(The Hill) — Republicans are staring down a looming fight over the future of the GOP as former President Donald Trump prepares to announce a 2024 White House campaign this week.
Trump is poised to charge ahead with the announcement from his Mar-a-Lago estate on Tuesday, despite protests from some Republicans who are still sifting through the aftermath of underwhelming midterm elections that they blame partly on the former president.
That poses something of a conundrum for the GOP, who are aware of the vise-like grip Trump maintains on the conservative base but are also concerned that Trump could prove to be a liability among the broader electorate, which has already rejected him once.
“There’s no doubt that his greatest strength is going to be in the primary,” one Republican strategist said. “The problem is — and the thing I just don’t think he’s come to terms with — is that for a lot of voters, he’s toxic, and that’s part of what you saw in the midterms.”
While Republicans went into Election Day expecting voters to sweep them into the House and Senate majorities, that “red wave” never materialized; Democrats held their narrow Senate majority, and while control of the House hasn’t yet been finalized, the GOP appears likely to win only the narrowest of majorities.
Indeed, many Republicans say that Trump is largely to blame for the party’s lackluster midterm performance. In the nation’s most competitive Senate contests, Trump’s endorsed candidates were struck by disappointing losses. Exit polls showed that the former president is less popular than President Biden, whose approval rating has been underwater for much of the year.
“The midterms basically showed that he wasn’t as strong as people perceived him to be,” said Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist and former Michigan GOP chair. “The exit polling showed that among independents and moderate Democrats, people turned out to vote against him.”
That Trump’s influence may be waning could prove problematic should he move forward with a campaign announcement on Tuesday. Months ago, it appeared likely that Trump could scare off most potential primary challengers by announcing a campaign of his own, Anuzis said. Now, there may be more of an appetite among GOP luminaries to challenge him.
“I think you have a good 20 other alternative candidates, and I think there are a lot of people who wouldn’t mind moving on,” Anuzis said. “Six months ago I would have said nobody could beat him. Today, I think there’s at least an opening to that.”
One potential challenger is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won reelection last week in a 19-point landslide. While DeSantis hasn’t directly addressed his plans for 2024, he’s refused to rule out a White House bid — a decision that made him the recent target of Trump’s criticism.
John Thomas, a GOP strategist, is planning to move forward with plans to launch a super PAC backing a DeSantis presidential bid. Thomas had put the plans on hold in the months leading up to the midterms.
A number of elected Republicans have also urged the party to take the midterm results as a sign that it’s time to move on from Trump.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who easily won reelection, has repeatedly said it would be politically unwise for Trump to announce a White House bid before Christmas.
Outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Sunday that Trump had cost the party in the last three election cycles and said it would be “a mistake” to nominate him and see it happen in a fourth.
Virginia Lt. Gov Winsome Earle-Sears (R), who backed Trump in 2020, said she would not do the same in 2024. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), meanwhile, sought to downplay the notion that Trump was the standard-bearer of the modern GOP, ticking off a list of fellow Republicans, including DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), whom he said are key leaders in the party.
“When any party is out of power, as Republicans are now, we don’t have a single leader,” Cotton, who has ruled out a 2024 presidential bid of his own, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “The former president is obviously very popular with many of our voters, but we also have important other leaders as well.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s Tuesday announcement will play out against a backdrop of uncertainty among congressional Republicans. The House majority is still undecided, but members like Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) have already issued statements voicing support for Trump should he run in 2024.
In the Senate, Trump loyalists like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have pushed to delay leadership elections amid calls from Trump and others to remove Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from his post.
In a bid to show his strength with congressional Republicans, Trump has invited some members down to Florida to attend Tuesday’s announcement, according to a person familiar with the matter, though it was not clear who would be there given House GOP leadership elections are scheduled for the same day.
Even some members of Trump’s orbit are torn on the Tuesday announcement.
Kayleigh McEnany, who served as Trump’s press secretary on his 2020 campaign and in the White House, said last week that Trump should postpone his announcement while Republicans focus on winning a Georgia Senate runoff in early December.
Jason Miller, a longtime aide to Trump, said last week he was advising Trump to delay the announcement. But by the end of the week, he was matter-of-factly stating that Trump would hold a “very professional, very buttoned-up announcement” of his candidacy for 2024.
One former Trump campaign adviser said they weren’t sure how many aides with ties to Trump would attend Tuesday’s announcement. Still, the former adviser said the announcement is likely to generate attention for Trump and remind party members that he still carries significant influence over the party.
“It is remarkable this amount of consistent support and stranglehold President Trump has within a Republican primary,” the former adviser said. “He’s got that 30-35 percent that ain’t going anywhere.”