Many House and Senate Republicans recoiled on Monday at the prospect of former President Donald Trump launching a third run for the presidency this week, a sign of his waning support on Capitol Hill after years of controversy and scandal and following their party’s disappointing midterm performance.
In interviews with a couple dozen Republicans in both chambers, very few were eager to embrace a 2024 run – instead pointing to their hope that another candidate will emerge or that the field will be big enough so voters can choose someone else who could appeal to middle-of-the-road voters.
“I want someone who is going to unite our party,” said South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, refusing to say if he would back Trump. “That’s how we win elections. A reasonable person who would unite the party.”
Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson added of Trump: “Let’s see who runs. Personally, I don’t think it’s good for the party. … I think his policies were good. I just don’t need all the drama with it.”
That sentiment was echoed up and down-the-line by one-time allies of the former president – underscoring how the de facto leader of their party has grown increasingly alienated on Capitol Hill – especially after last Tuesday’s elections.
“Still?” Texas GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw said when asked about the prospect of Trump running again.
Asked if he would get involved in the primary, Crenshaw said: “Hell no.”
“None of us are entitled to these jobs,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Trump ally and North Dakota Republican when asked about the likely 2024 bid. “He’s certainly not entitled to it. And I certainly won’t be making any decision (to endorse) this soon.”
Cramer said it would be better if more candidates ran in 2024. “I think we’re all better if there’s more of them up on the stage.”
Others began floating rival candidates. GOP Sen. Jerry Moran said he had his eyes on fellow Kansan and ex-secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, as well as South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott.
“I think we have lots of Republicans who are interested in being our nominee for president,” Moran said when asked about Trump. “And I’m interested in letting the American people make this decision. … And I’m interested in seeing those people rise to the top.”
Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Florida Republican, dodged on whether she would support Trump and said: “Let me tell you something: I do know the next Republican presidential contender is coming from Florida.” (The state’s newly reelected governor, Ron DeSantis, is becoming a favorite among Washington Republicans.)
Several Republicans on Monday blamed Trump for pushing forward lackluster candidates and obsessing about his 2020 election loss as undercutting the case they tried to make against Democrats this year.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said that it’s clear that “relitigating the 2020 election is not a winning strategy.”
“I think looking forward is always a better campaign strategy,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. “Looking back to 2020 obviously didn’t work out.”
In private, the view was harsher. One moderate-leaning GOP lawmaker said of a Trump presidential bid: “It’s like we’re on season 7, 8 of ‘The Apprentice.’ People are sick of it, they want to turn the channel. Let’s find something else.”
And other long-time Trump critics, like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, wanted nothing to do with a Trump 2024 bid.
“I think that President Trump and election denying was an albatross around Republican necks,” Romney said. “And frankly, I think he’s been on the mountain too long. We’ve lost three races with him. And I’d like to see someone from the bench, come up and take his place and lead our party and help lead the country.”
Others were slow to embrace the former president.
“That’s his decision,” said Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul when asked about Trump 2024. “I think every member will have to look and see what’s in the field out there.”
But Trump’s former vice president has at least one backer in the Capitol – his brother.
“I’m for my brother,” Rep. Greg Pence, an Indiana Republican, said of former Vice President Mike Pence. “Absolutely. I hope my brother runs.”