The Republican race for the nomination takes shape

This is an unusual race. Normally, if an incumbent president runs for election, few will try to challenge them for the nomination and at least in the recent past, none have succeeded in doing so. Lyndon Johnson was a notable case in that he decided to not run again in 1968. This was due to the intense opposition to the Vietnam war but it is not clear what might have happened if he had sought the nomination. The fact that his own vice-president Hubert Humphrey, whom he endorsed, got the nomination suggests that he might have won.

If an incumbent wins the presidency but loses their re-election bid (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush) they fade from the scene and do not try to come back four years later, leaving the field wide open for another member for their party to seek the nomination, and that usually leads to a large field of candidates.

This year is an anomaly at least on the Republican side. We have a one-term president in serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT), who is not only seeking to make a comeback after losing his re-election bid, he even claims that he did not lose. And we have a large segment of the party establishment and membership either actually endorsing that delusional claim or pretending to in order not to offend SSAT. And SSAT seems to have the support of a significant number of party faithful

Because of this fact, SSAT is almost like an incumbent and so I am surprised that so many Republicans have decided to challenge him. We have SSAT’s vice president Mike Pence, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, South Carolina senator Tim Scott, Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, current governor of North Dakota Doug Burgum (whom even someone like me who follows politics closely had never heard of), right wing activist Vivek Ramaswamy, and radio host Larry Elder. That makes 10 in all including SSAT. And there may be more to come.

Such a large number naturally bring to mind the 2015 race which also had a crowded Republican field with a similar number of candidates, as Jack Shafer recalls.

Let us speak their names: Donald Trump, of course, but also Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker (only poor former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson was excluded from the debates)

Whats is noteworthy is that of that 2015 field, only Christie has chosen to run again even though many of the others are still around and either holding elected office (Cruz, Rubio, Paul), were in SSAT’s cabinet (Carson, Perry) or still maintain a political profile (Kasich, Huckabee). Let us never forget that Walker was considered a front runner in 2015 before fading very quickly. Why these people chose not to run again may be because they did not cover themselves with glory last time. Cruz, Rubio, and Christie all tried attacking SSAT but were insulted and ridiculed by him out of the race and then turned around and groveled when he became president. They no doubt feared that SSAT would talk about them crying and asking him for forgiveness if they ran again. If Christie gains any traction in the race, you can be sure that SSAT will use the fact that he tried to get the vice-presidential and attorney general slots and will say that he begged and cried but failed.

Shafer reminds us that it was not the case that SSAT won easily last time.

Memory tells us that Trump walked away with the 2016 nomination, but that’s not exactly the case. He was the primary season’s plurality winner, not its majority one, collecting only 45 percent of the vote, the lowest primary performance by a major party candidate since Michael Dukakis in 1988. Had a thinner field been running, perhaps one real challenger would have emerged and given Trump a tougher fight. Instead, Trump benefited from the massive vote splitting and triumphed.

Incredibly, the same thing seems poised to happen again, and even the Trump team can barely believe its luck. “Mr. Trump’s advisers have almost gleefully greeted each successive entry as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy that his team has spoken about since 2021,” the New York Times noted this week.

What SSAT did in the 2016 race was to mainly target whoever he perceived as his leading rival at any given time and drive them out of the race before the others could coalesce around them and increase their strength as the anti-SSAT candidate. He will likely try that again this time and so much of the early fire will be against DeSantis.

Once again, fundraising prowess and debates are going to be the winnowing mechanisms. The first Republican primary debate will be held in August of this year in Milwaukee where the party’s convention will be held next year. The Republican National Committee which is responsible for the debates is expecting to have about a dozen candidates, which once again raises the problem of how to accommodate so many on a single stage.

The committee is considering between 10 and 12 debates between August and its national convention in the summer of 2024.

Republican officials are likely to adopt new criteria for participation, including a new donor threshold to demonstrate broad support among the party’s grassroots in addition to a polling threshold of 1% or 2%.

The Republican National Committee has set criteria to qualify for the debates and some of them, such as the donor threshold, may serve to weed out rich vanity candidates who want to use this process to make themselves famous.

