By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
We’re barely six months past the 2020 election, and Republican presidential competitors are already furiously jockeying for the best position from which to replace Donald Trump on the 2024 ticket. That assumes, of course, that the former President (if he’s not in jail) doesn’t decide to run again. Like relatives catering to a rich uncle in order to avoid getting disinherited, they maneuver to stay in Trump’s ever-changeable good graces. Thus, all the visits to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s hand—or some other part of his anatomy--while he keeps them guessing as to his intentions.
Simultaneously these would-be successors are all plotting their own possible runs for the office. So these hopefuls pretend that their fund-raising and travel is meant to support down-ballot candidates, while they coyly deflect any questions about their own presidential plans. In reality, they are auditioning for the favor of Trump’s rabble.
At this ridiculously early stage, the most prominent of these potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates include this moment’s front-runner Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; as well as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley; former Vice President Mike Pence; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.
In terms of raising money, Cruz and Hawley, who vociferously advocated overturn of the 2020 election, led in first-quarter contributions. In April, Politico wrote, “Cruz brought in $3.6 million to his Senate reelection committee, which reported $5.6 million in cash on hand, and $1.7 million raised for his leadership PAC and joint fundraising committee. Hawley brought in $3 million in receipts, with $3.1 million on hand.”
But the money they’ve raised has not, as yet, resulted in positioning Cruz or Hawley at the top of the heap, so far as support from Trump voters goes. In a much-publicized survey conducted by the Centennial Institute (Colorado Christian University’s think tank) at the June 18-19 Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Col, DeSantis received 74.1 percent approval from respondents, slightly above Trump’s 71.4 percent. Cruz received 44 percent; Pompeo received 39 percent; Pence only 22 percent; and Hawley 20 percent. Haley received only 19 percent approval for her possible candidacy.
There is not much difference in where these rivals stand on the issues before our country, only in their manner of expressing where they stand. In fact, in the main, they are not discussing issues at all. Rather, how these contenders do in polls or surveys seems to depend on the degree to which they can match Trump in the outrageously inflammatory nature of their rhetoric.
At June’s Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference in Orlando, Fla., DeSantis self-righteously declared, “You got to be strong. You got to put on the full armor of God…You will face flaming arrows but take up the shield of faith and fight on.” He said he would “hold the line,” stand his ground and—probably meaning to channel the 18th century Naval hero John Paul Jones—DeSantis even proclaimed, “I have only begun to fight.”
But Mike Pompeo, sequentially Trump’s CIA Director and Secretary of State, has far outdone DeSantis’ bluster. Pompeo has started a political action committee named the Champion American Values PAC, or CAVPAC. As reported by Salon on June 18, Pompeo said, “We named the organization CAVPAC as a nod to my time in the U.S. Army Cavalry—the CAV in the PAC. My cavalry service taught me that America needs warriors who lead and are willing to ride first into the fight without fear.”
In inviting people to join his organization, Pompeo repeatedly has solicited for “pipehitters” to “answer the call and defend our values.” The CAVPAC website contains the statement: “Become a Pipehitter—someone who is unapologetically American, someone who fights for our future, someone who never gives an inch, someone who is dedicated to stand against the radical Left’s agenda.”
According to Salon, in military slang, a ‘pipehitter” is a member of a special operations unit—elite forces like Navy SEALS, Delta Force, the Rangers, or Green Berets. The word can also be used to describe a mafia enforcer.
Given the use of pipe-like weapons like flag poles at the January 6 insurrection, one can only see the language of Pompeo’s PAC solicitations as deliberately geared to stir violent tendencies.
As for Pence, it was his political misfortune to be vice president when Joe Biden won the 2020 election, thus presenting Pence the purely ceremonial duty to oversee the confirmation of Electoral College votes by the Congress.
In his rally inciting the January 6 insurrection, Trump demanded Pence overturn the election by blocking the confirmation of Electoral College votes—something Pence had no legal power to do. But Trump had demanded it, so when Pence failed to do so, those attacking the Capitol hunted the then-vice president, some yelling, “Hang Mike Pence!” And they were serious. A gallows had been erected outside the building for the job.
Pence’s rhetoric is not as militaristic as that of Pompeo and DeSantis. But after his near-death experience, Pence has been trying to make the right noises to get himself back into the fold. In March, Pence published an op-ed in the Daily Signal (the multimedia news organization of the Heritage Foundation), suggesting that the 2020 election had been “marked by significant voting irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law.” Pence’s op-ed stated he shared concerns about the integrity of the election. But playing both sides did not keep Pence from being booed and called “traitor” during his speech at the Faith and Freedom Conference this month.
Nikki Haley presents a moderate demeanor (however moderate might be defined these days) compared with most of the other would-be successors to Trump. But lest we forget, Haley was a Tea Party-backed candidate when she ran for governor of South Carolina. In 2018, while working as Trump’s UN Ambassador, Haley was tagged by the Daily Beast as “an accomplished opportunist.”
Since Trump left office, Haley has changed her position on Trump in ways that have nothing to do with integrity. First, she strongly criticized the President over the January 6 attack and his treatment of Pence. But when by February, Trump’s power within the party had not diminished, Haley tried to meet with him at Mar-a-Lago. Trump wasn’t having it. It appears she continued to try to mollify him. In April, Haley said, “I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it.”
Even apart from having provoked Trump’s ire, one would think that being female and of Sikh parentage makes Haley a longshot for nomination on a Republican ticket. Already, Bill Bledsoe, a former Constitution Party candidate—who clearly has no understanding of the Constitution—has ignorantly argued that Haley can’t become President because her parents were not citizens when she was born, even though Haley was born in Bamberg, South Carolina.
It is conceivable, however, that if Biden decides not to run for a second term and Kamala Harris becomes the Democratic nominee, the GOP might make a calculation that there is some advantage to running a “minority” woman against Harris.
Although all of these would-be candidates have one eye on the presidential nomination, they continue to have the other on Trump. And what will Trump do? Right now, he is playing kingmaker—or Godfather—with all and sundry coming to him for his approval. But nobody keeps Trump’s good will for long. It’s always a tease.
Which of these possible candidates gets the Republican nomination only matters as far as which of them is most likely to win or lose in a general election. As to the really important matters—their willingness to betray democratic values, their lack of integrity, and how these things would affect their governance of the nation if they win—there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.