LAS VEGAS – Memories of the tumultuous 2016 Republican primary hung over the Las Vegas ballroom this weekend during the first major gathering of potential contenders for the party’s 2024 nomination.
At least 10 candidates for the White House took the stage to promote their plans with which they intend to correct the problems that afflict the United States and their party. The details varied, but most of the speeches carried an extraordinary sense of defiance rarely seen since former President Donald Trump took control of the Republican Party six years ago.
His central message: Beating Trump is possible and should be done.RELATED
Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, vowed in April that she would not confront the former president if he ran again. But on Saturday night, in front of hundreds of cheering Republicans, she vowed to give “1,000%” to a White House bid if she decides to run.
“I have never lost an election, and I am not going to start (losing) now,” she told a cheering crowd.
But as the donors and activists who gathered for the two-day congress of the Republican Jewish Coalition applauded, perhaps no one cheered louder than Trump himself from his Florida mansion.
Trump’s team believes, as do a growing number of eager donors and Republican operators, that the group of emboldened 2024 hopefuls may already be inadvertently recreating the conditions that enabled Trump’s success in 2016. That year, a A large group of Republican hopefuls divided the electorate in the primaries and allowed Trump to become the party’s presidential nominee despite garnering only 35% or less of the vote in each of the three initial primary contests.
In the early days of the season heading into 2024, the similarities to 2016 are unsettling.
As then, Trump is viewed with suspicion within his party, his position considerably weakened after several of his loyalists lost races they could have won in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. And above all, a number of ambitious Republicans are lining up to take him on.
A small but growing group of Republican operatives are warning Trump’s critics that the only way to defeat him is to back a much smaller group of potential candidates.
Eric Levine, a New York donor who attended the weekend meeting, called on his party to accept no more than two or three candidates and to act with real urgency.
“I don’t think we can afford to wait,” said Levine, who has raised millions of dollars for Republicans in recent years and began speaking out against Trump only after this month’s election. “If he becomes the Republican seal, the party will be destroyed.”
For now, at least, Trump’s rivals don’t seem to be heeding his warning.
The most popular alternative to Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, likely won’t enter the race until late spring, his allies say. But in his keynote speech on Saturday night he left little doubt that he has the 2024 election in mind.
And in a series of interviews, several other Republican hopefuls and their aides indicated they would likely wait until next spring or summer to participate in the race, if they decide to run at all. That’s even after Trump formally launched his 2024 campaign last week.