Senate Republicans are growing increasingly worried that a crowded 2024 presidential field could ease the path for former President Trump to once again clinch the party’s nomination.
The field isn’t crowded yet, but former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s announcement Tuesday that she will run for the GOP nomination is seen as a harbinger of things to come.
A number of prominent former Trump administration officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Vice President Mike Pence, are seen as likely to run. South Carolina itself may have an additional GOP candidate in Sen. Tim Scott.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seen as a likely candidate, while possible entrants include New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
In a typical year there are also presidential candidates from the Senate, though 2024 may be an anomaly in this regard.
“Look, we were all concerned with the fact that we had 15 or 16 or 17 individuals vying for attention in the last one. We really don’t want to see that happen again,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told The Hill. “We just don’t.”
Most GOP senators are staying neutral in the race so far and few are offering any public criticisms of Trump, or comments specifically stating that they do not want him as their party’s nominee.
But Republicans in the Senate are tired of losing, and many blame Trump for the party losing the House in 2018, losing the White House and Senate in 2020 and failing to pick up the Senate in 2022.
They are now feeling anxious over the possibility that Trump could again steamroll through a crowded field and waltz to the party’s nomination.
“I do worry about that,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, adding that “unfortunately, I don’t have any control over that.”
According to recent polling conducted for the Club for Growth, Trump trails DeSantis in a one-on-one match-up — 49 percent to 40 percent. However, when the field expands to include Pence, Haley, Pompeo, Scott and Youngkin, Trump leads the Florida governor with 37 percent to 33 percent, prompting some concern.
“I think she’s an impressive person,” Cornyn said of Haley. “I don’t envy her [for] all the attacks she’s going to receive, but unfortunately that’s part of the process.”
Those came swiftly on Tuesday as a spokesperson for the Make America Great Again PAC dinged her as a “career politician,” while noting all of the contours Haley has made since Trump burst on the scene. That includes her time as an anti-Trump figure to working in his Cabinet to giving paid speeches in recent years.
“Sure just looks like more of the same, a career politician whose only fulfilled commitment is to herself,” said Taylor Budowich, who previously served as Trump’s spokesperson.
However, a number of Trump-backing senators had kind words to say about the former Palmetto State governor. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) told reporters that she would be a “great candidate.” He also noted that he told Trump recently that he hopes “they all get in.”
“He needs the challenge as well as anybody,” Tuberville said. “They need to work for it. They need to fight for it.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who endorsed Trump at his South Carolina kickoff event recently, hailed her tenures as governor and ambassador, adding that she will “acquit herself well as a candidate for president.”
“We have an embarrassment of riches on our side,” Graham said of the emerging GOP field.
In total, five Senate Republicans have thrown their support behind the ex-president: Graham, Tuberville, J.D. Vance (Ohio), Eric Schmitt (Mo.) and Markwayne Mullin (Okla.).
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whom Haley supported and campaigned for in the 2016 race, predicted that the former governor “will do well” this cycle. However, he dismissed any possibility that the field might be on the smaller side, saying that those days are done with.
“If people want to run for president, they’re going to run,” Rubio said in a brief interview. “For the foreseeable future, I think presidential races, on both sides, will generally be crowded, especially if there’s not a sitting president of the other party. … I think that’s going to be, for the foreseeable future, just the nature of these races.”
When asked if he’s still keeping his eye on a 2024 bid, the Florida senator told The Hill that he “doesn’t have any plans to run for anything in the immediate future.”
According to a number of Senate Republicans, another one of those is Scott, whom Haley tapped to replace former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in 2012.
“I think Tim has some real potential. I think he could bring the country together,” Rounds said. “My plan right now is to give Tim the first look.”
Following her official announcement Wednesday morning in Charleston, S.C., Haley will appear in New Hampshire on Thursday and Iowa on Monday and Tuesday in her inaugural swings to the pair of early voting states.
At least one lawmaker representing Iowa, and eager to see many candidates coming to the state, said she’s not against a larger field.
“I’m not worried about too many getting in,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said. “I’m excited to welcome all of them in.”