There’s no letup in former President Donald Trump’s repeated signals that he’s seriously mulling another White House run in 2024.
The former president, at a campaign-style event in Orlando, Florida, last weekend, emphasized that he is “very strongly” thinking about launching a presidential campaign for “a third time.”
And in an interview with Fox News last month, Trump said, “I am certainly thinking about it,” once again teasing, “I think a lot of people will be very happy, frankly, with the decision, and probably will announce that after the midterms.”
While Trump remains very popular with the GOP base, and polls at this extremely early point in the 2024 presidential cycle indicate that he’s the overwhelming front-runner in the Republican nomination race, his immense clout and repeated flirtations are clearly not discouraging other potential GOP White House hopefuls from visiting the states that kick off the presidential primary and caucus calendar.
“Everybody understands that the president is very seriously looking at 2024,” longtime Republican consultant John Brabender, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns, told Fox News. “I think the majority of candidates would be deferential to Trump if he decides to run in 2024, but what they don’t want to do is find themselves in a situation that if Trump decides he’s not running, then they’ve wasted a lot of time.”
Among those with a busy itinerary is former Vice President Mike Pence, who a week and a half ago paid his second visit this year to New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary in the White House race.
“I’m completely focused on 2022. And come 2023, we’ll do as our family has always done. We’ll reflect and pray and consider where we might next serve. We’ll go where we’re called,” Pence told Fox News. Pence spoke while making a retail campaign-style stop, meeting with customers and Republican officials and activists at a bakery in Bedford, New Hampshire.
Pence’s busy itinerary in the Granite State included all the trappings of a presidential campaign-style trip.
Pence’s travels across the country this year on behalf of Republicans running in next year’s elections have now taken him to the first four states that vote in the race for the White House. The stop in New Hampshire was his second this year, and he’s also made two trips year to Iowa, the state whose caucuses have kicked off the White House race for half a century. Pence also stopped this spring in South Carolina, which votes third in the GOP primary and caucus calendar and last month in Nevada, which holds the fourth contest.
So far this year there have been 15 trips to Iowa by nine potential Republican presidential contenders, not far off from the 17 visits by 11 possible candidates in 2013.
According to a Fox News count, there have also been eight visits to New Hampshire this year by six potential contenders, close to the 11 visits by seven possible candidates in 2013.
“If you want to run for president, you need to be laying the groundwork right now,” longtime Republican strategist Alex Conant told Fox News. “That doesn’t guarantee that you will be running for president, but since the field is potentially very open and very competitive, it’s important to get started early.”
“Clearly anyone who’s going to Iowa or New Hampshire right now wants to be president. By going now, they’re keeping the option to run open,” said Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida’s 2016 presidential campaign and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 GOP nomination bid.
The week before Pence arrived in New Hampshire, Sen. Tom Cotton – another potential contender – made his second stop this year in the Granite State. The Republican from Arkansas has also made two trips to Iowa and a visit to Nevada.
Cotton, as he’s done in the past, demurred on 2024 talk, telling Fox News during a stop at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, “I’m not making any decision right now about the future. The election that’s looking at us right in our windshield is the 2022 election, and it’s still almost a year away.”
The potential candidates visiting the early voting states this year have all been emphasizing that their trips are on behalf of fellow Republicans running in the 2022 midterms, when the GOP aims to win back majorities in the House and Senate. While that’s true to a degree, the friends and relationships these White House hopefuls make now could pay dividends down the road if they launch presidential campaigns.
And with the potential contenders all hoping to avoid appearing like they’re challenging Trump, emphasizing their efforts to help fellow Republicans has become more essential than ever.
“As long as people have been going to Iowa and New Hampshire, they’ve been denying that they’re running for president. Trump makes that even more important, that you don’t seem overeager to run since nobody wants to get on his wrong side,” Conant pointed out.
“What they’re (the potential contenders) doing is proceeding to make relationships like they should, but they’re treading carefully so it doesn’t show any disrespect to the president,” Brabender explained.
That playbook should hold up until next November’s elections. But after the 2022 midterms, those trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are 100% about 2024.
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report