Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, said this spring that she would not run for president in 2024 if former President Donald Trump staged a political comeback.
After the midterm elections this month, Mrs. Haley changed her tune. She has joined a growing list of Republicans who refuse to let Mr. Trump’s return put the kibosh on their White House aspirations.
“A lot of people have asked if I’m going to run for president now that the midterms are over,” Mrs. Haley, a former South Carolina governor, said at the recent Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas. “I’ll look at it in a serious way, and I’ll have more to say soon.”
The willingness to challenge Mr. Trump marks a dramatic shift in the Republican Party.
Mr. Trump, 76, has ruled the party since he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has maintained his grip despite losing to President Biden in 2020 and losing House and Senate majorities on his watch.
Neil Levesque, executive director at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, said Republicans’ disappointing showing dented if not punctured Mr. Trump’s armor.
“The power to persuade and keep people out of the race evaporated on election night,” Mr. Levesque said. “This is the weakest he has been since he was elected president.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Trump and his allies had planned for his campaign announcement to come on the heels of a series of election wins by Trump-backed candidates. Instead, several of Mr. Trump’s high-profile candidates lost. His role in the party is now facing renewed scrutiny, including from some possible rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
The overall response to Mr. Trump’s announcement last week — the earliest declaration of a presidential run in U.S. history — was underwhelming in Republican circles.
Republican megadonors announced that they would not back his primary bid, signaling that they are more interested in other potential candidates such as Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia.
Mr. DeSantis contrasted his landslide reelection victory on Nov. 8 to the struggles of Trump-backed Republicans in other states.
“At the end of the day, I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night,” Mr. DeSantis said last week.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a swipe at his former boss on Twitter.
“We were told we’d get tired of winning. But I’m tired of losing. And so are most Republicans,” said Mr. Pompeo, another potential competitor.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, has been making the case that it is time for the party to turn the page.
On a book tour, he said Republicans fell short of expectations this month in part because candidates who promoted Mr. Trump’s stolen election claims struggled.
“Candidates that were focused on the issues that people are facing today and solutions for tomorrow, focused on the future, did quite well,” Mr. Pence said. “But candidates that were focused on the past, candidates that were focused on relitigating the 2020 election did not fare as well.”
Mr. Pence also refused to rule out a presidential run. “I’ll keep you posted on whether I’m going to run or not. … But I do think we’ll have better choices” than Mr. Trump, he said.
Most polls show that Mr. Trump remains the undisputed front-runner in the Republican presidential race, but a Morning Consult/ Politico national tracking poll of registered voters released last week found that 65% said Mr. Trump should not run again.
President Biden, 80, appears set to square off against the winner of the Republican nomination race and is feeling good about his chances after the Democrats’ stronger-than-expected election performances.
Democrats are optimistic that Mr. Biden would win a rematch but are concerned that the president could struggle against a Republican candidate with less baggage.
The Trump team is betting that a crowded Republican field would benefit the former president in much the same way it did in 2016 when his critics failed to coalesce behind a single alternative, allowing him to win primaries in states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina with roughly a third of the vote.
Govs. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire are thought to be considering presidential bids, as are Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida.
Saul Anuzis, a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party who now runs the seniors advocacy group 60 Plus American Association, said Mr. Trump wanted to avoid a primary fight.
“I think there are three kinds of Republicans out there: pro-Trump, anti-Trump and those who want to move on. And I think the group of those that want to move on is growing,” he said. “Trump’s intention was to get in and clear the field, which didn’t happen, and because it didn’t happen, it raises questions as to whether he would stay in. … I am not convinced, given the lackluster response he got from his announcement, that he stays in the race.”
The diminished appetite for a Trump comeback has not been lost on his possible rivals.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another possible 2024 contender, said Mr. Trump’s selfish instincts and stolen election claims are dragging down the party.
“We keep losing and losing and losing,” Mr. Christie said at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting. “And the fact of the matter is the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everyone else.”
Mr. Christie has criticized Mr. Trump for backing bad candidates and using his stolen election claims as a litmus test for his support.
“It is time to stop whispering,” Mr. Christie said. “It is time to stop being afraid of any one person. It is time to stand up for the principles and the beliefs that we have founded this party on and this country on.”
• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at email@example.com.
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