidates could enter the race in the coming weeks, strengthening Trump’s hand among a plethora of hopefuls, who include former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
“That’s always a possibility when you have one candidate that has a loyal following that starts with a bigger base,” Senate GOP Whip John Thune (R-SD) said about the rerun of 2016 in 2024. Thune supports Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) for the nomination.
“I think the fact that that many people are getting in suggests that they sense an opening. I think there’s a sense out there that people are looking for a new direction and a lot of these candidates are responding to it,” he said.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who also supports Scott, shared Cornyn’s hope that the field will shrink to close the gap between the hopefuls and Trump. “He’s just stating the facts. That’s the way that it works,” Rounds said.
Rounds noted Trump won in 2016 because primary voters did not settle on a single GOP candidate to oppose Trump. “That’s happened before,” he told the Hill.
Most presidential hopefuls hold little hope of earning the nomination. Being selected for a job in the potential Republican administration likely buoys their desire to remain in the race as long as possible. Heightened name recognition utilized for purposes outside politics is also a plus.
According to the Morning Consult poll, 56 percent of respondents back Trump, while only 22 percent support DeSantis. All other presidential hopefuls are in single digits at five percent or less: Former Vice President Mike Pence (five percent), Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (four percent), and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) (three percent).
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