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GOP Dark Horses See 2024 Path to Survive Trump-DeSantis Mutually Assured Destruction

GOP Dark Horses See 2024 Path to Survive Trump-DeSantis Mutually Assured Destruction

The Republican presidential field may end up split between former President Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and other candidates who hope to benefit if Florida’s two leading men tear each other apart in a tight primary battle.

DeSantis, a prominent swing state governor who many Republicans expect will run for president in 2024, is not expected to make a formal move until the end of Florida’s legislative session, with a source suggesting it won’t happen until July or later. The second-quarter fundraising announcement would miss the mark if the governor expects to come out guns blazing, showing his ability to battle rivals for donor cash.

“All this is being discussed; of course it is,” one Republican strategist and former Trump aide said of the possibility that Trump and his closest competitor could unseat each other. “There are several scenarios.”


DeSantis emerged as Trump’s strongest potential challenger after Florida Republicans swept to victory in the midterm elections, drawing support from independents and centrists and defying lackluster Republican results, including some prominent endorsements from the former president

After launching his campaign in November, Trump has been slow to build momentum. The former president is expected to face a field of challengers for the 2024 nomination, a point of emphasis for aides eager to draw parallels with his insurgent campaign in 2016. Only two leading candidates Trump and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley have entered the race.

Trump has repeatedly trashed DeSantis, drawing battle lines for his supporters by labeling the governor an “enemy” this week.

“I always say hit your enemy a little early,” Trump said in remarks from West Palm Beach, according to Reuters. “Some people say no. But I say do it.”

DeSantis has responded mostly indirectly, saying he was focused on fighting President Joe Biden and Democrats. But it’s unclear how long that approach will work.

Trump aides are also watching the field closely, “watching to see how many people are slipping away from the donor base,” tracking internal polls, within the base itself “who would really want to work for his campaign,” said a former aide. .

Underlying the dynamic is a tension that suggests Trump has lost some control of the party.

A recent Marquette University poll found that 70 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents still hold a favorable view of Trump. However, the same poll showed Trump nearly 30 percentage points underwater in a head-to-head matchup against DeSantis, with 36 percent of the vote compared to the governor’s 64 percent.

Some seasoned political operatives are holding back as they wait for the field to come together.

“You’ll notice that no one has been hired,” this person said. “A lot of people get left behind.”

Months after announcing his campaign, Trump has brought in some key operatives, but rollout has been slow.

On Wednesday, a visit to the site of a toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, accompanied by his son Donald Trump Jr., suggested that Trump can still connect with the voters who helped elect him in 2016

“If Nikki Haley decides to go to Ohio, it’s seen as a political stunt. For Trump, it would be ‘These are my towns,'” said one former aide. “It’s going to be seen as ‘He hasn’t forgotten about his people,’ which is probably one of the smartest moves he’s made yet.”

The fear that Trump and DeSantis will end up practicing a form of mutually assured destruction, leaving the party ill-prepared for the general election, is unlikely to drive Republicans to coalesce around a preemptive security plan. One source called the idea “possible but unlikely.”

“All the other guys running think they’re plan B,” this person said.

Other potential candidates include Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA), former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), former Vice President Mike Pence and others.

But “the money needs to be raised,” another source added.


The Republican Party will hold its first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee in August, with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, a Trump ally, telling members in a memo Thursday that the final criteria for the first debate they hadn’t decided yet.

The criteria comes amid reports that the party will pressure candidates to fulfill a pledge of allegiance, pledging to support the eventual nominee. According to the Associated Press, candidates may also be required to clear a voting threshold or demonstrate a range of grassroots donors.

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