Trump’s ‘stranglehold’ on Republicans could win him 2024 presidential nomination, ex-White House officials say

Donald Trump has a “stranglehold” on Republican voters and could still win the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, despite a bruising midterm election, former Republican officials have said.

The former president is expected to be imminently unveiling a bid to become the Republican 2024 presidential candidate, but his chances appear to have been dampened by poor midterm results which saw several Trump-endorsed candidates lose their races.

While some votes are still being counted, Democrats defied the odds to keep control of the US Senate, in an upset that displays the strength of Joe Biden’s party.

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Despite the defeat, Republican experts and former officials suggested the strength of feeling for Mr Trump among GOP backers should not be underestimated as his appeal to party members has not waned.

FILE - Supporters of President Donald Trump demonstrate during a rally on, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. This week???s ballot had an unspoken candidate ??? American democracy. Two years of relentless attacks on democratic traditions by former President Donald Trump and his allies left the country's future in doubt, and voters responded. Many of the candidates who supported the lie that Trump won the 2020 election lost races that could have put them in position to influence future elections. But the conditions that threatened democracy's demise remain, and Americans view them from very different perspectives, depending on their politics. (Joshua A. Bickel/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)
Supporters of Donald Trump on 6 January, 2021, at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio – the day of the storming of the US Capitol (Photo: Joshua A. Bickel/The Columbus Dispatch/AP)

Russell Vought, a former Government official who was appointed director of the US’s Office of Management and Budget under Mr Trump, said he was backing his former boss for a 2024 leadership bid and thought he would win.

“I think he will win the nomination,” he told i. “I think the GOP establishment will continue to do the same thing they’ve been doing for years, which is to try isolate him and his agenda, and I don’t think they’ll be successful. But if they do try to do that, I think he’ll have something to say about it.

“There’s a lot of great quality candidates out there – I think Mr Trump is the leader of the Conservative movement. He’s the leader the Republican Party. It’s his opportunity to take care of unfinished business.”

The former official also suggested Mr Trump should not be blamed for a flat performance from the Republicans at the midterm elections.

“Trump did a great job being out there getting people fired up to go to the polls and participate and I don’t think that candidates that did not do well are a reflection on him,” Mr Vought said.

Dan Scandling, a former chief of staff to two Republican members of Congress, said that there had been no weakening of the former president’s appeal to Republican voters, adding: “If anything, it’s only grown”.

Mr Scandling said that while the twice impeached former president was the “big loser” of the midterm elections, that “doesn’t mean anything in Trump world”.

“Going into the midterms, [former] president Trump was riding high. I think he was going to come out and make an announcement that he was going to run for president. I still think he’s going to make that announcement, but losing is not part of his vocabulary,” he told i.

“He’ll push off and deflect any blame and say it wasn’t his fault, it was the candidates’ or something else. He’s going to run, and he’s going to take credit. And the base supports him. He has a stranglehold on the Republican base, and they think he walks on water.”

Some key Republican figures including Mr Trump’s vice-president Mike Pence appear to have suggested they would not support his second presidential bid. But Mr Scandling stressed that the “base is the one who nominates, not the Hill.”

“That’s where this game now shifts to. It shifts to the activists, not to the elected officials. And that’s what’s really important, particularly for people outside the United States, to understand. The nomination is decided by the activists,” he said.

“I think there’s a certain part of Americana that really identifies with him, and they think he’s fighting for the little guy. I think that’s where he is, and where he’ll always be. Everything he does is about winning and pushing forward. Big parts of the American public have soured on him, but the people who will decide who the nominee is, haven’t.”

Ed Goeas, partner at Republican polling firm Tarrance Group, said that the firm had found around 50 per cent of Republican voters now say that they support Mr Trump’s policies but not his actions – up from 30 per cent when he left office. He suggested these voters could throw their weight behind other candidates, saying they were “looking towards the future and not the past”.

He blamed Mr Trump for the loss of the critical Georgia Senate race in 2021 which handed Democrats control of the Senate, saying that his claims of election fraud caused Republicans to stay home rather than vote, and suggested he had not done enough to combat some of this year’s midterms losses.

“[Trump] pushed for these candidates early on, and then did nothing. He was sitting on $100m, just did a sprinkling of money and hardly did anything,” he said. “Most of what he did was rallies. And what’s interesting is in that of the eight congressional districts that he went into in September and October, only one won. The other seven lost. The one that he did win was in Iowa and they downplayed him coming in in the first place.”

“You have the democracy speech by Biden, and them him out there acting un-civilly, if you will. I think that gave a little bit of a boost to the Democrats. My sense is that there’s a lot of Republicans looking at this and kind of closing the door on being open to Trump running again. But if he does run, he’s got a large enough faction that if it’s a multiple race, he still surfaces the leader.

“Then it becomes: who’s going to take him on? And the person who takes him on, if its DeSantis, do they kind of destroy eachother and a third person surface. What I see is a lot of unknowns on this.”

Asked if he would put his money on Mr Trump to win the nomination, Mr Goeas said: “Oh no” – but he wouldn’t rule it out.

“The hope is that Trump will maybe get the message that its time to step aside and let someone else lead, but I don’t know if he will,” he said. “Trump is a salesman. He’ll just find a new way to sell it.”

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One former senior Democratic aide, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said that underestimating Mr Trump in 2024 would be an “incredible miscalculation”.

“I think his appeal now it’s just as hard as it was in 2020 and 2016,” they told i. “There is something about him that pulls part of the electorate that is not pulled by a normal politician. And when we are in a 50:50 country politically, when it comes to our partisan politics, if you can pull a few extra percentage over, you can be really dangerous and you can win, and that’s something that Donald Trump can do.

“Now, at the same time, he could also pull people who may not have voted who will vote against him. That’s part of the challenge. But to think that, because a couple of his endorsed candidates lost in 2022, he doesn’t have a shot in 2025 would be an incredible miscalculation.”

The former Hill staffer said that many Republican voters and party members had a “deep” relationship with Mr Trump.

“He’s just a unique personality in our politics. His ability to just cut other politicians down to size, especially on his own side and especially when you have a Republican Party, that is so centred around grievance, to have someone who can just frankly out mean anybody else is incredibly powerful,” he said.

“I think Democrats and Democratic voters and a lot of voters in general take him seriously and take the threat and the prospect of him winning again seriously. I think in part its why you saw a lot of Democratic turnout in 2022, and I think it will continue to drive Democratic Party engagement in 2024.

“So I don’t think that what you have now is what you saw in 2016, where Democrats thought “this guy’s a joke, we’re going to beat him, we don’t need to put all our chips on the table for this, we don’t need to go all in. We’re in in all in politics right now. Both sides just feel like there’s too much at stake.”

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