Trump troubles open path for Senate GOP White House hopefuls

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(The Hill) — The political damage suffered by Donald Trump during the Jan. 6 hearings, which journalist Bob Woodward says has written the former president’s “political obituary,” is giving Senate Republicans eyeing the White House new hope for 2024.  

Presidential hopefuls including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have largely steered clear of defending Trump against the revelations of the Jan. 6 hearings, instead positioning themselves to capitalize if Trump is too compromised to run in 2024. 

Other Republican hopefuls have done the same. Former Vice President Mike Pence has stayed mum about the Jan. 6 hearings, instead focusing on criticizing President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy.  

And while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) has dismissed the House hearings for “beating this dead horse,” he hasn’t gone out of his way to defend Trump. DeSantis now appears to be Trump’s most serious competition in 2024, beating him head-to-head in New Hampshire in a recent poll.   

A Senate Republican aide also identified Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as possible candidates for the White House in 2024, especially if Trump continues to fade politically.  

“The nomination is going to be very wide open, I think. I don’t see him sustaining his position as a majority leader of the party even if he wants to into 2024. There are too many people out there who want to run for president,” said former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R).  

Gregg said Trump’s “intense” following “will still be there,” giving the former president a chance to be influential in 2024. But the former Granite State governor and senator thinks Trump has damaged himself with many other Republican voters.  

“By that time, a lot of water will have flowed under the bridge. He will be to some degree history,” he predicted of the next presidential election cycle.  

A University of New Hampshire poll of 944 Granite State panel members conducted from June 16 to June 20 found that 39 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would vote for DeSantis, while 37 percent said they would back Trump. The poll found that 18 percent of Republican voters and 68 percent of independents had an unfavorable view of Trump.  

A new Harvard CAPS-Harris poll of 1,308 voters nationwide found that Trump has a 50 percent unfavorable rating with 38 percent of respondents saying they have a “very unfavorable” view of the former president. The survey, however, showed Trump with a 42-percent favorable rating.  

And a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll of 1,630 adults nationwide showed DeSantis trailing Trump by only nine points in a head-to-head matchup.  

Cruz has been the most aggressive in positioning himself for another run for president, traveling around nation to campaign for conservative candidates in GOP primaries, and sometimes taking on Trump-backed candidates directly.  

Cruz backed former state treasurer Josh Mandel in the Ohio Senate primary and David McCormick in the Pennsylvania Senate contest over Trump-endorsed candidates J.D. Vance and Mehmet Oz, coming up short both times.  

But Yesli Vega, whom Cruz endorsed in Virginia’s 7th congressional district, won her June 21 primary, and Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C..), whom both Cruz and Trump endorsed in North Carolina, won his May 17 primary.  

Cruz also endorsed state Attorney General Eric Schmitt in the Missouri Senate Republican primary and Deborah Flora in the Colorado Senate GOP contest. Missouri voters will decide their nominee on Aug. 2. Flora narrowly missed making the GOP primary ballot in April.  

Cotton met with his biggest donors last month at the Hay-Adams hotel in Washington, where he discussed a possible presidential bid next cycle and said he wouldn’t let Trump keep him out of the race.  

Hawley took his turn in the national spotlight earlier this year when he led Republican opposition to Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson in the Judiciary Committee. He was the first to shine a light on Jackson’s record of sentencing child pornography offenders, which produced the most dramatic moments of her confirmation hearings. 

Tim Scott, who represents a key early Republican primary state, in May traveled to Iowa to attend a state Republican Party in Cedar Rapids, fueling speculation that he’s laying the groundwork for his own 2024 run.  

Scott has also forged a relationship with Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who has poured at least $15 million into a super PAC allied with the South Carolina Republican.  

Rick Scott has stirred speculation about his own White House ambitions with trips to New Hampshire though he insists he is running for re-election to the Senate in 2024 and has no plans to run for president.  

Yet the Florida senator is acting a lot like a presidential candidate, releasing his own 11-point “Rescue America” plan to the chagrin of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who did not sign off on the plan. Several Senate Republicans have complained that Scott’s ambitions could cloud Senate Republican messaging since he is also chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  

The jockeying by Senate Republicans to set themselves up for White House bids in 2024 reflect a growing sense that Trump is losing political strength, something that has been exacerbated by the revelations of the Jan 6 committee.  Some of the most damaging testimony came from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.  

Hutchinson told the panel that Trump lunged for the steering wheel of The Beast, the armored vehicle used to transport the president, and grabbed at his security detail Bobby Engel when told he could not go to the Capitol after delivering a speech at the Ellipse.  

She also testified to the former president throwing his meal against the wall, leaving shattered porcelain on the floor and smeared ketchup on the wall, after then-Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press in December 2020 that there was no widespread fraud in the election.  

Legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward later said the Jan. 6 testimony in effect has written Trump’s “political obituary” and some GOP strategists agree.    

“I think Bob is most likely right,” said Republican strategist Vin Weber.  

Weber said Republicans generally are “loath to praise the hearings” because many of them view it as a partisan exercise, even though two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), sit on the committee.

Even so, Weber said there’s no doubt the hearings have inflicted major damage on Trump’s political future.   

“It’s now unquestionably clear if we nominate Donald Trump for president we’re going to spend the whole campaign talking about Jan. 6 and the stolen election which wasn’t,” he said, adding that Trump’s actions leading up to Jan. 6 and since have done “great, great damage” to his own political viability. 

He said while few Republicans are willing to praise the Jan. 6 committee’s work now, “they absorbed the information that came out of the committee and will remember it in the next presidential campaign.”  

An Associated Press-NORC poll conducted after the House Select Jan. 6 Committee held five hearings found that 48 percent of U.S. adults think Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in trying to overturn the election results while 31 percent think he shouldn’t be charged.  

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