It wasn’t long ago that many Republicans believed the party might finally be ready to move past former President Donald Trump. But Trump continues to be the axis around which the GOP 2024 primary continues to turn around.
Republican strategists say it’s Groundhog Day all over again.
While Trump’s approval ratings may be slipping and Republican voters tell pollsters they are willing to look elsewhere, a series of recent developments have kept the party fixated on him and the scandals that defined his time and office.
Fox News has spent days replaying the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol.
And the specter of a Trump indictment in New York portends an early primary season spent relitigating his record. It means that other GOP candidates will define themselves in comparison to him, experts warn.
In recent days, Trump said he will “absolutely” stay in the race if he is indicted and that it would likely “enhance my numbers.”
Rather than distance himself from the insurrection, Trump instead has leaned in, suggesting to pardon some of the rioters and even collaborating on a song with some of them.
Many traditional Republicans are cringing at his tactics, and trying to distance themselves away from it all.
Strategists say that any other presidential candidate or any down-ballot Republican next year will run the huge risk of having to talk about Jan. 6 on the campaign trail.
The primary was always going to be about the former president, experts say, as the man remains the frontrunner in the 2024 field as he makes his third attempt for the Oval Office.
But after a less-than-red-wave midterm and the first few lackluster weeks of Trump’s campaign, it appeared he might not singularly set the terms of the debate.
It was time for a “new generation,” Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, said when she launched her campaign. Republicans said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu — a potential candidate — would not choose “yesterday’s leadership.”
The problem for GOP is that Trump is making it impossible to run anything other than yesterday’s campaign.