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GOP presidential field widens, further splintering never-Trump vote

Former President Trump is currently leading the polls at 53.2%, to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' 22.4%.

June 9, 2023 12:50am

Updated: June 9, 2023 12:50am

The GOP 2024 presidential primary field is widening, as three more candidates announced their campaigns this week, which will likely benefit former President Donald Trump.

With a dozen total candidates in the primary, the crowded race may aid Trump again, as it did in the 2016 presidential primary.

Political strategists mostly see the math as each of the lower-polling candidates knowing that to win the nomination they will have to go after the front-running Trump, with his huge double-digit lead over the field. And the more direct challengers Trump has, the more their vote will get diluted in state primary contests. 

Trump is currently joined in the primary race by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Larry Elder, Ryan Binkley and Perry Johnson.

“That’s a good thing, isn’t it," Trump said last week on the Fox New Channel about the growing field. "I think, pretty good. But I don't think it matters. I don’t know why people are doing it. They’re at 1%. Some are at zero."

The crowded GOP primary is reminiscent of the 2016 presidential primary, which had so many candidates that there were two separate tiers for the first debate, one for the less popular candidates and another for those who received more support.

During the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Trump faced off against Christie, Dr. Ben Carson, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Five other candidates dropped out of the race before the primaries began – former New York Gov. George Pataki, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

For the 2016 primary race, Trump received a plurality of the popular vote in the state elections, and the majority of the party delegates sent to the Republican National Convention, with 45% for the former and 63% for the latter.

There are more winner-take-all GOP primary states now than there were in 2016, up to 17 from seven, according to Bloomberg.

In 2016, for example, Trump won less than a third of the vote in the GOP presidential primary in South Carolina. But the rest of the vote was divided up among five other candidates. As a result, with South Carolina as a winner-take-all state, Trump took all 50 of the state’s delegates to the convention.

The most recent RealClearPolitics poll average has Trump at 53.2%, DeSantis at 22.4%, then a drop to Haley at 4.4%, and everyone else below 4%.

"I really go after the one who's second, and I think the one who's second has gone down so much and so rapidly that I don’t think he’s going to be second that much longer," Trump recently said about DeSantis and his nascent campaign. "I think he’s going to be third or fourth.”

After Scott jumped into the race two weeks ago, Trump said, “Good luck to Senator Tim Scott in entering the Republican Presidential Primary Race. It is rapidly loading up with lots of people, and Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) reacted to Trump’s message to Scott, saying, “There’s a reason Trump tweeted welcoming Tim Scott into the race. From Trump’s perspective, the more the merrier.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that he and some of his Republican colleagues are concerned that the 2024 presidential primary will be “a replay of 2016.”

“A number of these people are in low, single digits," he said. "So my hope would be that, if after a few months their numbers don’t get better, that they decide to drop out so that it becomes a two- or three-person race. I think that would be the best development, as far as I’m concerned." 

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