Donald Trump is not allowing the Republican Party to walk away from him – even though some of its members desperately want to.
Announce his third consecutive presidential campaign at Mar-a-Lago in Florida on Tuesday night, Trump made it clear he considered himself the only acceptable option for the 2024 Republican nomination.
“It’s not a task for a conventional politician or candidate,” he said. “This is a task for a great movement that embodies the courage, confidence and spirit of the American people. The establishment in Washington wants to silence us, but we won’t let them.
Some of Trump’s staunchest allies in Washington, like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, seemed all too happy to let the former president crown himself as the party’s chosen nominee to take on Joe Biden.
“If President Trump continues on this tone and delivers this message consistently, he will be tough to beat,” Graham said. “His speech, pitting his policies and results against the Biden administration, charts a winning path for him in the primaries and general election.”
But the speech failed to convince everyone Republicanssome of whom have expressed concern that Trump’s 2024 effort will repeat the failure of his 2020 campaign, when he lost the popular vote of 7 million and the Electoral College 306-232.
The results of last week’s midterm elections heightened those fears, as many Trump-backed candidates in high-profile races were defeated by Democrats. Politicians who embraced Trump’s lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 election, like Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for Arizona governor, fared particularly poorly.
“He needs to become independent [and] swing voters,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former acting chief of staff, said on Twitter. “If he doesn’t, he will suffer the same fate as many of his midterm candidates: winning a primary and losing. [a] general. And winning a primary but losing an overall makes you a loser.
Trump’s failure to unite the party was reflected in Wednesday morning headlines in the right-wing media. The National Review, a conservative site that was initially skeptical of Trump but has come to praise his tax cuts and judicial nominations as president, ran an editorial with the simple title: “No”.
The New York Post, long one of Trump’s favorite newspapers, summed up his Mar-a-Lago speech with the front-page headline: “Florida Man Makes Announcement.” The next news insulted Trump as a “Florida retiree” and “avid golfer” best known for “gold-plated lobbies and firing people on reality TV.”
The Post’s heavy-handed coverage comes amid reports that the paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, said Trump’s outlets won’t support his 2024 campaign. Instead, the Post joined many former Trump supporters in embracing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. After DeSantis was re-elected by nearly 20 points last week, the newspaper ran a headline praising him as “DeFuture.”
As the media turned its attention to other options for 2024, some major Republican donors followed suit. Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of private equity firm Blackstone and previously one of Trump’s top backers, said he would not support the former president’s 2024 candidacy.
“America does best when its leaders are rooted in today and tomorrow, not today and yesterday,” Schwarzman said to Axios Wednesday. “It’s time for the Republican Party to embrace a new generation of leaders, and I intend to support one of them in the presidential primaries.”
Some sitting Republican lawmakers echoed that eagerness for the party to begin a new chapter, with a new leader at the helm.
“The question is: who is the current leader of the Republican Party? Oh, I know who it is: Ron DeSantis,” Cynthia Lummis, a Republican senator from Wyoming, says Politico this week. “Ron DeSantis is the leader of the Republican Party whether he likes it or not.”
An anti-Trump group has gone so far as to release negative polls in hopes of convincing the former president to reconsider his plans for 2024. The day before the Mar-a-Lago event, Club for Growth, an anti-Trump organization -fiscal who previously supported Trump but recently distanced herself from him, shared Data showing DeSantis winning single-digit contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, states that hold early nominating contests.
“Republicans need to be united behind a strong candidate and a platform that shows voters real solutions to beat Biden and the Democrats in 2024,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth Action. “Our poll shows Republican primary voters recognize that Trump’s slurs against Republicans are hollow and counterproductive, and that weighs heavily on his support.”
Other polls suggest Trump’s grip on the Republican base remains as tight as ever. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken last week, 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would back Trump if the 2024 primary were held today, a 14-point lead over DeSantis.
These numbers indicate that while many Republican and media donors are ready to get rid of Trump, the voters who will actually determine the 2024 nominee are much more hesitant to do so. Unless DeSantis or another challenger can shake Trump’s strong base of support, America could be heading for a rematch in 2020.