Donald Trump is “absolutely” running for president again in 2024. That is what one person deep within the former president’s orbit told me off-the-record in March when I asked him. Trump himself was recorded by someone who attended a golfing event earlier this year in which the person recording the video said, “first on tee, the 45th president of the United States!” This comment prompted Trump to look up angrily at the camera and declare, “Forty-fifth and the 47th president!”
Given Trump’s penchant for the “art of the comeback,” one would be foolish to assume that Trump’s days as a presidential contender are behind him.
Trump even went as far as teasing in the last week that he would announce his intentions about running again in 2024 after the 2022 midterm elections. In the meantime, Trump has worked assiduously to cultivate a strong following among GOP candidates and has tried ensuring that his endorsement becomes a qualifier for primary candidates seeking GOP nominations this year. While these attempts to become the kingmaker of the GOP have had mixed results, the fact is that even out of office and having been kicked off Twitter, Trump is the star of this show.
And that’s another aspect animating Trump’s continued dance in the political arena. He wants to be front-and-center, not only to avenge himself against his political rivals for what he believes was Biden’s theft of the 2020 presidential election but to also protect his brand. Should he no longer be the only star of the potential Republican 2024 presidential field, these things might be damaged—which could negatively impact Trump’s bottom line.
Yet, there are other rising stars and potential rivals on the Right and there is much time between 2024 and today. Of note, former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Vice President Mike Pence, and current Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have all been rumored to be interested in running for the Republican nomination in 2024. Still, Trump is by far the most visible political figure in America today—and certainly the most popular on the Right.
The most interesting figure on the Right outside of the gonzo 45th president, however, is the current governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. A recent straw poll indicates that DeSantis would beat Trump in an election if the two Right-wing titans competed (though this poll was conducted at a highly conservative conference and such groups traditionally have been skeptical of Trump’s conservative bona fides).
As with Trump in 2016, DeSantis has acted as a lightning rod on the Right, capturing the attention of the Republican Party’s base by tapping into the handful of issues most relevant to them. In 2016, Trump hit on immigration in a way that made it impossible for the GOP base to ignore. In 2024, DeSantis’ previous and consistent opposition to extreme COVID-19 policies and his resistance to left-wing attempts to sexualize our young children in school have made him a real contender—and possible alternative—to Trump.
Because of his obvious popularity with the base, Trump and his surrogates have already begun a whisper campaign denigrating the Florida governor. This is a mistake and does a great disservice to the Republican Party, which must remain united if it is to overcome the left-wing machine currently corrupting the country.
I’ve no idea if DeSantis will run for president in 2024. Frankly, I want to keep him as my governor for as long as possible. That said, I know DeSantis would make a fantastic president and I badly want him to be president at some point.
Is 2024 his year to run, especially knowing that, barring a legal complication over the next few years, Trump will be running for president again?
DeSantis is popular and well-known today. He will continue to enhance his stature over the next few years.
But will it be enough to overcome Trump’s star power and bombast?
And how damaging would a direct conflict with Trump be to DeSantis’ rising star power?
By the time 2024 rolls around, the country will have endured at least three years of record-high inflation. The American dream of owning a home will have been priced out for many Americans (particularly young Americans). We may or may not be in a shooting war with Russia over Ukraine. And essential goods will continue to be in limited supply. Americans will be ready for a change as much—if not more—than they were in 2016.
The threat, therefore, to the GOP’s victory in 2024 will not come from the Left, which will be a severely damaged brand by then. The threat to the GOP in 2024, rather, will come from this potential schism between Trump and DeSantis.
If a divide between DeSantis and Trump exists, then 2024 will not resemble 2016 at all. Sadly, it will mirror another election that every Republican was sure they would win . . . until they did not win it: 2012. During the 2012 presidential contest, the GOP was bitterly divided between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Ultimately Romney won the primary, but he came out heavily damaged. Despite presiding over a weak economy and being a divisive president, Barack Obama managed to squeak out a victory over the badly bruised Republican nominee. The Republican base was badly divided in 2012 and couldn’t overcome that division in time to defeat their shared enemy.
Yet again, in 2024, an internecine fight between Trump and DeSantis could set the GOP up for defeat, no matter how bad things get in America under Joe Biden.
The ego of Trump and the promise of DeSantis must not become a wrecking ball for the GOP. It must become a source of strength. For that to happen, however, both men and their respective political organizations must work to maintain civility and unity of purpose going into 2024 and beyond. If they bludgeon each other to death in a pyrrhic primary battle, then yet again, Biden (or whoever succeeds him as the Democratic Party’s nominee) will simply hide in his basement and appear to Americans as the more “stable” choice.