The candidates will have to find ways to distinguish themselves from the others and where they stand vis-a-vis SSAT will be a major marker. There will be those who realize that their chances of winning are minuscule and they are likely to seek a vice-presidential slot or a cabinet position. I suspect that Scott and Haley fall into that category. They will not harshly attack SSAT.

Then there are those who realize that they are unlikely to be selected by SSAT for anything and they have to go for broke and attack him. DeSantis has clearly chosen to do that. And that seems to be the path chosen by Pence as well.

Mike Pence officially announced he is running for the Republican presidential nomination in a video posted early Wednesday and formally addressed a crowd of supporters in Ankeny, Iowa, on Wednesday afternoon.

In his speech, the former Indiana governor chastised Donald Trump for his “reckless” actions on 6 January 2021, took swipes at Joe Biden and singled out “enemies of freedom” around the world, including a three-second frame of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and China’s president, Xi Jinping, in the video.

“The American people deserve to know that on that day, President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the constitution. Now, voters will be faced with the same choice,” said Pence on Wednesday.

“And anyone who asked someone else to put them over the constitution should never be president of the United States again,” he said later.

Other critics of SSAT like Christie and (more mildly) Hutchinson and Ramaswamy must be hoping that someone other that SSAT wins the nomination and that the winner will reward them for their role in slaying that dragon with a plum appointment.

Note that this post has not even discussed what the various candidates might have as their policy proposals, so completely has SSAT made the Republican party into a personality cult devoid of any substance.

It is going to a long and tortured road until the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses early next year.


  1. René says

    Whenever I encounter a text string like “The Republican race”, I stop parsing the rest of the sentence. I then think, that’s just is what it is, a race, and very binary at that. (/s)
    To my mind (when judging, i.e., going for appearances) there are just two races of man: the authoritarian and the lenient.
    I may have had a drink too many.

  2. says

    Opportunists, the lot of them. My guess is that many see TFG as having the same problem that Clinton did in 2016, namely, high negatives. Yes, TFG has his loyal (and loud) followers, but among many voters he is toxic. People are sick of him after watching what he did during his presidency and especially after. Thus, these candidates see an opening. They are walking a razor trying to differentiate themselves from TFG in the eyes of the “regular folk” but also trying to win over support from the true believers (I don’t see that happening unless TFG dies, because this truly is a cult). What they’re all looking for is support from the donor class who do not want any more drama (which TFG delivers by the tankerful).

  3. KG says

    serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT)

    Could I suggest a shortening to “Sexual Abuser Donald (SAD)”?

  4. says

    Note that this post has not even discussed what the various candidates might have as their policy proposals, so completely has SSAT made the Republican party into a personality cult devoid of any substance.

    What little I have paid attention, it does seem that their policies are all pretty much the same: Hate on trans people and liberals are liars when they suggest there is still systemic racism in this country.

    KG @4: Gotta have the “serial” in there, but SSAD does seem easier than SSAT.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    The Republican race for the nomination takes shape

    Specifically, it takes the shape of a pear.

  6. KG says

    They are walking a razor trying to differentiate themselves from TFG in the eyes of the “regular folk” but also trying to win over support from the true believers (I don’t see that happening unless TFG dies, because this truly is a cult). -- jimf@2

    I’m not certain Trump won’t be the candidate even if he is dead!

  7. tuatara says

    The Republican race for the nomination takes shape

    I flushed a similarly shaped object only this morning.

  8. says

    I was remembering this morning that Ryan Binkley (Who?) is also running. I live in Iowa and so I get the “privilege” of seeing ads and he’s been running one.

  9. John Morales says

    Article which points out the obvious while rhetorically insinuating. I like that technique.

    A quick survey of Trump’s fiercest competitors shows that, as of press time, not a single top candidate identified Trump’s unprecedented legal troubles as a case for their own candidacy. Largely they are deferential or defensive, hoping that will keep them safe from Trump’s wrath, and perhaps somewhat favorable in the eyes of Trump’s supporters. But at a certain point you may have to wonder if they even want to beat Trump at all, and why they’re wasting time and money running for president when they could spend the next 12 months doing literally anything else.


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