Former Vice President Mike Pence – the guy who refused to take a stand against Donald Trump after drying a murderous mob on Pence and his family on Capitol Hill – will be heading to South Carolina’s main proving ground. And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s finalist in the CPAC Straw Poll, stay put in the Sunshine State for now, happy to throwing beards at a fellow floridian Senator Scott as he searches for a way to retake the upper house.
Even Trump has his “deep bench” of favorites, as he put it this week on a Fox News Podcast with Lisa Boothe. If he doesn’t show up, Trump loves DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former White House press secretary and Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the senses. Josh Hawley from Missouri, Ted Cruz from Texas and Rand Paul from Kentucky. Sorry Pompeo.
Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, is nothing but abuzz with the GOP’s primary anticipation. “Iowa will jump,” Kaufmann says Politico.
Of course, we know what the Republicans’ last “deep bench” did – Trump. And for now, Trump still has that truly tragic bench of GOP hopes locked up until he decides how much his ego, wallet, and legal status need a presidential boost.
“I would almost call it a shadow campaign,” a New Hampshire GOP agent told Politico. “It’s kind of operating in this silo like it’s no longer showing up.”
Indeed, any Republican who wants to try his luck in 2024 must proceed as if Trump isn’t running or risks being caught off guard if he ultimately steps down. While outgoing presidents who are not elected for a second term are relatively rare races, those who lose and plan to run again are even rarer. It’s not since former President Gerald Ford lost the presidential contest in 1976 and toyed with the idea of running four years later that a group of presidential candidates have had to contend with this potential.
And as everyone on the right willingly concedes or enthusiastically asserts – it’s Trump’s party now and he can take it or leave it.