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Weighing a 2024 run, Trump predicts victory over crowded GOP field

Former President Donald Trump applauds supporters prior to speaking at a Turning Point Action gathering, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Former President Donald Trump applauds supporters prior to speaking at a Turning Point Action gathering, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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Former President Donald Trump has offered fellow Republicans little clarity about his 2024 plans, but he has sent a start a stark message to the crowded field of potential contenders for the GOP nomination: if he runs, he will win.

Asked about the prospect of running against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a Yahoo Finance interview Sunday, Trump said bluntly, “If I faced him, I'd beat him like I would beat everyone else.”

“I think most people would drop out, I think he would drop out,” he added.

DeSantis and other prominent Republicans continue to lay groundwork for a possible run, visiting early primary states, building up their political operations, and trying to navigate around Trump. Former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas are among the Trump allies who appear to be weighing a bid for the nomination.

Trump has been taking similar preliminary steps, hiring consultants, raising money, and holding campaign-style rallies – including one scheduled for Saturday in Iowa. He has also strongly hinted publicly that he plans to run without explicitly saying so.

“I think you are going to be happy,” Trump said of 2024 while visiting a police station on Sept. 11. “Let me put it that way.”

The Washington Post reported Monday that advisers recently talked Trump out of formally announcing a 2024 bid, warning it could complicate his fundraising efforts and leave him bearing responsibility if Republican efforts to retake control of Congress in the midterms falter. Still, most aides told The Post they expect the former president to seek a rematch with President Joe Biden, and some experts agree.

“I think if he’s alive, he’s running,” said Michael Cohen, CEO of Cohen Research Group and author of “Modern Political Campaigns.”

No Republicans have announced an intent to run for the presidency in 2024, and some have signaled they would get out of the way if Trump entered the race. Others are positioning themselves as alternatives to the former president and his style of politics.

The party establishment and its voter base remain fiercely loyal to Trump, despite his 2020 loss. Many officeholders, candidates, and party officials have echoed his baseless claims that the election was rigged, backing new restrictions on voting and casting doubt on Biden’s legitimacy.

Polls have consistently shown Trump leading the possible Republican primary field, but some data suggest enthusiasm has dipped. An Echelon Insights survey in mid-September found support for Trump as the 2024 nominee had fallen 10 points in a month, though nearly 60% of Republicans still said they would probably or definitely pick him over a different candidate.

In a hypothetical Trump-free field, the same poll found DeSantis was the top choice of 22% of Republican voters, with Pence second at 15% and nobody else in double-digits. Another recent survey placed Pence in the lead and DeSantis second if Trump is off the board.

This leaves Trump-aligned Republicans with aspirations to the Oval Office in a difficult position. They want to keep the option of running open, but they do not want to antagonize Trump or alienate his supporters with his future still in flux.

“They have no path,” Cohen said. “The Republican Party remains a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of Donald Trump political enterprises at this point.”

Advisers say Biden’s handling of Afghanistan and other crises and his sliding approval rating have emboldened Trump to run, but placing him on a general election ballot again would carry clear risks for Republicans. A recent Morning Consult tracking poll found only 41% of registered voters view Trump favorably, including 36% of independents, even if support among self-identified Republicans is nearly universal.

Last week, Trump’s Save America PAC distributed a link to a Rasmussen Reports poll that showed the former president beating both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris head-to-head by at least 10 points. Other surveys have indicated Biden still holds an edge over Trump, though, even if his support has slipped since taking office.

If Trump does run, he is unlikely to be completely unopposed. Some Republicans have warned the party against following Trump down a path of conspiracy theories and grievances, and they might welcome a chance to confront him.

“I believe that there’s 10 or 12 or 15 people all fishing in the same pond,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told Politico last week. “They want to be the next Donald Trump, and... there’s some 30% of the Republican base that wants to go in a different direction.”

Hogan might be overestimating the appetite for a change in direction among Republicans, though. In the Echelon Insights survey, some of Trump’s most vocal GOP critics – Hogan, Rep. Liz Cheney, and Sen. Ben Sasse – drew 1% of the vote or less.

Cohen sees little hope for victory for an anti-Trump candidate in the current Republican Party, and chances are similarly slim for a pro-Trump candidate if the former president opts to compete. Republican voters appear eager to give Trump another shot to challenge Biden if he wants it, regardless of who else is on the primary ballot.

“I’ve never seen in my lifetime a defeated former president having such a clear path to his party’s nomination,” Cohen said.

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