When Donald Trump announced his fourth candidacy for president in November 2022, political pundits across the country were nearly uniform in this opinion: the more candidates in the race, the easier it would be for Trump to win—the fewer candidates, the more challenging the road would be for Trump to the Republican nomination. The rationale was quite simple. President Trump will capture between 30 and 40 percent of Republican primary votes, regardless of who is running against him or how many candidates are running against him. The MAGA movement is that strong.
Political analysts predicted a heavyweight battle between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, with potentially one or two fringe candidates nibbling around the edges. Fast forward to the beginning of June 2023 and there were no fewer than nine candidates (Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Ryan Binkley, Larry Elder, Asa Hutchinson, Perry Johnson, and Tim Scott) officially declared, with three more (Mike Pence, Doug Burgum, and Chris Christie) announcing just this week.
Of all the candidates, current and potential, only Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have a serious chance of winning the nomination—and unless his campaign picks up significant steam quickly, DeSantis will find himself on the outside looking in. Vivek Ramaswamy, who is passionate about decoupling from China and destroying the deep state, has a strong inside shot at the nomination, but his numbers will not begin to climb (if they do) until the debates begin in August, when he will have the chance to introduce himself to a national audience.
Interestingly, both DeSantis and Ramaswamy are running as America First, MAGA-type candidates, echoing several of Trump’s positions, but claiming that they can actually get the job done, while Trump had the opportunity and failed. Trump counters with an argument along the lines of “Why would you pay to see the cover band when the original is here?”
What is driving these other candidates? Patriotism, ego, book deals, the hope for a vice presidential nod or a cabinet position? Most likely the rationale varies with the candidate. Larry Elder likely hopes to sell books and gain a wider audience for his radio program. Nikki Haley is most likely running for vice president—could she have even coordinated her candidacy with Donald Trump to serve as his attack dog in the debates? Current and potential candidates such as Tim Scott, Asa Hutchinson, Mike Pence, and even New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu are likely listening to political consultants who stand to make a small fortune from even a failed presidential bid.
That leaves Chris Christie, whose hatred for Donald Trump knows no bounds, given his removal from Trump’s transition team after the 2016 election. In March Christie accused Trump of “leading Republicans down a sinkhole of anger and retribution.’” Christie has entered the race, hoping to do to Trump what he did to Marco Rubio in a February 2016 Republican primary debate. He will fail and return to his job as a political commentator for ABC News.
How will this end? Several candidates such as DeSantis, Scott, and Haley have mega donors and significant war chests, and will be able to stay in the race through Super Tuesday if they wish. Ramaswamy is mostly self-funding his campaign and can do the same. The longer this group remains in the race, the easier it will be for Donald Trump to win the nomination. Looking at my political crystal ball, I see a scenario where it comes down to Trump and Ramaswamy. The question is, will there be enough delegates left for Ramaswamy to pull an upset when it becomes a two man race?