The Republican candidates of the anybody-but-Trump camp are making the same mistake they made as they entered the upcoming presidential nomination season in 2016. Donald must be amused.
One often hears that the U.S. is always in the midst of an election. As one vote ends another looms on the horizon.
This has been particularly true in the last 15 years as the midterms have a tendency to launch the subsequent presidential campaign. Candidates aspiring to the White House rush to announce their intentions, quickly kicking off races that can drag on for close to two years.
Thus, around this time 16 years ago, in late January 2007, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had already announced their intention to seek the presidency in November 2008. In late January 2019, it was Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg who would do the same for November 2020. (Bernie Sanders entered the race less than a month later; among the major candidates, only Joe Biden waited until spring.)
This time around, the contours of the races for the Democratic and Republican nominations are slower to take shape.
On the Democratic side, everything depends on the elephant in the room: Will President Biden seek a second term? If yes, no surprise, the party will largely rally behind him, which will limit the likelihood of a competitive primary.
At least until the matter of the confidential government documents from his time as vice president were found at his private residence, this seemed increasingly inevitable.
However, the fog is denser on the Republican side, and the uncertainties more acute. Here, the central question is not knowing whether a particular candidate will run (Donald Trump already announced the week after the midterms in November), but how many.
The answer to that question could greatly influence the 2024 race. And, for Trump, there is one desire: a repeat of the 2016 scenario.
During his first campaign for the White House, the novice candidate crossed swords with 16 Republican opponents. A few among them, notably Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, assumed that Trump would sooner or later take the field and that he would more easily pick up backers if he did not attack them too harshly before then.
Others, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, came to the conclusion that they appealed to a fundamentally different electorate than Trump and had little to gain by focusing on him.
It is this interpretation of the race that transformed the Republican primary of 2016 into a kind of circular firing squad where the candidates were all firing at each other, leaving the one who held the lead largely unscathed.
And as polls showed Trump potentially vulnerable in a hypothetical one-on-one, the other Republican hopefuls insisted on staying in the race, even when their chances were negligible, each one believing themselves to be THE alternative to Trump.
The Republican primaries started in February 2016. Trump won the critical state of New Hampshire with 35% of the vote, then South Carolina with 33%, Arkansas and Vermont with 33%, Michigan with 37% and Georgia with 39%.
In one state after another, it was the same story: Trump came out the big winner with a minority of the vote. He did not gain a single majority before the New York primary in mid-April. The opposition, divided against itself, allowed Trump to more easily prevail.
The question in 2023 is whether history will be repeated, this time with new candidates who are falling into the same trap. Already, there is speculation that Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo, two former members of Trump’s cabinet, are preparing to jump into the Republican arena.
At least a dozen other potential candidates, including well-known governors such as Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, as well as former Vice President Mike Pence, are leaving the door wide open to the idea of entering the race.
And, of course, everyone is awaiting the decision, expected in the spring, of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Republican star of the 2022 elections. Some, like Noem and Sununu, have already begun shooting arrows at DeSantis. Haley and Pompeo, for their part, have begun attacking each other.
And Trump, who was predicted to lose in a hypothetical duel with DeSantis following the November 2022 election, currently enjoys, in three separate polls published last week, an average lead of 20 points over all other Republicans.