Senate Republicans who want to move on from Donald Trump are smelling blood after a series of self-destructive errors by the former president that they think is opening the door for GOP rivals to challenge and defeat him in a 2024 presidential primary.
The GOP lawmakers say Trump looks increasingly vulnerable in a primary after what they describe as his erratic behavior in recent weeks, which has raised new doubts about his ability to beat President Biden or any other Democrat in a general election.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Trump’s most recent self-inflicted wound — in which he spoke about suspending the Constitution — creates “a huge opening” for other Republicans weighing presidential bids.
“This was another level or another realm in terms of things the former president has said. This one goes so far beyond the pale that if there is somebody who has aspirations to run, this sure teed it up for them,” Thune said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who usually avoids commenting on Trump’s behavior, criticized the former president for a second time in just over a week, asserting that Trump “would have a very hard time” being sworn in as president again if he doesn’t support upholding the Constitution.
“Anyone seeking the presidency who thinks that the Constitution could somehow be suspended or not followed, it seems to me, would have a very hard time being sworn in as president of the United States,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
Trump over the weekend proposed to “terminate” all “rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” in response to a report about Twitter’s content moderation discussions during the 2020 election.
The former president committed that own goal as he was still being criticized for holding a dinner at his Mar-a-Lago home with white supremacist Nick Fuentes and the artist formerly known as Kanye West, who has repeatedly made antisemitic remarks.
The controversies have even supporters of Trump shaking their heads.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who was a reliable Trump ally while he was president, said the comments about suspending the Constitution and Trump’s meeting with Fuentes are potentially “fatal” to his political aspirations.
“I do think this recent behavior … these are foibles that are approaching fatality among the group that loves Donald Trump,” he said. “That’s the head-scratcher.
“Now when you’re talking about suspending the Constitution, that becomes language that’s confusing to the traditional Trump patriot,” he said.
Cramer said he never thought that Trump would clear the Republican field by announcing his intention to run for president again in 2024. But he finds it baffling that Trump appears to be giving powerful ammo to his Republican rivals.
He called Trump’s behavior “peculiar,” adding “these are just not good tactics.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) also said Trump’s recent stumbles could very well encourage Republican rivals to view him as eminently beatable in the 2024 primary.
“I’m sure half the Senate [is] actively considering it,” he quipped of colleagues weighing potential White House runs.
“I would think that if it’s going to be two or three people in the primary, it probably could be just as easily 20,” he said.
“I imagine that if people feel like the ex-president is truly vulnerable and they want to get in, my guess is if one or two people get in, 10 more will say, ‘Heck, why not me?’ ”
Hawley and two other Senate Republicans who were thought to be considering presidential bids, Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.), have ruled out running for president.
But two other high-profile conservatives, Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), aren’t taking runs for president off the table.
They both challenged Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and finished in second and third place, respectively. Cruz won 551 delegates and Rubio won 167 by the time Trump clinched the nomination.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is also viewed by Senate colleagues as a potential candidate for president in 2024.
Trump announced his new White House bid just days after a disappointing midterm election season for the GOP in general and some of his favored candidates in particular.
Since then, Trump’s run of bad news has only continued.
On Tuesday, he suffered another blow after a New York jury found the Trump Organization guilty of 17 counts related to what prosecutors say was a 15-year tax fraud scheme.
Trump’s dinner with Fuentes had Senate Republicans declaring last week that white supremacy and antisemitism had no place in their party and questioning Trump’s ability to win the GOP nomination in 2024.
McConnell publicly questioned Trump’s ability to be elected president again after that misstep.
“There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy and anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, [is] highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States,” McConnell told reporters last week.
He has been more willing to criticize Trump in recent weeks than immediately after the disappointing midterm elections, when the GOP leader only predicted to reporters that the 2024 Republican presidential primary would be fiercely competitive and that he planned to stay out of it.
“The way I’m going to go into this presidential primary season is to stay out of it. I don’t have a dog in that fight. I think it’s going to be a highly contested nomination fight with other candidates entering,” he said last month.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said a candidate’s perceived electability in the general election will be a critical factor in 2024.
“I think the American public recognizes, on the Republican side, if we want to win a general election, we have to have someone who can beat Joe Biden or another Democrat, and clearly there are better choices out there that have a better chance of actually winning a general election” than Trump, he said.