As speculation intensifies over another run at the presidency by Donald Trump, Republican analysts are asking one big question: will anyone have the political confidence – or courage - to challenge him for the party nomination?
And if so, can anyone beat him?
While the election is still more than two years away all the signs are that Trump is the favorite, most analysts agree. “As of right now, the Republican Party is Trump's party. He is clearly the biggest star in the party. And I think that if he wants the nomination, he has the nomination,” said Carlos Diaz Rosillo, former Director of Policy at the White House under Trump. “Of course, he has to work for it, but I don't see any other Republican potential candidate casting any shadows on him,” Diaz Rosillo told Univision News.
Trump returns full of energy
Trump leads in most national polls and has re-emerged on the political scene lately with his familiar energy and enthusiasm, seemingly eager to run for president again in 2024. He returned to Washington for the first time last week since leaving the White House in 2021, to give a speech to a conservative group, the America First Policy Institute, where he received a hero’s welcome.
“I ran the first time and I won. Then I ran a second time and I did much better. We got millions and millions more votes,” Trump said, conveniently ignoring that he lost the election in 2020, though he did receive more than 10 million more votes than in 2016. “We may just have to do it again,” he added.
Trump delivered an address that focused on crime and policing, as if he were launching a new political campaign agenda. “I think he’s running,” said Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax TV, a conservative rival to Fox TV. “It’s not a matter of if, but when,” he added, referring to an official announcement of his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump ahead in polls
Vice President Mike Pence has emerged as a clear rival, though polls show him barely registering among registered Republicans. Pence was in Arizona last week to give his support for moderate Republican candidate for governor, Karrin Taylor Robson. But it’s Trump’s anointed candidate, former TV news anchor, Kari Lake, who is leading the polls by almost a 10-percentage point margin on the eve of voting day on Tuesday.
Most polls have confirmed that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is Trump’s only serious competitor in a hypothetical primary matchup. As Trump weighs up his options, a New York Times/Siena College poll shows he still holds a commanding national lead in a hypothetical matchup against other leading potential candidates.
The poll found that 49 percent of primary voters said they would support him in 2024, versus only 25% for his closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. But two recent local polls in Michigan and New Hampshire found likely Republican primary voters are nearly evenly split between the two men. Not surprisingly, DeSantis leads in his home state of Florida, but a straw poll conducted at a Tampa Republican Party summit, Trump received 79% of the vote, while DeSantis was a distant second at 19% and all other contenders got 1% or less, according to Fox News.
DeSantis with huge campaign war chest
DeSantis has appeared at political events around the country in recent months hosting fundraisers and has reportedly amassed a huge campaign war chest of more than $100 million. His donors include some of the nation’s wealthiest Republicans, including some who previously backed Trump, according some media outlets.
But analysts say DeSantis, who is only 43 years old, may prefer to sit this out the 2024 election if Trump chooses to run, rather than clash with the former president’s formidable grass roots base, known as MAGA, after his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.
“There’s no question that he (Trump) dominates the Republican field and he will continue to dominate the Republican field. It’s his nomination to lose,” said Ruddy. “ DeSantis is a rising star. People like him. But, I don’t think at the end of the day he’s going to defeat Trump in a primary,” he added. While DeSantis may have attracted some of the big donors, “these elections are not decided by Washington, or Wall Street, or the insiders, they are decided by the grass roots in places like Iowa and South Carolina, and you can only imagine Trump’s support there,” he added.
Not all Republicans agree, especially those who battled some of Trump's policies.
"I think Trump is so damaged and weakened, that candidates like DeSantis and Pence will proceed with their 2024 campaigns," said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from South Florida.
"With each passing day, Trump is less dominant and intimidating within the [Republican Party]," he added.
Trump hurt in 2020 by lack of Hispanic support
Ruddy defended Trump’s record in office, highlighting his foreign policy achievements in the Middle East and Asia, while recognizing some errors along the way, including his neglect of the Hispanic community. “The failure to bring in more Hispanics lost the election. Had he been more inclusive of Hispanics he might have won,” he in 2020, Ruddy said, noting that he did surprisingly well with Hispanics voters even so.
Trump at odds with Fox News
DeSantis has also become the favorite of Fox News, while Trump appears to have lost favor with the station’s owner, media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Last week, Trump attacked Fox’s popular conservative morning show, Fox & Friends, and accused it of going over “to the ‘dark side’” when the hosts – in his opinion – focused too much on DeSantis’ rise in the polls.
One of the Fox hosts Brian Kilmeade added, “If you look state by state, Ron DeSantis is showing tremendous strength in New Hampshire, Michigan and Florida.”
Weeks of being battered in Congress by the January 6 committee hearings, may have dented Trump’s image, while DeSantis’ popularity has been rising along with his fund-raising effort. It’s not an easy decision for many Republicans who see DeSantis as the future of the party.
Republican congressman, Matt Gaetz, from North Florida, told The Miami Herald that “Trump and DeSantis have a very close working relationship… so I think they’ll find a way to work it out.” But he made it clear he would support Trump if he decided to run. “For many years have believed that Ron DeSantis will be president one day and I still hold that view — maybe not in 2024, but he’s got all the right stuff,” he added.
A Yale University graduate who served in the military and then Congress, DeSantis has a stellar resume and is running for re-election in November as Florida Governor. “He's a brilliant man. He’s doing a great job in Florida. He's probably the most popular governor in the country,” said Diaz Rosillo.
But DeSantis, along with most of Trump’s other rivals – including Trump’s former U.S. ambassador and South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, or former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo – will likely drop out of the race if Trump decides to run, said Diaz Rosillo.
“There isn’t enough oxygen in the Republican party room for all of them together,” he said.