Now that Donald Trump has officially broken his virtual post-presidential silence by ruling out the formation of a third party and promised to keep hope alive for the possibility of another run at the White House (“maybe I’ll beat them a third time,” he said at the CPAC conference), where do conservatives go from here in their quest to regain their footing in 2022 and the White House in 2024?
Well, let’s start with the most involved political activists, those who attended the premier event of the conservative year last weekend and were polled on their preferences for the next presidential race. These are the people who will work the hardest on behalf of the next Republican nominee — if he or she can stoke their excitement. The results may have set the table for multiple new entries on the presidential map, foremost among them a couple of young governors.
If Trump does decide to run one more time, the poll indicates the 45th president would attract the support of 55% of activist conservatives, a strong though ultimately unsurprising showing. But consider the second-and third-place finishers. Directly behind Trump at 21% was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, followed by South Dakota’s Chief Executive Kristi Noem.
DeSantis, a leading ally of Trump, has taken a leadership role in fighting censorship of conservatives, proposing first-in-the-nation legislation that would hold social media accountable for suppression tactics in the Sunshine State. Noem put herself on the map over the summer of 2020 with her outspoken response to widespread COVID shutdowns and urban violence.
DeSantis also held a huge lead among respondents if Trump decides not to run, with 43% support. Noem was again in the second spot, but look who finished third — Donald Trump Jr., whose name has been floated for high office since his father was denied a second term. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ted Cruz tied for fifth — a steep decline for the Texas senator compared to 2016.
As surprising as the strength of DeSantis, the ascent of Noem, and the presence of Trump Jr. in the poll was the absence of former Vice President Mike Pence and another strongly pro-Trump figure on the national stage, Josh Hawley. The Missouri senator, along with Cruz, was targeted for expulsion by Democrats after they took their challenge to the 2020 election results to the limit. Pence is appreciated and admired by conservatives but not considered at the forefront of the America First movement. Hawley has taken up the Trump mantle in the upper chamber and has a good long time to make his mark on the ‘24 presidential primary, as do Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and other hopefuls who will enter a likely crowded field vying for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Equally revealing were the results of surrounding poll questions. Almost 70% said they want Trump to run again, and 95% said they want the Republican Party to continue with Trump’s agenda and policies. That is nothing less than a ringing endorsement of the MAGA reforms and agenda.
Admittedly, the CPAC poll represents a narrow ideological sample and has historically been a less-than-reliable indicator of who will ultimately secure the GOP nomination. But it has served over time to ignite the candidacies of upstart presidential hopefuls such as DeSantis and Noem and generate renewed interest in old standbys such as Cruz.
But all of these presidential wannabes are well aware that a single result from this poll pertaining to Trump’s record all but precludes their candidacies if the Donald tries for one more bite at the presidential apple: 97% job approval.
Good luck trying to beat that.
Read more from Tim Donner.