NEW YORK (AP) — When Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina launched his campaign for the White House last week, notoriously dodgy former President Donald Trump welcomed his new contender with open arms.
There have been no accusations of disloyalty or nasty nicknames from the GOP frontrunner like the barrage he unleashed when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen as his main rival, joined the race two days later. late with a failed Twitter ad.
“Good luck to Sen. Tim Scott running in the Republican presidential primary race,” Trump said. “It loads quickly with a lot of people, and Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally ineligible.”
The contrast underscores not only the fact that Trump views DeSantis as his most formidable rival, but also basic math: He and his team have long believed that the more candidates who enter the Republican primary contest, the better. for Trump. They assume that no other candidate will be able to shore up the anti-Trump vote enough to bring him down. Other candidates entering the race, they argue, are vying for DeSantis’ vote share.
And the field is growing day by day.
In the coming weeks, at least four more candidates are expected to launch their own campaigns, joining a field that already includes DeSantis, Scott, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, the tech billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy and several longer shots. like conservative radio host Larry Elder.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s entry into the race is “imminent,” according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss his plans. Former Vice President Mike Pence is expected to launch his campaign next month, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum is considering June 7 as the launch date. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told The Associated Press last week that he was “strongly considering” running, as did New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.
Even former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has already run for president twice, recently told CNN he hasn’t taken a third campaign off the table. And Axios reported that Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who previously said he was focused on state elections, was reconsidering his plans after dismissing earlier speculation.
“This is an indictment of DeSantis’ disastrous announcement and dismal poll results,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said of the upcoming announcements. “DeSantis’ blood is in the water and every candidate sees how weak and weak he is.”
Indeed, several of the declared and potential candidates have stepped up their attacks on DeSantis as they vie for second place.
Republicans once warned of a repeat of 2016, when the sprawling GOP field failed to coalesce around an alternative to Trump, giving him the nomination. But much of the urgency that once existed among Trump’s GOP rivals to limit the field has faded in recent months.
“The important point is not how many candidates start the race, it’s how many stay after they have no chance of being nominated,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster and strategist. seasoned. “We learned that from the Democratic nomination in 2020. Many candidates started the race. But once it became clear that Joe Biden was going to win the nomination, within hours the others all gave up and endorsed him.
It’s still far too early, Ayers said, to know who will be the strongest non-Trump candidate.
“The idea that you’re going to decide before the race has even started who to rally behind is very premature,” he said. “There are so many shoes that could still fall.”
Among them are ongoing investigations into Trump, including the Justice Department investigation into his handling of classified documents and state and federal investigations into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Trump has previously been indicted in New York and additional criminal charges would create an unprecedented situation with unknown consequences.
New York-based Republican donor Eric Levine, a fierce Trump critic, warned earlier in the year of dire consequences if the GOP primary field grew too large. This week, however, Levine downplayed the growing number of candidates, noting that many of Trump’s rivals are voting in single digits.
The only “serious candidates” beyond Trump, Levine said, are DeSantis, Haley, Scott, Pence (if he shows up) and possibly Sununu and Youngkin, if they come in.
Still, Levine said, “I would rather there were fewer people, no doubt.”
Meanwhile, Trump tried to project a sense of inevitability and domain dominance. He told reporters at a golf tournament on Thursday that he wasn’t sure it was worth debating given his current poll numbers.
“Unless he’s getting close, why would anyone argue?” he said of DeSantis.
He also urged the party to rally behind him. Democrats, he said, “hope for a long, drawn-out Republican primary.”
“This is why the Republican Party must unite behind the standard bearer of the MAGA movement,” he said in a video message, referring to his slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Many Republicans seem to believe the party will eventually rally behind its strongest Trump challengers, with other candidates stepping down once they realize they can’t win. But it’s unclear exactly how that will happen, given the political aspirations of those involved. If DeSantis maintains his position in second place, some fear that his cool relationship with the other candidates will make it even less likely that the party will unite behind him.
In the meantime, candidates like Haley have stepped up their attacks on DeSantis, while others prepare to join the race. They include Suarez, who would be the only Hispanic candidate in the 2024 field.
The 45-year-old Republican is not well known nationally, but has started meeting voters in key primary states like South Carolina and is thought to be sitting on millions of dollars in the bank.
Suarez avoided any criticism of Trump in a recent interview, saying only that the former president “is definitely in pole position.”
But he was more willing to highlight what he called DeSantis’ “structural” responsibilities, pointing to the Florida governor’s struggle to build relationships with many Republican officials in the state, including himself. He also noted DeSantis’ recent conservative legislative accomplishments and his battle with Disney.
“There are things that, at least what I’ve heard from the donor class, are something that made them question their support for him,” he said.