America’s 2024 presidential race is showing signs of kicking into gear amid reports that Florida’s rightwing Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is now laying the groundwork for a White House bid as Donald Trump finally hit the campaign trail.
DeSantis’s moves even spurred Trump into attacking him directly as the former US president held relatively low-key events over the weekend in the key early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“Ron would have not been governor if it wasn’t for me… when I hear he might run, I consider that very disloyal,” Trump said, before seeking to attack DeSantis’s actions over fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
DeSantis began his time as Florida’s governor in the shadow of Trump, whose political messaging he closely emulated. But he has since emerged as Trump’s most powerful political rival in the Republican party, increasingly popular with many party officials who are wary of the scandals and chaos that accompanied Trump’s time in office.
The Washington Post has reported that DeSantis’s political team has already identified potential campaign hires in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, whose traditional early spots in the nomination contest give them outsize influence on the race.
Citing two Republican sources with knowledge of conversations and staff meeting on DeSantis team, the paper said the Florida governor was in close talks with two current and experienced members of his current team – Phil Cox and Generra Peck – about possible senior roles in any 2024 effort.
Bill Bowen, a New Hampshire Republican delegate, told the paper that his state would probably be receptive to DeSantis. “I’m convinced there’s a good network of establishment party people in New Hampshire that will quickly have a very effective DeSantis campaign,” Bowen said.
DeSantis has carved out turf in the Republican party that invites conflict with Trump. He has tacked to the extremist right, especially on social issues. His state has restricted LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, sought to demonize further education in the state as a bastion of liberal power and he has enflamed tensions over immigration with a series of political stunts.
In response to DeSantis’s likely presidential bid, Trump has issued threats against the governor. Last November, Trump appeared to warn DeSantis by hinting at political blackmail against DeSantis’s potential 2024 run.
“I think if he runs, he could hurt himself very badly. I really believe he could hurt himself badly … I would tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering – I know more about him than anybody – other than, perhaps, his wife,” Trump told Fox News.
It was once widely expected that Trump – the only so far declared major candidate for the Republican nomination – would be largely unopposed. But a series of scandals, including meeting with white nationalists, and the flop of high-profile Trump-backed candidates in November’s midterm elections, has seen his grip on the party loosen considerably.
Now a swath of other Republicans seem poised to enter the race.
Trump even appeared to give his blessing to his former US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, after she informed him that she is considering a 2024 presidential bid.
“I talked to her for a little while, I said, ‘Look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run’ … She’s publicly said that ‘I would never run against my president, he was a great president,’” Trump told reporters on Saturday, CNN reports.
He added that he told Haley that she “should do it”.
In a Fox News interview earlier this month, when asked about her previous comments about not running for president if Trump ran, Haley responded that the “survival of America matters”.
“It’s bigger than one person. And when you’re looking at the future of America, I think it’s time for new generational change. I don’t think you need to be 80 years old to go be a leader in DC … I think we need a young generation to come in, step up and really start fixing things,” she said.
Other former Trump cabinet members have also hinted at their presidential bids. Earlier this week, CBS asked former national security adviser John Bolton if he was considering a 2024 run. Bolton said that characterization was “exactly right”, the outlet reports.
Bolton also criticized Trump’s 2024 presidential bid, calling it “poison” to the Republican party.
“I think Republicans, especially after the November 8 elections last year, see that he’s poison to the ticket. He cannot be elected president. If he were the Republican nominee, he would doom our chances to get a majority in the Senate and the House. I don’t think he’s going to be the Republican nominee,” he said.
On Tuesday, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo said that he will decide whether he will run for president. Speaking to CBS, Pompeo said: “Susan and I are thinking, praying, trying to figure out if this is the next place to go serve,” referring to his wife.
“We haven’t gotten to that conclusion. We’ll figure this out in the next handful of months,” he added.
When asked whether Trump’s 2024 presidential bid is having an impact on his own decision-making, Pompeo said: “None.”
There are also likely to be a host of other Republicans eventually in the race with people like the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, and his Virginia counterpart, Glenn Youngkin, among names often touted as likely runners.