At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Texas Senator Ted Cruz proudly proclaimed that now former President Donald Trump “Isn’t going anywhere”. The conference, as Trump’s own son noted, was largely centered around praise for the former president’s tumultuous first term. While Trump did not explicitly announce that he would be seeking a second term come the next election cycle, it was heavily implied.
A number of polls conducted among conservative voters suggest that the majority of the Republican base would support Trump over any other candidate, with Florida Governor Ron. DeSantis, a staunch supporter of Trump, coming in second. In most cases such as this, the most recent vice president would be the frontrunner this early in the election season, however Mike Pence, who declined to attend CPAC upon invitation, is polling among conservatives at around 1%.
Based on the past several election cycles - it is clear that the Republican Party cannot hope to win elections without populist, anti-establishment candidates; Even after Trump’s utter disaster of a final year in office, the 2020 election remained closer than both 2012 and 2008, both elections in which the GOP ran candidates who were tied in with the Republican establishment, which ultimately failed to incentivize turnout from the GOP base. Furthermore, when looking at the runoff election in Georgia this past January, two establishment Republicans, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, failed to reach the numbers which Trump did back in November, despite this race being so incredibly important to their party. Despite Trump’s endorsement of both candidates, turnout among Democrats was similar to what it was on election day, while turnout from Republicans drastically decreased.
The reasoning for this is populism: the rural heartlands of Republicanism in the country refuse to vote for Democrats due to their perception of Democrats as ‘elitists’ and as ‘out of touch’ with issues that concern them. Naturally, if that base views both the Republican and Democratic candidates in a race as part of the elite, such voters will not bother turning out for them. While the youth wing of the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly disgruntled with career politicians such as Pelosi and Biden, it does not appear that this is a large enough contingent to dramatically affect races, while the opposite is true for Republicans.
A DeSantis candidacy does have the chance of once again incentivizing the conservative, populist base, given that Trump has avidly supported DeSantis’ governorship of his state, and would almost certainly lock down the crucial swing state which he leads. If Trump does not decide to run for the third time, DeSantis has the clearest path to the GOP nomination come 2024.
While many, including myself, envisioned that following Trump’s loss, there would be a realignment within the Republican Party; the party’s current leaders: Trump (still), Cruz, and Hawley, all continue to idolize the president and praise his accomplishments. While this is not an ideal direction, given that the party just lost a national election by over seven million voters, it is undoubtedly the only feasible direction for the party to take based on data. At this point, the Republicans must depend on failures of Joe Biden’s administration in order to have the chance in 2024.