‘Free for all’ predicted if Trump’s grip on Republican base slips

Donald Trump
FILE – Former President Donald Trump announces he is running for president for the third time as he smiles while speaking at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022. Trump’s early announcement of his third White House bid won’t shield the former president from the criminal investigations already confronting him as an ordinary citizen, leaving him legally and politically exposed as he seeks the 2024 Republican nomination. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) Andrew Harnik/AP

‘Free for all’ predicted if Trump’s grip on Republican base slips

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Any Republican who challenges former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential race would need to loosen his grip on rank-and-file voters. But if that can be done, some operatives believe the field will be wide open.

Trump remains the Republican favorite after announcing his third presidential bid on Tuesday, with deep campaign coffers and broad support among GOP voters. He has also leveled Republican competitors before.

Trump allies point to his record in office, which retooled the Republican Party’s approach to trade, China, immigration, foreign policy, and more, as an imprint that challengers will strain to fill. The former president broadened the party’s appeal with working-class voters. This included Latinos, upending years of underlying assumptions about the direction of this crucial voting bloc.


“To be the man, you gotta beat the man” is how former Trump White House spokesman Hogan Gidley put it to Semafor’s Shelby Talcott, quoting wrestler Ric Flair when asked if Trump was chastened by the prospect of a field of Republican opponents.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) used the same turn when talking about challengers to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) earlier this week, shortly before McConnell crushed an attempted rebellion.

Few saw Trump’s election to the White House in 2016, skepticism the former president leveraged against his opponents when he ran against a sprawling Republican field. Once in office, his popularity swelled with Republicans, even as he was twice impeached and acquitted by Congress. Some supporters backed away after a mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 election. But as federal investigators descended on Trump’s Florida estate this summer, enthusiasm for the former president again began to rise.

Arguing that he is again under threat from establishment forces, Trump is seeking to rekindle that support as he mounts his third bid, led by a team of top lieutenants.

Yet looming over the party’s nominating contest is skepticism that Trump can unite a winning coalition of voters for the Republican ticket, forcing a replay of his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden instead.

Republicans saw disappointing midterm results, with Democrats outperforming several high-profile Trump-endorsed candidates. While not all Republicans blame the former president for the fallout, many argue that his shrinking appeal with swing and independent voters has alienated parts of the American electorate the party must claw back in order to win.

Whether Trump’s future rivals could dent his support with grassroots loyalists isn’t clear. Attendees at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago event on Tuesday said while the former president’s stalwart backers had turned out, there were not many new faces.

Republican strategists eyeing the 2024 race said if the rank-and-file voters begin to tilt away from Trump, the field will be open.

“If the base is divided, I think it’s a free for all,” one operative said.

Trump attempted to box out competitors with an early announcement, though efforts to rally Republicans behind him have proved halting. Few Washington allies made the trip to Mar-a-Lago this week, and most have declined to offer the former president their endorsement.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) this week expressed openly a willingness to look beyond Trump. “I’ll support the Republican nominee, but I don’t know that it will be him,” Cornyn told reporters. Former Vice President Mike Pence has also questioned whether Trump has a path to victory.

New polling suggests that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has emerged as a threat to Trump, even as the former president continues to hold an edge.

According to a new Morning Consult-Politico survey, 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters said they would support Trump in a presidential primary held today. DeSantis, whom Trump helped usher into office in 2018, garnered 33% of the vote.

Viewed already as a top-tier presidential aspirant, momentum around DeSantis has grown after the governor notched a nearly 20 percentage point margin in his reelection against Democrat Charlie Crist.

Exit polls showed the governor winning Hispanic voters by 15 percentage points, helping him carry Miami-Dade, a majority-Hispanic county that has not voted for a Republican governor in two decades. By comparison, Biden won Hispanic voters in the state by 7 points in 2020.


Buoyed by the outcome, some operatives have billed the governor’s success as a possible blueprint for the party going into 2024, with wealthy donors lining up behind him to encourage a bid.

Other possible Republican contenders include Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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