As long as Trump is alive
By Mark P. Jones
Four factors affect the project of returning to power for the former president, but three reasons explain its validity. His internal rivals shouldn't be wrong.

Between 2016 and 2022 Donald Trump was the most powerful figure within the Republican Party. However, as we reach the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, Trump's power within the GOP has begun to weaken.

Four principal factors have contributed to Trump's diminished power and influence within the Republican party.

First, the former president continues to utilize polarizing rhetoric on social media and elsewhere as well as engage in controversial activities such as dining with Kanye West and white nationalist Nick Fuentes in the immediate aftermath of Ye's widely condemned anti-Semitic remarks.

Second, Trump continues to experience myriad legal woes ranging from the charges (e.g., obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, inciting insurrection) contained in the U.S. House's January 6 report, to the investigation of Trump's illegal handling and possession of classified documents when he left office, to the legal ramifications (such as prosecution for tax fraud) that may emerge as a result of his federal tax returns which were recently made public.

Third, Trump's intervention into 2022 Republican U.S. Senate primaries in competitive states like Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania resulted in the nomination of polarizing and flawed Republican candidates (Blake Masters in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Mehmet "Dr Oz" Ă–z in Pennsylvania). These four Trump-backed candidates in turn lost Senate races that quite possibly would have been won by a Republican had one of the more electable rivals they defeated in the GOP primary been nominated instead. In sum, Trump in all likelihood cost the Republican Party control of the U.S. Senate in 2022, which Democrats were able to retain by a narrow 51 to 49 margin this past fall (now 50 to 49 with Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema becoming an Independent).

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Fourth, as Republicans look toward the 2024 presidential election, more and more view Trump as unlikely to defeat any potential Democratic opponent (with the possible exception of Vice President Kamala Harris). And, a growing number of Republicans are now looking to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to be the GOP's standard bearer in 2024. For these Republicans, DeSantis provides all of the conservative policies and positions that Trump would provide, with less histrionics, fewer cringe-worthy moments, and essentially none of the considerable legal and ethical baggage that Trump brings with him. For many Republicans, at present DeSantis provides the GOP with the best prospects of simultaneously ousting Democrats from the White House in 2024 and implementing a conservative policy agenda in 2025 and beyond.

In sum, conditions are therefore conducive to Trump's influence and power within the Republican Party being diminished over the course of the next year and a half. That said, it is still too early to count Trump out, for three principal reasons.

First, Trump's widespread legal problems discussed above provide him with a strong incentive to remain as active as possible politically so as to use his political power and status as a presidential candidate as part of his legal defense, both in the court of law as well is in the court of public opinion. The worse Trump's legal problems are, the more likely he is to maintain his candidacy for president in 2024, and right now his legal problems are going from bad to worse.

The worse Trump's legal troubles get, the more likely he is to keep his run for president in 2024, and right now his legal troubles are going from bad to worse.

Second, Trump retains a large and loyal base with the Republican Party primary electorate as well as among many independents who will turn out to vote for him if he is on the Republican Party ballot but otherwise may stay home. And, with universal name recognition and an ability to generate free media coverage wherever he goes, Trump does not need to engage in fundraising and organization building to the same extent as his rivals.

As long as Trump is alive

Third, the Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, utilizes a majoritarian form of presidential nominating convention delegate allocation in its presidential primaries and caucuses which in 2024 will be held between January and June. This majoritarian design favors candidates with an intense plurality following like Trump, especially in a context of a field with multiple viable candidates.

Thus, the greater the number of viable Republican presidential candidates competing in the 2024 primaries and caucuses who will split the anti-Trump vote, the greater the likelihood of Trump capturing the 2024 Republican Party presidential nomination, and, at least for the remainder of 2024 (if not beyond if Trump is victorious in 2024), reasserting himself as the dominant figure within the Republican Party. In sum, in a head-to-head match between DeSantis and Trump in 2024, DeSantis would be the favorite to capture the GOP presidential nomination. 

Trump's political fortunes will depend in part on Republicans like Pence, Scott, Cruz and Haley, as the more who choose to keep their candidacies in the presidential primary, the more likely it is that Trump will be the GOP's 2024 presidential nominee.

However, in a fragmented field also featuring candidates such as former vice president Mike Pence, South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott, Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Trump would be the favorite to capture the GOP presidential nomination.

It is still too early to predict Trump's political decline within the Republican Party, and even in a weakened and wounded condition, as long as he is alive, he will remain a force to be reckoned with within the party. Trump's future political fortunes will depend in part on Republicans such as Pence, Scott, Cruz and Haley, since the more of them who opt to compete in the presidential primary and the deeper they opt to maintain their candidacies into the staggered primary and caucus season, the more likely it is that Trump will be the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2024 and the more likely it is that Trump will retain his considerable influence within the GOP.

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