In Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign in 2016, it took him half a year to get his first endorsement from an elected federal official. In his second presidential campaign as an incumbent, he faced no real primary challenge, and the Republican Party coalesced almost entirely around him.
So far, his third presidential campaign looks more like his first campaign than his second.
On Capitol Hill, the day after Trump announced his presidential campaign in an uninspired speech from the dance floor of his private Florida club, members of his own party were mostly unwilling to rally around him. His role in the GOP’s underperformance in the midterms and his loss in 2020 was still fresh on many’s minds. Instead, Trump has a diverse mix of endorsements that is underwhelming compared to his stature as a former president whose support was often pivotal among Republicans seeking congressional seats in the 2022 primaries.
Sen. Kevin Kramer (R-ND), an early supporter of Trump in 2016, was non-binding. “I hope a lot of people get in there, we have options, and they all get over it,” he told Vox. “As I have said repeatedly, he is not entitled to the job. None of us are entitled to these jobs. We have to earn them every time. In his case, I expect it to be difficult.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who finished second to Trump in the contentious 2016 primary before eventually becoming an ally of the former president, also dodged the question. “I think we’ve accomplished a lot with Donald Trump as president, and if he’s the nominee, I’ll support him enthusiastically,” Cruz, who is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024, told Vox.
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a longtime Trump supporter, offered qualified praise for the former president. on Twitter Tuesdaysaying, “If President Trump continues with this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat.”
The only senator to explicitly support Trump was Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who told Vox on Wednesday, “I support him 100%.”
Trump’s longtime critics haven’t changed their tune. Mitt Romney, the last Republican presidential candidate before Trump and the only elected Republican to vote to remove the former president from office twice, believes it is time for a change. He told reporters that Republicans need “a younger leader in our party, who has a bright vision for the future and can get our country back on track. President Trump has lost three times in a row. And if we want to start winning, we need a new leader.” Romney did not explicitly offer any alternatives to Trump, telling reporters “There are about a dozen people I can think of who might be potential leaders of our party and presidential candidates.”
Trump has always been more popular in the House of Representatives than in the Senate. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose relationship with Trump has never been intimate and is now non-existent, leads the Senate Republicans, and the chamber has long had a large number of prominent Trump skeptics. In contrast, the House of Representatives had a swarm of right-wing populists who flocked to the mantle of the former president and his current leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), dedicated himself to maintaining a good relationship with Trump.
But McCarthy He evaded whether he supported Trump, and instead the former president is left with a patchwork of support in the House of Representatives. This includes fanatics like Matt Gaetz And the Marjorie Taylor Green As well as creating more republicans like Tony Gonzalezwhich marks the border district of Texas, and Wesley Hunt, Congressman elected from Houston. One of the most prominent House Republicans supporting Trump’s presidential campaign so far is Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the Republican convention chair, who has become a staunch Trump loyalist in recent years.
The result is that Trump is in an unusual position. Considering the number of endorsements he received more than a year before the first nomination contest is impressive. However, for a former president who essentially won the Republican nomination by acclamation in 2020, it’s rather lackluster. Many leaders in his party are eager to see Florida Governor Ron DeSantis run, and a handful of other politicians are at least paving the way for a bid. After all, history is against Trump. No defeated president has come back to win re-election since Grover Cleveland (who, unlike Trump, won the popular vote every time he was on the ballot).
Perhaps the best analogy is Trump in that weak moment in late winter 2016, when he was beginning to look like the favorite in the Republican presidential primaries but was still politically vulnerable. Enough support has built around him to show that he is a serious contender for the Republican nomination, if not the frontrunner.
But enough key figures in the party hold back to make it clear that there are deep reservations about the candidacy of a politician who not only lost the last presidential election but helped instigate an armed attack on the Capitol to overthrow it.
In 2016, by the time the fact that Trump could actually win the Republican Party hit him, it was too late for Trump to oppose consolidation. Within weeks, as the primary followed the primaries, he won enough delegates to the Republican National Convention to force his opponents to withdraw. This time, Trump announced not just before the 2024 election begins but during it 2022 elections It’s still going.
The assurances Trump has received in the past two days mark the ground. Most Republicans-elect are still on the sidelines, with only time to choose a candidate — Trump or someone else — in the 2024 primaries.