Two years after rallying behind Donald Trump as the GOP’s uncontested champion, Republicans on Capitol Hill are sounding a very different tune as the former president seeks the White House once again in 2024.
While a number of Trump’s staunchest supporters have already endorsed him, a long list of others is either expressing an openness to back another candidate, says it’s too early to endorse anyone or just wants to avoid the topic altogether.
The discord reflects a much broader debate among national Republicans about the direction of the party and the role Trump will play within it — a discussion that’s gained urgency after the GOP’s dispiriting performance in last week’s midterm elections. Some have blamed Trump for propping up unelectable candidates that cost Republicans the Senate and limited their gains in the House.
The GOP divisions also portray fierce frustrations within the party that Trump’s presidential announcement — which he delivered Tuesday night in a prime-time speech at Mar-a-Lago — came before the results of some midterm races are final. Some Republicans are concerned it will hurt the GOP’s chances in a Senate runoff election in Georgia, where voters will decide Dec. 6 whether Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) or Republican Herschel Walker will be in the upper chamber next year.
“I thought the timing was off. I mean, for many of us, we’re just still trying to figure out — we still have races that aren’t declared yet,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), whose razor-thin victory in Arizona was called only Monday. “I thought that was a bit inappropriate.”
Others have been encouraged by last week’s strong reelection performance from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is eyeing a White House run of his own in 2024, and are waiting for more candidates to jump into the race.
“What’s nice is that the Republicans actually have a bench for once,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who emphasized that she’s waiting for guidance from her constituents.
Still others simply declined to weigh in.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who came closer-than-expected to winning the New York governorship this cycle with the help of Trump’s endorsement, would not comment on the former president’s announcement.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said his focus right now is “on the Speaker’s race in the House of Representatives and our rules package,” while Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) said his priorities are also elsewhere.
“Look, I am focused on Herschel Walker right now, and getting him elected in the Senate,” Carter said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also side-stepped questions of a Trump endorsement.
“You guys are crazy,” he told reporters.
Launching his presidency Tuesday night, Trump used his hour-plus speech to tout the achievements of his administration; hammer the track record of President Biden; blast the FBI for searching his Florida residence over the summer; and resurface his various gripes regarding China, including unfounded accusations that interference by Beijing cost him the 2020 election.
Returning the MAGA movement to power, he said, is the only way to salvage the country.
“We always have known that this was not the end. It was only the beginning of our fight to rescue the American dream,” Trump said.
The announcement was quickly hailed by Trump’s strongest supporters, who see him as Republicans’ best hope of winning the White House in 2024.
“I think President Biden has done a terrible job of leading this country,” said Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), “and I look forward to President Trump doing a much better job.”
Trump’s early entrance in the 2024 contest is particularly prickly for McCarthy, who is vying to become Speaker next year but so far lacks the support from conservatives — including some of Trump’s closest allies — to win the gavel.
McCarthy has taken pains to remain in Trump’s good graces, even following last year’s attack on the Capitol, but has not endorsed the 45th president’s bid to become the 47th.
Putting pressure on the Republican leader, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former head of the far-right Freedom Caucus who challenged McCarthy’s leadership bid this week, is already throwing his support behind Trump. Members of the GOP leadership team, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), are doing the same. And Jason Miller, a former senior adviser to Trump, warned last week that McCarthy’s failure to endorse the former president would cost him the Speakership.
“I do think that Kevin McCarthy needs to — if he wants to have a chance at being Speaker — he needs to be much more declarative that he is supporting President Trump,” Miller said. “It’s gonna be a MAGA-centric caucus for the Republicans in the House and even for the Senate. We need leadership to match.”
While Trump is the first Republican to officially throw his hat into the 2024 ring, other members of the party are expected to join him for what will likely be a competitive and contentious primary showcasing candidates from all corners of the increasingly fractured GOP. Some are becoming increasingly vocal about their wishes to move beyond Trump.
“I think we’ll have better choices,” former Vice President Mike Pence told The New York Times on Tuesday, before Trump’s announcement.
Pence himself is also eyeing a 2024 run, joining a long and growing list that also includes DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
It’s a list that encompasses the anti-Trump wing of the party, MAGA-aligned figures and those who have tried to straddle that GOP divide that is becoming more pronounced.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill are surveying the party’s roster before making picks for 2024.
“I’m not ready to make any type of endorsement, but I will say that in terms of the Republicans that I represent, I think they would be happy with President Trump, they would be happy with DeSantis. I also think that there’s other people like Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, that are good contenders,” Malliotakis told The Hill.
“We actually have a bench to choose from, and I’ll be going back to my district, talking to my constituents,” she added.
Schweikert said he is “looking forward to a really competitive presidential primary.” Pressed on who his favorite is in the race, the Arizona Republican said, “I want to see a bunch of people earn it.”
“It’s a meritocracy. Go battle for it,” he added.
Meanwhile, the former president’s closest congressional allies are sticking by him, lauding the much-anticipated announcement and expressing confidence in his chances of landing the White House for a second term.
“I thought it was a great announcement,” said Stefanik, the chair of the House GOP conference. “I think he’s in a really strong position to be the nominee.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), another loyal Trump supporter, echoed that message.
“I’m excited,” he said.