It would be cruel, at this point, to start naming Republican candidates for the 2024 presidential election. The past presidential election felt never-ending and an impeachment trial is still ongoing. What is worth thinking about, however, is the way in which certain individuals in the Republican Party are positioning themselves.
The Senate will vote next week on whether to convict Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection on 6 January, but since only six Republicans voted that the impeachment trial was constitutional (despite precedent, the rest argued it was not because Trump is already out of office), he will likely not be convicted. That means Trump could run again. Whatever he decides to do, he will remain a force in the Republican Party. The question for other Republicans is how they should position themselves in relation to him.
Generally speaking, there are five categories:
The would-be statesmen
At this point, Republican figures who try to act like men of principle are something of a throwback, but there are at least two who fall into this category. There’s Mitt Romney, the senator from Utah, who ran against Barack Obama in the 2012 election and who auditioned for the job of being Trump’s secretary of state. Romney might have voted with Trump 75 per cent of the time, but he also voted to impeach him for abuse of power in 2020. The senator came out strongly against Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election, and he also even proposed giving more money to American families.
There’s also Ben Sasse, a senator from Nebraska, who often writes and speaks about civility and decency. He voted with Trump 84 per cent of the time but was censured by the Nebraska GOP for criticising the former president’s attempts to overturn the election results. He was also the only Republican who switched his vote after listening to the House impeachment managers’ arguments; in the end, Sasse voted for the trial to proceed.
The tightrope walkers
Here we have individuals who are close to Trump, but who distance themselves from his rhetoric while essentially enacting his policies. This category includes Nikki Haley, who was Trump’s first ambassador to the UN, and who spoke about her own Indian-immigrant family at a Republican National Convention, hosted by a city that condemned Trump’s xenophobic remarks before the convention kicked off.
It also includes Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator, who represents South Carolina. He worked with Trump on criminal justice reform and is now arguing that it is “wrong” to blame the former president for the riots at the Capitol.
The elite lawyer/politicians adopting Trump’s populist playbook
This category includes such luminaries as Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state who went to Harvard Law; Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas who went to Princeton and then Harvard Law; and Josh Hawley, a senator of Missouri who went to Stanford and then Yale Law. These three men make use of Trump’s anti-media, pro-populist rhetoric. Cruz and Hawley both voted against certifying the election results; Hawley fist-pumped the mob that went on to storm the Capitol on 6 January. His book deal was then dropped, and he decried this as an attack on free speech. Whether this is a particularly important issue for American voters is open to question.
Matt Gaetz, a congressman from Florida, said on Twitter he would never love another president, so great was his love for Trump. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a congresswoman from Georgia who was stripped of her committee assignments over her extremist statements, said the Republican Party still belongs to Trump. They both undoubtedly have bright futures ahead of them in Republican politics.
The Trump family
The question is not whether one of Trump’s adult children will run for office, but which of them – Donald Trump, Jr? Eric? Ivanka? Tiffany!? – does so first.
Ultimately, it is not whether Trump runs or which of these particular individuals becomes the party’s star, but whether individual politicians take it upon themselves to reject Trump’s us-versus-them, win-by-whatever-means politics. And how forcefully they do so, should they choose to at all.
[See also: Why Republicans are standing by extemist Marjorie Taylor Greene]