Donald Trump’s claim to 2024 nomination is far from certain

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Jennifer Dinsmore isn’t usually someone who lines up for selfies with political candidates or maxes out on her campaign donations. In fact, she says she had never attended a campaign event until Saturday, when she stood outside a southern New Hampshire high school to greet former President Donald Trump. Unable to secure a ticket to be inside for Trump’s first stop on the 2024 election campaign, Dinsmore, 47, nevertheless wanted to make sure the ex-president knew he still had supporters willing to help his return.

“Oh, I support Trump 110%,” the mother-of-two told me as temperatures hovered in the 40s and the nearby parking lot reached capacity, and more. “He took charge of the economy. He closed our borders. He made America safe. When President Trump ruled, there was no high inflation, no high gas prices. He has so much support there that we are ready to give him another chance.

But still, she can’t help but be curious about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who emerges as a looming threat to Trump in the primary. “But if DeSantis runs…” She trails off as nearby supporters continue to cheer Trumpist slogans and buy souvenir scarves and buttons. “DeSantis got it right in Florida. The whole critical race theory, revival, that’s the right way to run a state,” Dinsmore says. “He’s going to be a badass.”

And therein lies the challenge of Trump’s third presidential bid: Many Republicans fondly remember the Trump years, but not necessarily Trump himself. Trump has undoubtedly remade the Republican Party, extending his reach to parts of the country that didn’t see themselves accurately reflected in the political system while driving the establishment and moderate corners into madness. Trumpism has guided a huge political reset in this country and remains a powerful force. But Trump himself may no longer be the avatar of this ideology.

Meeting with Republican activists, insiders and donors this weekend in New Hampshire, it’s clear that the assumptions of inevitability made by Trump’s Florida headquarters may be shaky. Of course, Trump remains the frontrunner for the nomination, but others have been there before and failed. In the 2008 race, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani started with a double-digit national lead over his closest rival for the nomination and saw that support reduced to a third by the time polls began. .

Locally, Trump has seen his standing plummet from a post-White House high of 47% of New Hampshire Republicans favoring him as the candidate in 2024. In each of the four University of New Hampshire-Granite State polls taken since, his support has plummeted, down to 30%. DeSantis, meanwhile, continues to rise, posting a 42% support plurality in the UNH-Granite State poll.

Admittedly, there remains a political eternity between today and the kick-off of the first primaries, and we do not even know yet who will finally join the race. DeSantis is not even expected to formalize his candidacy until the end of his legislative session at the end of May. Much like then-Texas Governor Rick Perry found in 2011, DeSantis may start the run perceived as a rockstar until he begins to be truly tested.

Other possible Republican candidates, like former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, are set to announce their next steps in the coming weeks. But no one can boast of having much certainty about the path to enough delegates to deny Trump the nomination. After all, this year’s Republican contests are expected to be winner-takes-all affairs, which means Trump could still cash in delegates without ever winning a majority vote.

Then there is the money. Year-end campaign finance reports are yet to be filed, but Trump is widely expected to have an unrivaled kitty. Over the past two years, Trump’s top political committee has spent $28 million to keep the machine running, and Trump’s fundraising ability is unmatched domestically with small donors, especially now that he can again have access to the Facebook platform. The likes of former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and even current Senator Tim Scott won’t be cash-poor in their deals, but it’s hard to eclipse a blindness to the fundraising light triggered by a detonation from Trump.

Still, the uneven start to Trump’s campaign – announced in November but only just getting started in earnest – is enough to give his die-hard fans reason to seek other options. His speech here on Saturday was, as The DC Brief wrote that day, hardly the most articulate argument for another Trump era. His brand of politics is beginning to grind grassroots Republicans like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who skipped the state’s GOP convention and is considering the grounds for his own presidential bid. “I am not pro-Trump. I am not anti-Trump. I’m just moving on,” Sununu said. “We just want the best normal candidate.”

And, in that, he could find plenty of kindred curators in New Hampshire and beyond.

“I have tremendous respect for him, for what he’s done for the country,” John O’Brien, a 72-year-old retiree from Hudson, said of Trump. But can Trump win in 2024? I ask O’Brien as we stand near a life-size cutout of DeSantis in a hallway, where a pair of tables promoting a Draft DeSantis band and another Ron at the rescue committee are handing out stickers. “Anyone can win,” O’Brien adds, saying he’s not flippant. “The country is so messy, we need new leadership. For me, Trump is the only one who has done it, but I’m ready to see others.

And in this opening, the Republican Party may be in its infancy to break the Trump fever that took hold in 2015 and never really went away. It comes after eight years of Trump’s control of the GOP’s narrative and future, and during that time the party has lost the House, Senate and White House. Of course, Republicans are now back in control of the House, but barely, and with a fractured majority. As Republicans in New Hampshire and elsewhere begin to ponder the next chapter for their party and its leadership, the absolutism of Trump’s dominance is beginning to crumble, giving hope to candidates who may still likely walk into a local Costco without being recognized. The better question is whether the GOP base can ever walk into a polling place and recognize their party in a post-Trump era. In New Hampshire, there are at least sparks of that imagination.

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