WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump hasn't conceded the election but is already discussing a rematch in 2024, a prospect that could entangle President-elect Joe Biden and stymie other Republicans laying the groundwork for their own campaign.
From an aggressive post-election fundraising effort that came into sharper focus this week to remarks he delivered at a recent White House holiday party, Trump is signaling at increasing volume his desire to remain in control of GOP politics after Jan. 20.
Just how much of the spotlight Trump can continue to hold after he leaves office next month – and how much of the Republican Party will remain under his influence – could have enormous implications for Biden's ability to push an agenda through Congress and bring together a nation divided by the pandemic and recent election.
"I think most Republican elected officials are ready to move on," said GOP pollster Whit Ayres. "This prevents that from happening."
As he continues to fight the outcome of the Nov. 3 election, Trump is already looking ahead. Aides speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans not yet finalized said Trump could make an announcement about 2024 before Biden's inauguration.
Meanwhile, campaign finance reports made public Thursday show Trump raised more than $200 million since the election and has more than $100 million on hand – including in a new super PAC that will let him spend in the 2022 midterm election. That money, Republicans said, will allow him to amplify his message from outside the White House.
In other words, Trump's deep campaign pockets will allow him throw barbs from the sidelines at Biden and any congressional Republican who considers working with him.
"Having just raised over $200 million without announcing, my guess is Trump would again dominate the Republican field if he decides to run in 2024," said Rick Tyler, a conservative political strategist who has been critical of Trump. "In the mean time, until Trump decides on a second run, the other GOP hopefuls will remain as frozen as a COVID vaccine."
'See you in four years'
Trump nodded to his 2024 ambitions at a White House holiday party this week posted to social media, telling the audience that he would "see you in four years." He raised his recent campaign cash with a blitz of evidence-free allegations of voter fraud in 2020, but nothing would prevent him from using that money in four years.
Many Republicans, including aides who spoke on condition of anonymity because Trump's plans are not firm, assume he will at least tease another campaign – but they also note that the soon-to-be-former president would face high hurdles on any journey back to the White House. While Trump would likely retain a huge base of supporters and deep pockets, he may also face potential legal problems and Republican opponents eager to turn the page on the volatile businessman-turned-politician.
Trump would be 78 if he won election in 2024, the same as Biden's current age.
Pollster Frank Luntz predicted Trump will strongly hint at running again in four years, but leave the door open to change his mind and bow out down the line – a move Trump made for decades before finally pulling the trigger in 2015.
Still, Luntz said, any kind of early announcement would likely freeze the Republican race for at least a year as other potential candidates assess whether they want to challenge the well-funded ex-president for the GOP nomination.
"He will start out with more voters – more support – than any Republican candidate since 1984," Luntz said, referring to the year Ronald Reagan sought re-election.
"But," he added, "he will also start out with more opposition."
A new generation of Republicans are also eyeing presidential runs, such as former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, could be in the mix as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Whether any could take down Trump – or would even try – remains an open question.
"President Trump would be the overwhelming favorite for the nomination if he ran again, but that's a long way off," said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist. "Republicans need to study what worked from the 2020 election and replicate it."
Liz Mair, a GOP strategist who has been critical of Trump, said people tend to seek change and Republican voters since Reagan have picked a variety of standard bearers: George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.
"There's relatively little issues-wise that binds GOP voters and they move all over the map every few years," Mair said. "There's little reason to think the party will look like it does right now in even two years – though it also could."
Mair said Trump '24 would have "a high floor and a low ceiling," and "I think a ton of GOP voters will be shopping for a new candidate."
Trump could also face legal obstacles if he runs again. Prosecutors in New York are investigating him over various financial dealings from when lived and worked there.
An early test of Trump's ability to influence the party will begin this weekend when he travels to Georgia on Saturday for his first post-election rally. Trump will campaign for Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both of whom are facing runoffs Jan. 5 that will together decide control of the Senate. Biden narrowly won Georgia, marking the first time a Democratic presidential candidate carried the state since 1992.
Trump's Georgia rally could offer clues about what message he'll take supporters over the next four years, Republicans said.
Even if Trump keeps his grip on the Republican Party through 2024, he would face another huge obstacle in reclaiming the White House: Biden. Trump would have to improve his general election performance considerably before he or any other Republican could win. Biden won by more than 7 million votes, and captured 306 electoral votes.
While predicting Trump could win the Republican nomination again in 2024, Tyler added: "I don’t think, however, he will ever be president again."
Trump backers quickly point to a historical model: Grover Cleveland.
As an incumbent first-term president, Cleveland lost his re-election bid in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison – then came back in 1892 to defeat Harrison and reclaim the White House. Cleveland was an exception, however. Other ex-presidents who sought the office, such as Martin Van Buren and Millard Fillmore, floundered when they ran again.
Even Ulysses S. Grant, a two-term president who served 1869-77, could not win the Republican nomination when backers made him available at the party convention in 1880.
Luntz predicted that Trump's perpetual campaign will hurt Republicans in some areas. In others, he said, it probably helps. While Trump lost his race, the GOP gained 15 seats in the House and the party stands a strong chance to keep control of the Senate. They’ve proven, Luntz said, they can win with or without him.
"He is the most polarizing political figure I’ve ever seen," Luntz added. "You love him or you hate him. There is no middle ground."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump's hefty fundraising signals interest in 2024 campaign bid