Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 bears resemblance to his successful 2016 campaign, but it also brings forth unprecedented elements in American politics.
Similar to 2016, Trump is faced with a multitude of primary challengers who could fragment the opposition vote, potentially allowing the former business tycoon and TV personality to secure victories in primaries and garner delegates with as little as 30% of the vote.
However, the Trump of 2024 is not the same as the Trump of 2016. He now holds the status of a former president who wields considerable influence within the Republican Party. Additionally, he faces the looming specter of two criminal trials that could expose unflattering details about his conduct, along with two ongoing investigations.
While Trump is viewed as the frontrunner, Republican pollster Whit Ayres acknowledges that numerous unforeseen events will shape the nomination process, making it difficult to predict outcomes.
Much like in 2016, Trump faces a host of rivals in the race for the Republican nomination. This time, his opponents include Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Doug Burgum, Vivek Ramaswamy, Asa Hutchinson, Larry Elder, and Will Hurd.
According to the average of recent polls on the RealClearPolitics website, Trump enjoys a 53% approval rating among Republican voters, placing him well ahead of DeSantis at just under 21% and Pence at slightly over 6%.
Pollster and senior vice president at Ipsos, Chris Jackson, believes that Trump is in a stronger position this year compared to 2016. He notes that DeSantis, the governor of Florida, shares policies that closely align with Trump’s, indicating a smaller anti-Trump sentiment among Republicans now than in the past.
Similarly to 2016, Trump presents himself as an outsider battling against the “establishment,” despite his former presidency and influential position within the Republican Party. He frames his campaign as a fight against a supposed “deep state” that he alleges, without substantiated evidence, is working to undermine his bid through law enforcement and indictments.
Addressing his supporters in Iowa, Trump stated, “They want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom.”
According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Trump maintains a significant 32-point lead in the GOP field for the 2024 election. The current polling numbers for the candidates are as follows:
- Trump: 53%
- DeSantis: 20.9%
- Pence: 6.1%
- Haley: 3.6%
- Scott: 3.3%
- Christie: 2.5%
- Ramaswamy: 2.4%
- Hutchinson: 0.9%
- Elder: 0.7%
- Burgum: 0.1%
A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll conducted in June also indicated Trump’s dominance, with a 25-point lead and 48% support compared to DeSantis’ 23%. Other candidates registered in the low single digits in that particular poll.
One notable difference observed by some opponents is that Trump has essentially become his own establishment, presenting a record that challengers may seek to exploit to reshape the narrative from the previous election cycle in 2016.
Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president who is now running against him, emphasized the need for “new leadership in the Republican Party” during a recent visit to Iowa, stating that such a change is necessary both within the party and across the nation.
Pence aims to make an impact in Iowa, which holds the first caucuses in the nominating process next year, and he plans to leverage his foreign policy experience as part of his campaign strategy.
A political action committee aligned with Pence released an advertisement criticizing Trump for being “an apologist for thugs and dictators,” referencing the former president’s favorable comments about Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim Jong Un of North Korea.
The leading challenger, Ron DeSantis, intends to deliver a series of policy speeches highlighting the differences between himself and Trump on matters such as law enforcement and the economy. DeSantis recently questioned Trump’s record on border security.
Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, is concentrating his campaign efforts on New Hampshire, the location of the first Republican primary. He also stands out as the most prominent Republican critic of Trump’s legal issues, particularly his indictment concerning the mishandling of classified information.
Campaigning from courtrooms could be a defining feature of the 2024 presidential primary race, setting it apart from previous elections, including the 2016 race. The frontrunner, who happens to be a former president, is facing trials in both New York for a hush money case and Florida for a classified documents case.
Furthermore, there are additional investigations underway that focus on attempts to overturn the 2020 election, with one being conducted at the state level in Atlanta, Georgia, and the other at the federal level in Washington, D.C. The outcomes of these trials, whether the former president is convicted, acquitted, or left in limbo due to hung juries, remain uncertain and their impact on the 2024 election is difficult to gauge.
The unprecedented nature of this situation makes it challenging to predict its effects. While the indictments seem to have alienated independent voters, they have surprisingly strengthened the former president’s support among Republican voters who hold sway in the primaries.
Most voters, regardless of their political affiliation, prefer the trials to conclude before the elections, but the likelihood of that happening seems slim. Additionally, if the former president is convicted, the appeals process could extend for years.
Throughout this period, the former president is expected to campaign against the indictments, capitalizing on his success as an outsider candidate who resonates with Republican voters’ anger towards the political establishment.
Debates, as in 2016, will play a crucial role in reshaping the dynamics of the race for the Republican candidates. However, it remains uncertain if the former president will participate, as he has hinted at skipping the first debate due to his substantial lead in the polls.
Other contenders view the debates as their best opportunity to catch up, but they face the challenge of meeting the requirement of at least 40,000 unique donors, which may be demanding for lesser-known candidates. Moreover, Republican debaters must pledge support to the eventual nominee, a difficult task for those concerned about a Trump re-nomination. Similar to 2016, Trump’s absence from a debate before the Iowa caucuses became a focal point of criticism from his opponents, ultimately affecting his performance in that state.
Opponents have largely refrained from attacking Trump directly over the indictments, following the trend from 2016 where challengers aimed to position themselves as the main alternative to Trump rather than attacking him directly. To avoid a repeat of 2016, opponents must challenge the 2024 version of Trump on his track record, legal issues, struggles with independent voters, and prospects in a general election against President Biden.
As the competition progresses, it is anticipated that the contest will become more contentious than the 2016 race, according to political scientist Lara Brown, author of “Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants.” She argues that challengers will have no choice but to confront Trump directly if they aspire to secure victory.