Bebeto Matthews, File/AP Photo
- Trump is the only one who declared a presidential run for 2024.
- A lesser-known GOP candidate could benefit from declaring soon, operatives say.
- Others such as DeSantis and Pence have established brands and the luxury of time.
Former President Donald Trump was champing at the bit to announce his 2024 candidacy for the White House. Aides even had to convince him to wait until after the 2022 midterms to do it.
Turns out, he was the only Republican in a rush. More than two months have passed since the night Trump declared his third consecutive run for the White House, surrounded by the MAGA elite gathered in his gold-encrusted Mar-a-Lago ballroom. No other Republican has yet declared a run.
As for President Joe Biden, he isn’t likely to make his reelection campaign official until after his State of the Union speech on February 7, according to NBC News.
Campaign insiders call this presidential campaign period the “preseason,” the “trial balloon season,” or the “incubation period.” In other words, voters will see candidates talk about how they’re considering a run, or hiring staff, or promoting their new books, or digging at each other subtly (or not-so-subtly) — but not making official declarations.
For some potential 2024 candidates, however, being second to declare after Trump would be helpful, and even smart, four GOP operatives told Insider. But being “next” might not mean a formal announcement this month or even in February.
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley or former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could declare next, BJ Martino, who worked on Scott Walker’s 2016 presidential campaign, told Insider when asked for his best guess. Both are in strong positions to sit down for tough TV interviews where they can take questions on domestic and foreign policy issues, he said.
And both could take advantage the spotlight of a presidential run because they don’t currently hold office, in contrast to governors and US Senators potentially in the mix.
With only one candidate declaring at this point, the next person to make a run official has an opening to make a splash. “You want to have your own moment in the sun and not have your announcement coverage wrapped up in the person who went right before you,” Martino said. “You want to make the announcement as much purely about you as possible.”
The next person to declare is likely someone who could benefit from the media attention and extra time in the field that would consequently help grow their fundraising, campaign pros said.
The No. 2 to declare could work to “make some noise” by contrasting themselves with Trump, said David Kochel, owner at Red Wave Communications in Iowa who worked on Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush’s presidential bids.
Doing so would drawing the ex-president’s ire and political fire, and therefore raise their own profile. They could enter the race while taking “well-placed swipes at Trump,” receive a nickname from the ex-president, and “try to start a fight,” Kochel said.
“If they intend to really go after Trump it’s a long-shot strategy, but it would make sense to do it earlier,” he said.
After the second person declares, insiders expect another lag. But there will be a tipping point this summer when the field is set, after several candidates jump into the GOP primary. At that point, says GOP strategist John Thomas, “Everybody is going to get out of the clown car within days.”
That’s why announcing sooner could be a strategic value to some. Waiting carries the risk being drowned out by the spate of coverage on other hopefuls.
“As long as the field is in a holding pattern there’s time, but once the floodgates open everybody gets in, and then there is so much noise that it’s hard to get through,” Kochel said.
Former President Donald Trump talks to supporters at Mar-a-lago on November 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida.
Being second comes with heavy scrutiny
The downside being on the early side of declaring, however, is that the next candidate will face a round of heavy scrutiny.
Campaigns-in-waiting have been compiling opposition research on each other that they’ll be ready to pitch to reporters. These will result in a slew of negative headlines for the next person who throws their hat in the ring.
Jon Seaton, a partner with Camelback Strategy Group, said candidates should only enter the race once they are “ready to play,” including having the fundraising infrastructure in place and anticipating the hits coming their way.
“The next person to declare, whoever it is, needs to be someone who has a strong sustained infrastructure,” Seaton, who worked on Lindsey Graham’s 2016 presidential campaign, said. “It certainly helps if you are a current or recent officeholder. Once you jump in, that’s the last day you have any control over anything.”
Ed Brookover, who managed Ben Carson’s 2016 campaign, said another downside of announcing too early is not being able to raise enough money fast enough. Once a campaign goes into full swing, candidates will have to fork up money for travel and staff.
“Before you get in at all you need to understand what your path to victory is,” he said.
Likely going in to the timing calculus is that Federal Elections Reports will be coming out at the end of each quarter, with the first one closing at the end of March, noted Sarah Isgur, who writes for The Dispatch and was deputy campaign manager for businesswoman Carly Fiorina’s 2016 race.
The closer a run gets declared to the start of a quarter, the more time candidates have to raise money and to potentially rake in eye-popping dollar figures that get widespread coverage.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis smiles as confetti falls after he is declared the victor on election night 2022.
DeSantis has the luxury of time
It’s unusual for Trump to be standing out on his own two months after making a run official, said Isgur, who assembled a timeline of past presidential cycles showing declarations are usually closer together.
Ron DeSantis is unlikely to be next to declare a run. He already gets a lot of attention as governor of Florida. Funding-wise, he hit a record for a gubernatorial race in 2022, some of which he can parlay into a presidential bid.
Topping it all off is that he consistently polls at the top of the pack.
“DeSantis can almost march to his own schedule,” Kochel said. “He’s getting so much attention and so many mentions that he can buy almost as much time as he wants and shorten the window of getting attacked by Trump.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence also is starting from a position of strength, and has more time to declare a run, because he already is well-known among voters, Kochel said. Trump could have waited to declare a run for similar reasons, Brookover said.
“We have two potential front runners in Trump and DeSantis, but they’re kind of occupying the traditional presumed nominee lane together, which is somewhat of a new thing,” Lauren Zelt, a Romney campaign alum who’s now founder and CEO at Zelt Communications.
Of course, DeSantis still hasn’t said what he’ll do. And as for Trump, there’s always the possibility that he ends his campaign or succumbs to one of the many legal challenges he’s facing. Biden, too, may not run.
“We’ll likely see some more people make formal declarations once the current president announces his reelection or not,” Zelt said. “It just doesn’t feel like campaign season until then.”
Regardless, Brookover said, candidates shouldn’t base their timing decisions on what their future opponents might do.
“Keep your eye on how long you believe it’s going to take for you to get traction,” Brookover said of advice he’d give candidates. “You have to assume that your opponent is going to be doing well. You can’t build a game plan on someone else screwing up.”
Former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on November 8, 2022.
The field will be set by summer
When it comes to planning a campaign, candidates don’t have full control over their timelines. At some point, political groups in early voting states start sending out invitations for events, and being an official candidate when these gatherings are kicking off is typically a prerequisite. If candidates aren’t declaring this summer at the latest, they probably aren’t running.
Up until this week, potential candidates steered clear of each other.
“We haven’t really had helmet-to-helmet contact between any of these candidates,” Martino, who is also president of The Tarrance Group, told Insider. “Each are in their own camps doing their scrimmages, but they’re not engaging with one another yet.”
The earliest “pokes” started this week, he said, when Haley took a dig at Trump’s age on Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier and Pompeo accused Haley in his forthcoming book of trying to topple Pence from the vice presidency. (Haley dismissed the accusation as “lies and gossip” during the Baier interview.)
One of the biggest signs that campaigns are in full swing will be when such digs become open attacks, he said.
Insider identified as many as 17 Republicans who are considering a presidential run, but the operatives interviewed for this story predicted the field ultimately wouldn’t be as large as it was in 2016, though as many as 10 or 12 candidates could be in the field.
It’s widely accepted among Republicans that Trump was able to dominate in 2016 because he splintered the large field. Candidates who aren’t gaining traction should get out, Kochel said.
“If we go into the Iowa Caucuses with more than a dozen candidates,” Kochel said, “then some part of the process has failed.”