Trump’s rivals fight each other and his aura of inevitability as the next debate approaches | ET REALITY


The 2024 Republican primaries are entering a tense and caustic new phase, as Donald J. Trump’s wide lead remains intact, the days until voting begins shrink and his rivals target each other as much as him.

Ahead of Wednesday’s debate in Miami, the campaigns of Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott released state-of-the-race memos that stabbed each other’s viability, skills and standing in an attempt to present themselves as the only alternative. true to Mr. Trump, the man who refuses to debate them. The Trump campaign also released a memo. He completely ignored her main rivals and instead previewed his race against President Biden, a year before the general election.

The conflicting memos and drastically different timelines in the run-up to the debate (Trump was in court giving sworn testimony in his financial fraud case, while his rivals prepared their debate remarks and campaigned in Iowa) captured the stark reality of a primary that advances along two parallel paths.

There is Trump, the favorite. And there are his Republican opponents, increasingly battling an invisible force that threatens them all in equal measure: a growing sense of inevitability and resignation (among donors, both Trump skeptics and Democrats) that 2024 will be a 2020 revenge.

Obviously, the primaries aren’t over, despite the Trump team’s attempt to call it the “first-place loser” race. Polls often change late. No votes have been cast.

However, Trump’s fractured opposition and persistent focus on one of them emerging as the leading “alternative to Trump” echo the dynamics of his first campaign in 2016, when his rivals spent millions of dollars on ads attacking each other. as he marched toward the nomination.

“At least that was a viable strategy then,” said Sarah Isgur, who was a top adviser to Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign that year. “Because at least if you had knocked everyone out, you would have been able to beat Trump. That’s not true this time. Even if you had a one-on-one race, I don’t see the math.”

Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist, said Trump’s rivals appeared to be mindlessly repeating past mistakes. “Despite what has been a repeat, Trump’s rivals seem determined not to try anything new,” he said.

Besides Trump, only one of the 2024 candidates ran in 2016: former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. And he has sounded the alarm about the strategy of focusing more on each other than on Trump. In a recent slide presentation prepared for donors, his campaign criticized what it called “the other candidates’ illusions that Trump will magically collapse on his own,” although Christie’s broadsides so far have not significantly advanced the candidate. .

For now, Iowa is increasingly the epicenter of the action.

In a blunt admission, DeSantis’ campaign said in its memo that a landslide victory for Trump in Iowa could effectively give him the nomination. “If Trump were to win big in Iowa, he would create political and media momentum for his candidacy that would be difficult to stop,” wrote James Uthmeier, DeSantis’ campaign manager.

For months, DeSantis advisers have said they are best positioned to stop Trump, and on Monday he formally won the coveted endorsement of the state’s popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds. He pledged to do everything possible to lead DeSantis to victory in the nation’s first race after his campaign spent months on a downward trajectory.

Trump’s team responded with the endorsement of another Republican governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas. On Wednesday night, Sanders will appear with Trump at a rally near Miami, the scene of the former president’s counterprogramming for the upcoming Republican primary debate.

But Iowa is where Trump allies continue to attack DeSantis with attack ads. It’s where Mr. DeSantis’ super PAC is hitting Ms. Haley on the airwaves, and where his super PAC is hitting back. It’s where Mr. Scott is parking his campaign staff. And that’s where Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign has announced plans to spend the bulk of a final $10 million campaign over the next two months.

Each of the campaigns, but especially DeSantis’ and Haley’s, are fighting a two-front war in Iowa: both to close the gap with Trump and to distance themselves from each other and the rest of the pack. A Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll showed Trump at 43 percent support, with Haley and DeSantis tied at 16 percent.

Haley’s team has charted a different path beyond Iowa. They said she is more competitive in New Hampshire and South Carolina, her home state, than DeSantis. Betsy Ankeny, Haley’s campaign manager, wrote in her memo that DeSantis was a “sinking ship” and had not performed well with voters after experts first predicted he would be the “strongest alternative.” of Trump.

“And then,” he wrote, “America met Ron DeSantis.”

Scott, whose super PAC canceled its television ads and is polling in the single digits, is trying to exploit the battle between Haley and DeSantis in Iowa. “She will attack him for being the failed candidate that he is,” reads a memo from Scott’s campaign manager, Jennifer DeCasper. “He will attack her for being as moderate as she is. “They will both be right.”

Ramaswamy’s campaign has weakened since the first debate, but he recently announced a major ad buy. His advisers hope those announcements, along with a strong debate performance, will put his name back in the headlines.

Christie is the only one skipping Iowa and betting his candidacy on a strong showing in New Hampshire, hoping to be the last candidate to take on Trump when Super Tuesday rolls around in early March.

However, he and Haley will compete for similar voters there, particularly if she does better than expected in Iowa.

And in South Carolina, Trump continues to dominate while his home state’s two candidates, Haley, the former governor, and Scott, the state’s junior senator, trail far behind.

A series of New York Times/Siena College polls over the weekend showed Trump ahead of Biden in five of the six most important battleground states, the latest data that aims to undermine the argument of some of Trump’s rivals that he cannot win in 2024.

John Kasich, the former Ohio governor who was one of the last alternatives to Trump’s position in the 2016 primary, underscored the idea that things can still change. “The only thing we know about politics is what makes it interesting: What is safe today will not be safe tomorrow,” Kasich said. “We live in a time of black swan events.”

Trump’s team has barely attempted to hide its delight at the infighting as it focuses entirely on undermining DeSantis, attention that the governor’s team believes proves its point about DeSantis’ role as the only serious threat.

Trump has spent much of his time presenting himself as a victim of Democratic and prosecutorial overreach, and galvanizing his base with talk of “election interference” and “persecution.”

Today there is little to distinguish between Trump’s trials and his campaign. He previews his court appearances in fundraising texts. He summarizes them in fundraising emails. On the stand, the judge in the case Monday, Arthur F. Engoron, chided Trump: “This is not a political rally.” Outside the courthouse, while one of his lawyers, Alina Habba, addressed the media, two of his political advisors, Steven Cheung and Jason Miller, could be seen in the background.

However, his rivals – Christie aside – rarely mention his legal jeopardy or his four criminal charges. In an interview on MSNBC last week, DeSantis said a conviction in Trump’s criminal trials would be fatal, adding, “I don’t think the party should nominate in that situation.”

DeSantis had avoided MSNBC until his campaign discovered it needed more attention. He and others have found, as in 2016, that Trump’s rivals pay little attention.

Trump’s testimony Monday got full coverage on cable news, even as DeSantis got what was his most valuable endorsement of the cycle with the backing of Reynolds, who is breaking tradition to push him forward. In an attempt to draw attention to himself and prompt Trump to take the debate stage, DeSantis mocked the former president’s masculinity, using a schoolyard taunt in a Newsmax interview. He was responding to the Trump campaign that circulated stories about DeSantis’ boots and whether they included lifts to increase height.

The setbacks sparked memories among Republican operatives who had worked the 2016 race during the final days of Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign, when he briefly decided his path to victory and attention was to suggestively mock the size of Trump’s hands. . He soon dropped out after losing in his home state.

The Trump campaign has deployed its own brand of abuse and ridicule toward DeSantis for months. But voters seem to hold him to a different standard; Two days after DeSantis made the crude dig at Trump, he did not repeat any version of it in a speech on his own turf, a Florida Republican Party gathering outside Orlando.

The candidate who delivered the most stridently anti-Trump message there, Christie, was loudly booed.

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