After former President Donald Trump formally launched his 2024 presidential run in November, a favorite parlor game of the chattering class has been to guess the identity of his first formally announced challenger for the Republican nomination. This week answered that question: Nikki Haley. The former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is set to declare her candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 15. (For what it’s worth, deeply unpopular former national security adviser John Bolton made an offhand remark to a British television station last month that he would also run, but since then has merely intimated he is considering such a bid.)
Haley’s announcement will likely open up the floodgates for additional Trump challengers. Just as Haley had barely made an effort of late to contain her 2024 presidential ambitions, so too might we expect announcements to soon follow from other not-so-thinly-veiled aspirants, such as former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and perhaps former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
Later this spring or early summer, numerous other candidates are poised to also enter the fray: chief among them Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and perhaps also Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, 2016 GOP presidential primary runner-up Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has also been teasing a possible presidential run, despite his rather dubious credentials.
All of this will be sorted out in due time—by June or July, at the latest. And as we approach that time, the key question facing the Right, and the Republican Party that is the Right’s natural partisan vehicle, is whether it will seize upon the Trump phenomenon and move forward, or instead move backward to the pre-2016 GOP status quo ante.
Put another way: Was “Trumpism” a one-time flash in the pan based around an eponymous larger-than-life personality and universal celebrity status, or was it a substantive wake-up call for the GOP to ditch its outmoded bromides and sober up on issues pertaining (especially) to trade, immigration, and foreign policy?
There is at least some reason for optimism that the latter formulation is correct.
In the current way-too-early 2024 polling for the presidential nomination, DeSantis consistently polls by far the best of any non-Trump alternative. DeSantis also happens to embody the tenets and overall ethos of the more nationalist- and populist-infused “New Right” movement better than almost any other current elected official in America. He is a fiery culture warrior who dives headfirst into the fight against wokeism, with a clear appreciation of the governing imperatives to wield power in the service of good political order and to recapture institutions previously lost to wokeism. His well-publicized fight last year against the Walt Disney Company was straight out of the “New Right” playbook: Wield political power to punish a woke corporation pushing insidious gender ideology and to protect parental rights and the innocence of children.
More recently, DeSantis claimed a huge scalp from the College Board when it revised its AP African American Studies curriculum after the Florida governor objected to the initial course framework’s pervasive indoctrinatory leftism, including its suffusion of critical race theory pablum. His latest much-publicized moves with the New College of Florida’s board of trustees, furthermore, perfectly demonstrates how one can prudentially wield power to recapture and reorient woke-addled institutions. Even on his signature issue, COVID-19, DeSantis did not reflexively defer to private-sector actors, as many libertarians or right-liberals might have; rather, he properly wielded power to preclude private-sector vaccine mandates, demonstrating a recognition of the manner in which professional-managerial class elites weaponized such mandates against dissenting “deplorables.”
President Trump, along with some of his loudest social media supporters, has recently taken to smearing DeSantis as a clone of former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who perfectly personifies the older Chamber of Commerce-friendly GOP. That is laughable. Ryan, now a distinguished visiting fellow at the neoliberal American Enterprise Institute, would object to most, perhaps all, of DeSantis’ moves mentioned above.
On the other hand, there are a number of possible 2024 candidates who do embody the failures of the pre-2016 GOP status quo ante.
The foreign policy-centric Pompeo, for instance, has recently sounded a lot like Bush-era Donald Rumsfeld when he opined on the Russo-Ukrainian war, defining America’s purported national interest at a cartoonishly high level of abstraction and urging for ever-more taxpayer-funded weapons shipments. Haley, for her part, gives off the strong impression of a “market can do no wrong”-style laissez faire fundamentalist, denigrating “hyphenated capitalism”—such as Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) proposal for “common good capitalism”—and hilariously tweeting in March 2020, on the precipice of the COVID-19 lockdowns, that “as we are dealing with changes in our economy, tax cuts are always a good idea.” Hogan and Suarez, for their part, both encapsulate the Republican National Committee’s infamous advice found in its post-2012 presidential election “autopsy”: namely, to soften on immigration, avoid those icky “culture war” issues and focus on economic issues more palatable for suburbia. Trump’s win four years later single-handedly proved the myopia of such thinking.
Assuming most of these likely 2024 contenders do indeed make the plunge, Republican primary voters will face a big decision. Let’s hope they choose to move forward, not backward—in terms of repeating either discredited public policy or, as the case may be, repeating sullied candidates.
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