If one of the chief goals of Donald Trump’s early 2024 presidential campaign announcement was to clear the field, it may have had the opposite effect.
But even if (as Mick Jagger would put it in the former president’s favorite outro song at rallies) you can’t always get what you want, Trump might find that a crowded field is just what he needs.
“I think we’re gonna have 20 people again,” a member of the Republican National Committee told The Daily Beast, requesting anonymity to discuss internal conversations about the 2024 primary.
Their estimate of 20 to 21 candidates came from a recent preliminary meeting on the primary debate schedule.
In Trumpworld, rather than a problem, the notion of a 2016-sized field is looking awfully enticing, even as the man who remade the GOP in his image has experienced a steady drop in support among Republicans going back to before the midterms.
“Depending on which poll strikes your fancy, up to 45 percent of likely Republican primary voters back President Trump… Any way you slice it, Trump would have to be favored to win a primary with four or more candidates,” a source close to Trump told The Daily Beast. “With a dozen-plus, like the 2016 primary, he would be unbeatable.”
From the past week alone, it’s looking like open season.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of the 16 GOP candidates Trump vanquished in 2016, sat at the most openly critical end of the spectrum, calling for a “family argument” the party needs to conduct in the open.
“We keep losing and losing and losing,” Christie said at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas. “And the fact of the matter is the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else.”
Then there were former Trump administration officials Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo, who didn’t take on Trump directly but clearly signaled they’re ready for a primary run. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made his “scoreboard” comments at a press conference last week and also spoke at the RJC event, where he talked about bringing back water from the Sea of Galilee in Israel to baptize his kids with it.
Other GOP figures like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu have already said they want to avoid a 2016-esque scenario of a prolonged primary with a split field preventing anyone from commanding an outright majority. Sununu told The Washington Post in Vegas he would personally ensure straggling candidates throw in the towel early, while also not ruling out a run of his own.
“I don’t think Trump’s gonna command the 2024 field, I don’t think he can recreate that,” the RNC member said, adding that the House and Senate defeats for the party in New Hampshire among Trump-endorsed candidates should indicate a sea change from his 2016 primary victory.
“All three of them were Trump people and all three of them lost. I hope that’s the handwriting on the wall,” this RNC member said, referring to the GOP candidates in New Hampshire for Senate and two House seats. “I don’t think Trump’s grip here is as large as it was.”
Another GOP strategist said a crowded field could only benefit Trump, citing many of the same ingredients from 2016.
“The political landscape is very similar to 2016. The establishment donors, ‘Never Trump’ media and political consultants are lining up against him yet again. A crowded field benefits Trump, who is already the clear frontrunner,” the strategist told The Daily Beast, also requesting anonymity to discuss internal deliberations over how to approach the primary.
Yet even in otherwise reliably MAGA corners of the party infrastructure, trepidations over Trump’s announcement in light of the midterms results have been bubbling to the surface, according to the RNC member.
“There’s some thought out there that he will crash and burn before the primary,” they said. “I think people are tired of him. I’ve had a lot of calls from people who consider themselves Trumpers, but they don’t think he should do it again.”
He’s here anyway, and for the ride-or-die Republicans who have hitched their wagons to Trump, the message is clear: Come on in, the water is warm.
“Nobody loves a presidential primary more than Republicans, and we will have a wide range of candidates to choose from, just like 2016,” the person close to Trump said. “That’s healthy and strengthens our party. And like most Trump supporters, I say the more the merrier.”