(Headline USA) Less than three months after former President Donald Trump left the White House, the race to succeed him atop the Republican Party is already beginning.
Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has launched an aggressive schedule, visiting states that will play a pivotal role in the 2024 primaries, and he has signed a contract with Fox News Channel.
Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, has started a political advocacy group, finalized a book deal and later this month will give his first speech since leaving office in South Carolina.
And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been courting donors, including in Trump’s backyard, with a prominent speaking slot before the former president at a GOP fundraising retreat dinner this month at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort where Trump now lives.
Trump ended his presidency with such a firm grip on Republican voters that party leaders fretted he would freeze the field of potential 2024 candidates, delaying preparations as he teased another run.
Instead, many Republicans with national ambitions are openly laying the groundwork for campaigns as Trump continues to mull his own plans.
They’re raising money, making hires and working to bolster their name recognition.
The moves reflect both the fervor in the party to reclaim the White House and the reality that mounting a modern presidential campaign is a yearslong endeavor.
“You build the ark before it rains,” said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist who worked for Jeb Bush’s presidential 2016 campaign, among others. “They’re going to do the things they need to do if he decides not to run.”
Trump, at least for now, is giving them plenty of leeway, convinced they pose little threat to his own ambitions.
“It’s a free country. Folks can do what they want,” Trump adviser Jason Miller said in response to the moves. “But,” he added, “if President Trump does decide to run in 2024, the nomination will be his if you’re paying any attention to public polling of Republican voters.”
Polling does indeed show that Trump remains a commanding figure among GOP voters.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, last weekend awarded Trump a new “Champion for Freedom Award.”
A day later, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, considered a top-tier 2024 candidate, told The Associated Press that she will sit out the race if Trump runs again.
“I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” she said in Orangeburg, South Carolina. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made.”
The deference is, in part, an acknowledgement of Trump’s continued power.
Even out of office and censored on Twitter, Trump remains deeply popular with the GOP base and is bolstered by an $85 million war chest that can be shared with endorsed candidates, spent on advertising and used to fund travel and pay for polling and consultants.
Trump is making plans to soon increase his visibility, with aides discussing options to hold rallies as soon as late spring or summer. “There’s a pretty strong demand out there to get President Trump on the road,” Miller said.
While people close to him insist he is serious, many see Trump’s continued flirtations as a means to maintain relevance as he has settled into a comfortable post-White House life.
At Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, he’s courted by candidates and met by rounds of applause and standing ovations whenever he enters the dining room.
Pompeo, arguably the most aggressive to date, is among those who have already spent time in Iowa, as well as New Hampshire, and this week past he addressed Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s World Values Network in New York, where he was introduced by video by Republican megadonor Miriam Adelson.
And on Saturday, he headlined the Palm Beach County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner at Mar-a-Lago along with Scott and DeSantis.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection next year, recently hired a top Republican strategist who served as executive director of the Republican Governors Association. DeSantis also has been using the race to build a deep fundraising network that could support him if he chooses to run nationally.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.