2024 Presidential Rivals Quietly Start to Consider a GOP Primary Without Trump

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
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Welcome to Trail Mix, a fun but nutritious snack for your election news diet. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at jake.lahut@thedailybeast.com.

This week, we peel back the curtain on the hushed conversations happening among campaign consultants and GOP bigwigs over how, maybe this time, Trump getting indicted could prove to be a paradigm shift in the race. Plus, a look at Mike Pence’s Spotify playlist.

‘A clusterfuck of the highest order’

Part of the enduring appeal of MAGA is that Donald Trump made it fun to be a Republican again.

After getting arraigned in federal court on Tuesday, and a meeting of the minds at the former president’s club in Bedminster, New Jersey later that night, that’s beginning to change.

“I don’t wanna say a somber tone, but it was a little bit more serious,” a source close to Trump in attendance at the Bedminster soirée told The Daily Beast. “People realize the stakes of the upcoming election.”

Quietly, campaign staffers and Republican operatives are seeing an endgame beginning to develop. While they’re refraining from too much overt planning, the various GOP presidential campaigns are preparing for the possibility that, at some point this year or next, the laws—either of political gravity, or just of the United States—will begin to apply to Trump.

“Anyone who says they know how this is going to shake out is selling you a bill of goods,” a staffer for a rival campaign told The Daily Beast. “Anyone who isn’t buckling down to control what they can control is setting themselves up for failure.”

With more GOP primary arrivals expected later in the summer and into the fall—with the likes of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former Texas congressman Will Hurd reportedly more inclined to run following Trump’s federal indictment—the campaign is at the very least undergoing a paradigm shift “in terms of people who are already running or political consultants who wanna get back on campaigns,” a top adviser from Trump’s 2016 campaign told The Daily Beast.

“This has definitely added a new dimension to the race,” the former Trump adviser, who has since gotten off the MAGA train continued. “And do you wanna be on the right side of history, or not?”

As for the voters, they may not be there quite yet, and the murky logistics of how Trump’s legal woes will progress before voting starts is giving rival campaigns a headache.

“It’s a clusterfuck of the highest order,” a GOP strategist backing a Trump rival said, noting that contingency plans on Trump campaigning from behind bars or other once seemingly far-fetched scenarios all depend on a to-be-determined trial date.

For most of the field, the earlier a trial date, the better.

“If you assume that there are more shoes to drop that weren’t included in the indictment, and that they reinforce the severity of what was unsealed, then an earlier trial would certainly burden him with that for a longer period of time,” the rival campaign staffer said.

While it’s true that Trump’s campaign could be derailed by a conviction—in which case, the race would obviously be turned upside down—it’s less certain that he’ll suddenly face political ramifications for his actions. Polling has consistently indicated that GOP voters aren’t concerned about Trump’s legal predicaments.

“There is no room in the Republican Party right now for condemning Donald Trump,” another GOP strategist told The Daily Beast, citing a recent CBS poll where 80 percent of likely Republican primary voters said Trump should still be able to serve as president again if he’s convicted of a federal crime in the classified documents case.

“There’s just no oxygen for that lane, that’s an under-10-percent lane of the Republican Party,” the strategist continued. “I think between the data and the political landscape, there just doesn’t seem to be traction with voters to say he risked national security because of all of these other arguments they have about Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton.”

The source close to Trump said the former president’s team remains confident in “two-tier justice voters” who are more aggrieved by Hunter and Hillary than anything outlined in the 49-page indictment.

“There does need to be some credit given to the talking point that Hunter and Hillary have gotten off scot-free,” the former Trump adviser said. “That being said, that only resonates among voters in the base who are not as astute when it comes to the national security implications.”

The former Trump adviser admitted that Trump’s transgressions seemed to be far more serious than anything Hunter Biden or Hillary Clinton ever did. “If I had access to nuclear intel and handled it in the way Trump did, my ass would be sitting in a cell,” the former adviser said.

Between Trump’s arraignment on Tuesday and Thursday morning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis kept a low profile. Staying off Twitter and off the trail for those few days, DeSantis reappeared at a budget bill signing ceremony Thursday afternoon in Fort Pierce, Florida, touting his administration’s environmental conservation efforts and debt-to-GDP ratio.

“If you’re DeSantis, you’re in this dilemma where you’re now silent, and people are starting to notice, and you’ll see this start to bubble up more over the next couple days: Why isn’t Ron DeSantis standing up to his biggest political rival over a glaring weakness?” the second GOP strategist said. “The problem is, the voters don’t see it that way, at least not yet.”

The Florida governor’s statement on the heels of the indictment lamented the "weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society," but beyond that, he hasn’t strayed much closer to a confrontation with Trump over the classified documents.

Despite whatever long-term costs may come from Trump having to campaign while dealing with multiple legal battles and more court appearances, Trumpworld remains confident in the rest of the field’s ability to be mediocre enough for none of this to matter.

​​“All of these other dipshits are running around the country spending tens of millions of dollars just to introduce themselves to the country, and you guys are giving [Trump] wall-to-wall coverage,” the source close to Trump said. “He’s not gonna be in a bunker, and who knows when this stuff goes to trial. I don’t think there’s a sense of worry, I think there’s always a strange sense of calm in Trumpworld because people have been here before.”

Have they, though?

“I don’t think they have a comparable moment, because they don’t understand the significance of his actions,” the former Trump adviser said. “He’s surrounded by narcissists… Rules don’t apply to them.”

Mike Pence’s campaign bops

Titled the “Pence Filter,” the former vice president’s Spotify playlist came into view at one of his recent stops in New Hampshire, and this reporter couldn’t help but take some notes.

Leading off the playlist is the 2000 country single “Born to Fly” by Sara Evans, followed by “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis & the News. The energy kicks up with “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, and the playlist also has some Americana classics like “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry.

Overall, it’s a highly conventional political setlist, but one would not expect the 64-year-old Hoosier to be dabbling in more experimental Gen-Z fare such as 100 Gecs.

Pence might also be the only candidate in the field to have a song from the Grease soundtrack playing at his events (“You’re The One That I Want” made it through the Pence Filter, for those curious).

Running counts

Days until the 2024 election: 508

Trump indictments: 2

Vermin Supreme sightings in New Hampshire: 1

CNN town halls: 4

Marianne Williamson lawn sign sightings: 1

From Harry Crane’s desk

It’s a good time to be a local TV station in Iowa.

Ad buying has begun to pick up, with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, of all people, putting up the biggest cash splash with nearly $1 million in ads this week alone. He’s followed by the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down PAC, which dropped $855,000 the same week, then the Tim Scott campaign, with a steep dropoff at $228,000 in ad buys, according to Medium Buying.

How much is the Trump campaign spending? Just $23,000.

Campaign lit

A presidential candidate inflating his business credentials, you say?

A scathing article in Forbes penned by the a dean at the Yale School of Management and the director of research at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute draws major aspects of Vivek Ramaswamy’s business record into question, as well as whether he’s really a billionaire.

Kevin or Hell?

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy may have just sung the first note of his final act, The Daily Beast’s Ursula Perano reports.

Off the books

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) didn’t disclose any book royalties in her latest financial disclosure forms, an exclusive from The Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger.


In an excerpt from his new book, WaPo’s Ben Terris details the D.C. rise of the brothers Bankman-Fried.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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