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Last night, President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address, and there is only one candidate from the GOP who is officially running for president – Donald Trump. Former UN Ambassador under Trump Nikki Haley is supposed to announce her campaign on February 15. First voting is around 12 months away in Iowa and Republican candidates look like they are scared to run.
What exactly is going on?
What Is Ron DeSantis Waiting For?
You, of course, have heard that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s top rival, will not declare his candidacy until May after the Sunshine State’s legislative session is over. This announcement will be big news, but it is months away, so all we can do is wait.
Ron’s a RINO?
For some reason, many potential candidates are still on the sidelines. The biggest hindrance is that nobody wants to endure Trump’s wrath.
He has already attacked DeSantis and given him a nickname that is sticking – “Ron DeSanctimonious.” He reminds his followers that DeSantis is somehow a Republican in Name Only and a Globalist. There is no basis in fact or evidence for these labels, but Trump supporters repeat them on social media with glee.
Haley May Have an Alternative Plan
Haley could peel some votes away from DeSantis, but she is not expected to make a big splash. Some have speculated that she is only running to put her name forward as a possible Trump running mate. Trump has not begun to drag Haley’s name through the mud, so there could be some merit to that speculation.
Lightweights Could Decide this Spring
Another underdog, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, may decide by April if he will run for president in 2024. It is difficult to foresee a scenario in which Hutchinson succeeds. He is from a small state, he doesn’t have high name recognition, and lacks a national fundraising database. Hutchinson could occupy the Never Trump lane and deliver some witty barbs against Trump. The former president would likely come up with an insulting nickname for Hutchinson and dispose of him quickly.
No Joy for Reporters
This is a sleepy start for the presidential race. Journalists usually, by now, are looking for scoops to better flesh out the various candidates.
Trump’s weaknesses, especially on the legal side, are well-known and well-covered. Haley has been through a vetting process already, so reporting on her is not that exciting. Stories about Hutchinson are not going to sell subscriptions. So, the presidential race is a boring affair. Even Trump has not campaigned with a high operational tempo and his usual gusto.
In 2019, when Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union speech, four Democrats were already running for president. They were spoiling for a fight. Republicans are reticent.
Get with the Presidential Program
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.
Presidential candidates should be conducting baseline polls, holding fundraisers, hiring staff and consultants, releasing books, speaking to voters in the early states, and making appearances on the usual talk shows.
It is well known that if you want to perform well in Iowa, you need to excel at retail politics. That means visiting Iowans in high school gyms, at restaurants, and other smaller venues. This takes time and a well-organized grassroots staff. Many Iowans do not endorse a candidate until a presidential hopeful shakes their hand several times at different events. The longer people stay out of the race, the more difficult it will be to do well in the early states.
Which Issues Will They Run on?
Then there is debate prep. The debates won’t happen until 2024, but it is important to test drive the various issue stances with the Republican base before the candidates get on stage and spar.
They need to take the temperature of voters at rightwing gatherings such as CPAC in early March – a conference that will have a widely-covered straw poll. It used to be candidates such as Mitt Romney and Ron Paul would pull out all the stops and organize heavily to win the CPAC straw poll. With only Trump and Haley running, it is doubtful that Trump will lose in the CPAC poll and that will give him more momentum. It will be interesting to see how DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence perform there.
Donald Trump Is in the Driver’s Seat
Trump has to feel good about his situation at this point. He has sailed swiftly past scandals such as the classified document mess. The other legal woes do not seem to bother him. He is performing well in match ups against Joe Biden – even leading the president in some polls. After the midterm elections, pundits were writing him off. Now he is back at the top and has so far been able to clear the field. His next move will likely be to hold his trademark rallies in the early states.
Other candidates will have to bravely step up to the plate if they are going to stop Trump’s momentum. He likely has the nicknames and the negative rhetoric teed up against new challengers. Maybe other Republicans just do not want to be president that badly.
Author Expertise and Experience
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.