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The GOP primaries: a packed field dominated by Donald Trump

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Four months ahead of the Iowa caucuses and with the first televised debates hitting the air, the 2024 Republican primaries seem to already have a clear winner: Donald Trump. In all opinion polls, the former President is leading the field by 30-40 points and similar figures are also forecast for Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada (the first three states that will vote).

Donald Trump at the Republican National Committee in 2018

 

However, with so much time to go, with the debates and the media interest that will pump up the attention, the competition is yet to be closed. Even if Trump has a good chance of quickly securing the nomination (the most probable scenario), for the other aspirants being in the race and staying competitive could be important in eventually obtaining a post in the future administration (if Republicans eventually win) and/or paving the way for a 2028 run. Primaries, indeed, provide crucial media coverage that can vitally support current and future fundraising efforts. Notable examples come from the last presidential election cycle: Joe Biden was facing internal contenders, such as Kamala Harris, who was later designated as VP, and an outsider like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who became known nationally and is now serving as the United States Secretary of Transportation.

Behind frontrunner Trump, there are more than 250 individuals who are officially running for the Republican nomination. Obviously, only a few of them can be considered as serious contenders. As of the end of the summer, five people seem to emerge from this super packed field.

 

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Ron DeSantis is the only candidate polling in double digits but, after an initial momentum, has yet to reach anything close to Trump’s level of support. He aligns with Trump on several issues and wants to be perceived as a more effective, more religious – and less scandalous – continuation of the former President’s political movement. Since he became Florida’s governor in 2018, he has positioned himself as a national figure by championing far-right causes. He is trying to combine M.A.G.A. fans with loyal Republicans who are skeptical about a third straight Trump nomination. However, since he is avoiding direct attacks against the former President, he has not been able to expand his electoral basis. DeSantis is now in a narrow path: He is still the second-best competitor, but it is now time to go at Trump directly – without alienating too many of his supporters – and position himself as a more electable alternative.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is rapidly escalating positions and he is now consistently placing third in the national polls for the GOP primaries. He’s one of the strongest fundraisers and has connections to affluent conservatives like Oracle’s Larry Ellison and the Koch family. An African-American and a vocal opponent of abortion rights, he is relying on more positive tones when compared to the polarizing and apocalyptic Trump and De Santis. He had frequent clashes with the former President concerning George Floyd’s murder and racial issues in general. With his home state coming third in the primary calendar, showing strength in South Carolina could certainly boost his popularity.

Vivek Ramaswamy is a businessman and a former pharmaceutical company CEO. He has launched an outsider campaign based largely on a critique of “wokeness” among corporations and other institutions. He is also rapidly gaining consensus, but usually these kinds of unorthodox candidacies rapidly emerge and vanish.

Then, there are two top contenders who have been members of the Trump administration: Nikki Haley and Mike Pence. Haley is already the most politically accomplished Republican woman to enter a primary field. Former United Nations Ambassador, former cabinet member, Governor of South Carolina for two terms, she represents an old-style run with a female touch. Much has been written about Democratic women; less traveled is the road concerning female Republicans who seem to be less vocal and less keen to take up leading positions. However, women make up nearly half of the GOP primary electorate and that could be a potential advantage for Haley. However, she is not getting much media attention and she is often criticized for her seemingly shifting views of Trump after the January 6th riot. Plus, her home-field advantage in an early state such as South Carolina is shared with the above-mentioned Tim Scott, a condition that may penalize both of them.

Finally, Mike Pence. His candidacy makes him the first Vice President to run against the President under whom he served since John Nance Garner in 1940. While he is perceived as the real anti-Trump option and he is trying to portray himself as a traditional old-style Republican, he is not performing well in the opinion polls and his media coverage is constantly driven by what happened during the transition period in 2020-21. His impeccable tenure in that turbulent time has been appreciated by liberal media and internationally, but Trump fans consider him as a traitor and moderate Republicans are now rarer than ever.

 

Read also: The abortion debate in the US: a split country

 

In the coming months other candidates may emerge, for instance there is a consistent bloc of personalities (Burgum, Christie, Hutchinson) who are polling just behind these five. However, without major shocks, the Republican nomination should be easily secured by Trump.