Former President Donald Trump has told allies he will run for president again in 2024 as long as he is healthy, Politico reported Thursday.
But while Republican officials will express support for Trump in public, several lawmakers who did not wish to be named said they'd rather have another candidate without Trump's baggage be the 2024 nominee. They are mindful that Trump was impeached twice as president, is blamed by the media for inciting a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and has a unique talent for causing distractions with inflammatory statements that take the party off-message.
"He's one of the best presidents we've had in terms of policies. But having said that, if it were up to me, I would never have Trump on any ballot ever again because it's such a distraction," said one House Republican who is publicly pro-Trump, Politico reported. "I would love for him to play a behind-the-scenes role and not be on the ballot."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was willing to go on the record with Politico about his concerns.
"President Trump did a lot of good. But he squandered a lot of his legacy after what happened after Nov. 3. And I think that's a shame," he said. "Running for president, you're under a lot of scrutiny. And all I can say is there's a lot to talk about."
Another lawmaker, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal from Trump or his supporters, told Politico, "I'd like to see a fresh face. I think we have a lot of them."
One name that immediately leaps to mind as an alternative candidate is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis swept the field in a poll of grassroots conservatives at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, that asked who the 2024 nominee should be if Trump is not on the ballot, earning a plurality of 43% support. The second place contender in the unscientific poll was South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who earned 11% support, but the poll was taken before she had a falling out with many social conservative activists over her veto of a bill barring transgender athletes from playing on women's sports teams.
Republicans like how DeSantis has managed the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida, resisting lockdown policies adopted in other states and weathering relentless attacks from the media for doing so. He champions issues that matter to Trump's supporters like regulating Big Tech companies, opposing critical race theory in schools, and securing elections.
Like Trump, DeSantis picks fights with the liberal media, but he's been more successful than the former president at winning those fights and enacting laws supported by his voter base.
Still, there are a significant number of Republicans who don't want to nominate Trump-lite when the genuine article is still available to run for president.
"I'm for Trump, period. I don't care who else is running," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Politico.
"Why have a carbon copy?" Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) asked. "Why would we not support the original?"
Many Republicans believe the 2024 GOP nomination is Trump's if he wants it. Other candidates who are widely speculated to be interested in running, like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have indicated they would back Trump if he runs again.
"I don't think there's anybody else who would be able to capture the party," said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who himself is rumored to have presidential ambitions.
Meanwhile, Trump keeps dropping hints about his intentions.
After news broke that the district attorney for Manhattan has convened a grand jury to possibly indict Trump over his business dealings in New York City, the former president released a statement blasting "a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history."
"This is purely political, and an affront to the almost 75 million voters who supported me in the Presidential Election, and it's being driven by highly partisan Democrat prosecutors," Trump said.
"Interesting that today a poll came out indicating I'm far in the lead for the Republican Presidential Primary and the General Election in 2024," he added.