Wednesday, February 10, 2021

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- The Republican "Lanes" in 2024

David Siders had a nice piece up at Politico yesterday describing the difficulty prospective 2024 Republican aspirants in the US Senate might have in distinguishing themselves during and after the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. 

But peppered throughout the article laying out the minefield that Republicans like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley or Tom Cotton or Marco Rubio or Ben Sasse may face was an old saw of recent nomination cycles: the "lanes" candidates presumably occupy in crowded and wide open presidential primary fields. 

Look, when prospective fields of presidential candidates are large, we all -- from casual onlookers to pundits/media to academics -- look for ways to group various candidates. It is a way of building a narrative around a simpler if not parsimonious concept. Bernie Sanders is the socialist candidate or Rand Paul appeals to the libertarian wing, to name a couple of examples. And while those are useful descriptions their usage is often too clever by half in the context of a process that most often requires some coalition building beyond the boundaries of the particular "lane" and/or sees some consolidation once candidates actually begin to win and lose primaries and caucuses during an election year. 

As Dave Hopkins wrote around this time two years ago on the same subject in the context of the budding 2020 Democratic field of candidates:
"...any conceptual model of nomination politics needs to incorporate a large random error term, representing the varying effects of personal charisma, persuasive advertising, memorable debate performances, catchy slogans, journalistic takedowns, verbal gaffes, and other factors that have proved difficult to anticipate yet can be just as influential as substantive positions or group membership in shaping voters' evaluations of the candidates."
And that holds even more now, two years out from any of these Republicans likely entering the 2024 race. "Lanes," to the extent they exist, bear some value but not a ton. And they are of little value this far away from any campaigning that may happen in 2023 much less any voting in the 2024 primaries. 

It is mostly too early for "lanes" chatter and 2024. And that is largely a function of the lodestar still exerting a tremendous amount of gravity within the Republican Party right now: Donald Trump. Siders lays out the anti-Trump lane and much more crowded pro-Trump lane where all the prospective candidates are attempting to separate themselves from each other. And while those "lanes" may exist now, they will continue to evolve as we all gain more information about the 2024 process. Trump will play some role, but it remains to be seen just how big that will be. 

Will he run? 

If he does not, then how will the field develop and respond to that? 

Appealing to Trump supporters will still be high on a number of candidates' lists of priorities, but it may not be the top one after the midterm elections as candidates begin in earnest to position themselves for a 2024 run. And that is really the value of Siders's article. It shows just how far there is to go in how prospective 2024 Republican primary voters view and gravitate toward particular candidates. A pro- and anti-Trump frame may be appropriate now, but that may not be the case later in the invisible primary as things become more visible. 

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