The GOP Has a 2024 Problem

Does anyone want to be president?

Donald Trump stands on a red carpeted stage, flanked by American flags.
Donald Trump arrives onstage at his Mar-a-Lago club on November 15, 2022, to announce his 2024 campaign. (Joe Raedle / Getty)

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By this time in an American president’s term, the next presidential race is typically in full swing. But the GOP’s Trump problem is making the 2024 race an unusual one.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

A Frozen Field

When Donald Trump gave his 2019 State of the Union address, several of the Democrats listening inside the House chamber had already declared their plans to run against him. But when Joe Biden delivers his speech tomorrow night, his only official competition will be Trump. My colleague Russell Berman wondered over the weekend, Does anyone want to be president?

By the time a president gives the State of the Union address at the beginning of his third year in office, at least half a dozen people are typically already in the presidential race, Russell explained. But this year is different. Besides former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is expected to announce her candidacy next week, the 2024 campaign is off to an extremely slow start.

“This [is] what happens when you have a former president who lost reelection but still inspires fear in his party, along with a Democratic incumbent—the oldest to ever serve—who is not exactly itching to campaign,” Russell explained.

Allies of President Biden have said that they expect him to formally announce his reelection bid sometime after tomorrow’s State of the Union, but the announcement could also be months away. A late announcement isn’t unusual for incumbents, who are already familiar to voters and want to be perceived as being focused on their presidential duties. And at this point, the president’s allies are assuming that Biden would have the Democratic field all to himself. But no president since Ronald Reagan has faced as much uncertainty about whether he would run for reelection; in 1983, Reagan was the oldest president in American history, but he was eight years younger than Biden is now.

Still, the bigger question is what happens to the GOP between now and 2024. As Russell noted, “Until Haley put out word about her announcement last week, no one in the emerging field—which could include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others—was willing to be the first target of the barrage of insults and invective Trump would surely hurl their way.”

A large proportion of Republican officials are worried about how a 2024 Trump campaign could damage the GOP; they’re aware of the former president’s volatility and the fact that he presided over three failed election cycles after taking office. “Aside from his most blinkered loyalists, virtually everyone in the party agrees: It’s time to move on from Trump,” my colleague McKay Coppins wrote last week. But the party doesn’t have much of a plan, if any, to help make that happen.

The GOP’s Trump dilemma probably won’t resolve itself. More likely, as the contributing writer Peter Wehner outlined in a new essay, “Donald Trump may lose the GOP presidential primary and, out of spite, wreck Republican prospects in 2024.”

Peter argued:

Trump has no attachment to the Republican Party or, as best as one can tell, to anything or anyone else. His malignant narcissism prevents that. Trump is an institutional arsonist, peddling conspiracy theories, spreading lies, sowing distrust. That’s his skill, and he’s quite good at it. But Trump is now causing growing unease among his past supporters and the GOP establishment by signaling that he may very well turn that skill against their party ... If Republicans turn on him, he is likely to turn on them, filled with the burning rage of a thousand suns.

Even so, some of the Republican officials whom McKay spoke with are clinging to the “most enduring of GOP delusions”: that maybe this time, Trump will behave differently. McKay ended his essay with a telling anecdote:

When I asked Rob Portman about his party’s Trump problem, the recently retired Ohio senator confidently predicted that it would all sort itself out soon. The former president, he believed, would study the polling data, realize that other Republicans had a better shot at winning, and graciously bow out of 2024 contention.

“I think at the end of the day,” Portman told me, “he’s unlikely to want to put himself in that position when he could be more of a Republican senior statesman who talks about the policies that were enacted in his administration.”

I let out an involuntary laugh.

“Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part,” Portman conceded.

If and when Nikki Haley announces her candidacy later this month, we might begin to hear from other Republican contenders officially entering the race. But for now, the GOP will continue to struggle with its inability to move on from Trump, and Biden will continue to bide his time.


Today’s News

  1. More than 3,000 people have been killed and thousands more injured after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria this morning—one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in more than 100 years.
  2. Over the weekend, Ukraine’s defense minister said that Russia is determined to break through Ukraine’s defensive lines on the eastern front before February 24, the anniversary of its invasion.
  3. Google announced that it will soon release an artificial-intelligence chatbot to the public.


Up for Debate: Readers discuss the many ripple effects of the weight-loss industry.

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Evening Read

A man stands on a hillside with a young boy, pointing into the distance
A view of the Israeli illegal settlement Evyatar in Beita village of Nablus, West Bank, on February 8, 2022 (Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency / Getty)

From This Hill, You Can See the Next Intifada

By Yair Rosenberg

It’s a little after 8 p.m. on a frigid hill in the West Bank village of Beita, and Sa’ed Hamayyel is sitting in front of a crackling outdoor fire, his face framed by smoke, telling me how his son was killed. “He was 16 years old,” the Palestinian father says. “He was a student.” On June 11, 2021, Israeli soldiers “shot him from afar … He couldn’t have posed any threat to them.”

Hamayyel is intimately familiar with the violence and loss that pervades this part of the world. Decades ago, his father, brother, and sister were all killed in combat with Israeli forces. Along with them, Hamayyel is claimed as a member by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an internationally designated terrorist group responsible for numerous attacks on civilians. But when his son Mohammed was killed, the teenager was not engaged in armed conflict. He was protesting an Israeli outpost called Evyatar, which overlooks Beita.

Read the full article.

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For a bracing look at how the Trump era has changed the entire culture of politics, I recommend David Frum’s new magazine essay on the pattern of jerklike behavior among recent GOP candidates. “A generation ago, politicians invested great effort in appearing agreeable,” he writes. But the current Republican Party has dispensed with that strategy—and that’s a big reason it keeps losing elections, he argues.

— Isabel