TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Top Republican officials on Wednesday tried to ignore Donald Trump’s formal move into the 2024 presidential campaign, insisting there were more pressing priorities as GOP leaders grapple with the aftermath of a major midterm disappointment had.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said it was far too early for Republicans to focus on the next presidential election when asked about a looming GOP divide during a news conference the morning after Trump’s announcement. DeSantis, a potential Trump rival in 2024, declined to name the former president, saying he was instead focusing on the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff and his Florida government priorities.
See: Trump 2024? Republicans cheer and jeer as Donald Trump says he’s running for President again.
“We just finished this election. People need to relax a little bit about some of this stuff, I mean seriously,” DeSantis said. The 44-year-old Republican governor continued, “Ultimately it’s been a long election, we’ve got the runoff in Georgia, but to me it’s like, OK, what else do we have to do to keep making Florida frontrunners? That’s what we’re going to focus on.”
That sentiment was shared by leading Republicans across Ohio, New Hampshire and Washington as the GOP grappled with rising internal tensions and questions about its future after a deeply disappointing mid-term cycle. History suggested Republicans should have enjoyed massive gains last week, but the predicted sweeping victory for party leaders failed to materialize as Trump loyalists were defeated in several swing states.
Democrats held the Senate while Republicans won a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine deflected a question about Trump’s announcement at Wednesday’s Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando.
“It’s a little early to comment on the presidential race,” DeWine said, entering a forum on the future of the GOP.
“We’re still trying to analyze what happened a week ago,” said DeWine, who won his re-election by a 25 percentage point margin over the Democratic mayor of Dayton after refusing to embrace Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
However, Trump will not make it easy for his party to ignore 2024, even if the inaugural contests of the next presidential primary season are likely more than a year away.
Trump launched his third presidential bid Tuesday night before an audience of several hundred supporters in a chandeliered ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago club. Even if the political parties have not yet determined their primary voting calendars.
“America’s comeback is starting right now,” Trump said.
The former president, who unleashed a deadly riot after losing his 2020 reelection bid, was hoping to launch his 2024 campaign in the glory of resounding GOP midterm victories. Instead, he entered the race at a moment of deep political vulnerability, having suffered a string of defeats for which many party leaders blamed him.
High-profile Republican candidates for Senate and governor across Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin who parroted Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election have been defeated.
DeSantis, meanwhile, won re-election by nearly 20 points in a historic swing state. With party activists openly encouraging DeSantis to run for the presidency, Trump has been increasingly critical of the Florida governor in recent weeks — even revealing a new nickname: “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
When asked about Trump’s barb Monday, DeSantis quipped, “Look at the scoreboard.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, increasingly a Trump critic, declined when asked to comment on the debate in early 2024, though he acknowledged that the GOP “turned off a lot of those centrist voters” in the 2022 midterm elections.
“The way I’m going into this presidential primary season is to stay out of it. I don’t have a dog in this fight,” McConnell said.
Across the Capitol, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, a Trump loyalist who hopes to become Speaker of the House should the GOP win a majority in that chamber, walked away from reporters Wednesday when asked whether he would support Trump’s 2024 bid.
Still, a handful of Republican-elected officials have already backed Trump’s nascent campaign, including Chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Elisa Stefanik, a Republican from New York State, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia.
In New Hampshire, which will host the GOP’s first presidential election in 2024, Gov. Chris Sununu predicted few would heed Trump’s announcement in the short term.
“He’s not going to leave the field,” Sununu told Fox News, declining to rule out running for president in 2024.
Sununu, a Republican, won his re-election by more than 15 points after fighting Trump’s electoral lies. At the same time, New Hampshire Republican Senate nominee Don Bolduc, a Trump loyalist, lost by 9 points.
“One could argue that he was never weaker politically,” Sununu said of Trump. “It’s really an announcement from a defensive position. So I think there will be some news and we will all move on. There will still be a lot of people competing in this race – probably not until late 23.”
Conservative media has also been cool about Trump’s political ambitions for 2024.
The tabloid New York Post, long one of Trump’s favorite hometown newspapers and often seen as pro-Trump on its news and opinion pages, marked Trump’s campaign launch with just this line at the bottom of the front page: “Florida make announcement.”
Continue reading: The New York Post taunts Trump’s presidential candidacy with the teaser “Florida man makes announcement” at the bottom of the front page