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GOP White House hopefuls move forward as Trump considers run


WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AP) — Less than three months after former President Donald Trump left the White House, the race to succeed him atop the Republican Party is already beginning.

Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has launched an aggressive schedule, visiting states that will play a pivotal role in the 2024 primaries, and he has signed a contract with Fox News Channel. Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice-president, has started a political advocacy group, finalised a book deal and later this month will give his first speech since leaving office in South Carolina. And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been courting donors, including in Trump’s backyard, with a prominent speaking slot before the former president at a GOP fund-raising retreat dinner this month at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort where Trump now lives.

Trump ended his presidency with such a firm grip on Republican voters that party leaders fretted he would freeze the field of potential 2024 candidates, delaying preparations as he teased another run. Instead, many Republicans with national ambitions are openly laying the groundwork for campaigns as Trump continues to mull his own plans.

They’re raising money, making hires and working to bolster their name recognition. The moves reflect both the fervor in the party to reclaim the White House and the reality that mounting a modern presidential campaign is a yearslong endeavour.

“You build the ark before it rains,” said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist who worked for Jeb Bush’s presidential 2016 campaign, among others. “They’re going to do the things they need to do if he decides not to run.”

Trump, at least for now, is giving them plenty of leeway, convinced they pose little threat to his own ambitions.

“It’s a free country. Folks can do what they want,” Trump adviser Jason Miller said in response to the moves. “But,” he added, “if President Trump does decide to run in 2024, the nomination will be his if you’re paying any attention to public polling of Republican voters.”

Polling does indeed show that Trump remains a commanding figure among GOP voters, despite his loss in November to Democrat Joe Biden. Republican leaders, including those who may hope to someday succeed him, have been careful to tend to his ego and make clear they have no plans to challenge his standing.

Florida Senator Rick Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, last weekend awarded Trump a new “Champion for Freedom Award,” which the group publicised — complete with a photo of a smiling, golf-attired Trump holding a small, gleaming cup — even after the former president went after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a profanity-laden speech.

A day later, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, considered a top-tier 2024 candidate, told The Associated Press that she will sit out the race if Trump runs again.

“I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” she said in Orangeburg, South Carolina. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made.”

The deference is, in part, an acknowledgement of Trump’s continued power. Even out of office and without his Twitter megaphone, Trump remains deeply popular with the GOP base and is bolstered by an $85 million war chest that can be shared with endorsed candidates, spent on advertising and used to fund travel and pay for polling and consultants.

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