The 2024 presidential primaries are still more than a year away, but the race to become the Republican nominee is quickly becoming a volatile affair.
So far, only former President Trump has launched a campaign for the nomination, but most Republicans expect that to change soon. Even though he remains the ostensible leader of the GOP, he’s facing new questions about the direction of the party and whether he remains the best standard-bearer heading into 2024.
Here are five factors that could determine the 2024 GOP nominee:
Trump’s legal problems
Trump may be back on the campaign trail, but that hasn’t helped him shake a laundry list of investigations and legal troubles.
The former president is facing a grand jury investigation in Georgia into whether he and his allies sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election there. His company, the Trump Organization, was convicted earlier this month of tax fraud in New York. And a special counsel is now leading the Justice Department’s criminal probe into Trump’s possible mishandling of classified documents, as well as his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Of course, Trump’s no stranger to legal problems and investigations, which he has repeatedly written off as politically motivated. Still, the sheer number of probes and legal threats put Trump in a unique position as he kicks off his third run for the White House.
Even if the various investigations fail to end in charges against the former president, they could fuel further attacks from Democrats and even potential Republican primary opponents. What’s more, Trump’s legal troubles could act as a reminder to some voters of why they voted him out of the White House in the first place.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has skyrocketed to stardom within the GOP over the past two years, turning him into one of the most talked-about prospective candidates for the party’s 2024 presidential nod.
But there’s still a big question ahead for DeSantis: is he peaking too early?
“It’s a scary place to be in when you have this much momentum, you know, two years out from an election,” one Republican operative who’s worked on presidential campaigns said. “There’s still a million things that could happen, or people just get tired of you.”
To be sure, DeSantis hasn’t yet said whether he will make a run for the White House, and a final decision is likely months away. He still hasn’t been sworn in for his second term as governor, and there’s also a state legislative session to get through.
If he ultimately decides to jump into the race, he’ll have to hold his own against fellow Republicans, including Trump, the famously pugilistic former president who sees himself as responsible for DeSantis’s political success.
A crowded field
So far, Trump is the only Republican to have announced a bid for the presidency in 2024. But he’s almost certainly not the last.
DeSantis has already started online advertisements targeting national audiences, which suggests that he may be nearing a final decision on a campaign. Former Vice President Mike Pence has been traveling the country to promote a new book amid speculation that he could jump into the 2024 race.
Meanwhile, other Republicans, like former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have hinted that they may be mulling presidential campaigns of their own.
Despite Trump’s hope that his presence in the race will clear the field of potential rivals, the 2024 Republican primary could be another crowded one, much like it was in 2016 when more than a dozen candidates vied for the GOP presidential nod.
While early polling shows Trump and DeSantis as the apparent favorites for the 2024 nomination, a crowded field and unpredictable political landscape could complicate things. After all, few expected Trump to emerge victorious in the 2016 primary.
The GOP may be set to take the House majority next week, but the 2022 midterm elections have otherwise left the party bitterly divided over the future of its leadership and strategy.
Some Republicans have begun openly discussing ways for the party to move on from Trump and his brand of conservatism. Others place blame for the lackluster midterm performance on party leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and what they see as a failure by the Republican establishment to inspire and motivate its base voters.
The rift lies in who voters ultimately blame for the GOP’s mediocre performance over the past three election cycles. While many in the party remain staunchly loyal to Trump, there are still questions about his influence over the GOP and whether Republicans can appeal to a broad enough portion of the electorate to win nationally in 2024.
“I don’t think [Trump’s influence] is anywhere as strong as it used to be and you’ll see how people respond across the country,” Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist and former Michigan GOP chairman, said. “There are going to be a lot of conversations about what comes next.”
What Democrats do
For all the talk about Republicans’ 2024 prospects, Democrats are facing a dilemma of their own.
President Biden has said that he plans to run for a second term, but some in his party aren’t so sure if that’s the best move. And there’s little agreement among Democrats over a fitting replacement for the sitting president should he bow out of a reelection campaign.
Some Republicans say that the GOP should get behind a younger candidate – perhaps someone like DeSantis — who can offer a clear contrast to Biden. Others say that Trump’s outsized national profile and bombastic style could help the GOP outgun Biden or any other Democrat at a time of deep economic uncertainty and discontent with the country’s direction.
“When you talk about inflation, crime, border security — these are issues that don’t just affect Republicans, they affect Democrats, they affect everyone,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and former congressional candidate. “I just don’t see things changing demonstrably for the Democrats over the next two years.”