by MICK MULVANEY || I am apparently one of the few politicians (or, more accurately now, ex-politicians) in South Carolina who readily admits to reading FITSNews. While I usually agree with much of what Will Folks writes, every now and then I think he gets something wrong, or at least misses something. And since we are reasonable, adult human beings, we are able to do so without spewing vitriol at each other on social media.
So it is with his piece recently on “How Smart is Nikki Haley?” It wasn’t, however, his take on our former Governor which caught my eye, but his reference to my former boss, President Trump. Specifically, Will assumed the following: “Trump may run for president again in 2024,” he wrote, “And if he does that, he’s got to come through South Carolina, which holds the ‘First in the South’ presidential primary.”
Respectfully: No, he doesn’t. Donald Trump does not in fact have to come through South Carolina as part of a 2024 Presidential run. He doesn’t need South Carolina. Or Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada for that matter. All he needs is enough delegates to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention. He can easily get those if he enters the race by Florida and Super Tuesday. Certainly, others have attempted that same path – most famously, perhaps, Rudy Giuliani in 2008 – with phenomenal levels of failure. But Trump is certainly a different sort of candidate.
Sure, he could enter the race in a conventional fashion. But please allow that statement to sink in … when has Donald Trump done much of anything in a conventional fashion? He has, in fact, made a hugely successful political career out of openly flaunting convention. Thus, the escalator announcement, the rallies, the hats, Trump Force One, and the open derision he heaped on his opponents. To think Donald Trump would follow what has become the “ordinary” way is to misunderstand the man.
But aside from his penchant for the unexpected, there are some very real reasons that Trump might explicitly choose to wait until after the South Carolina primary to enter the 2024 Presidential race. And they are all good ones, from his perspective.
What better way, for example, to stir up intense media speculation? Will he or won’t he? Will today be the day he announces he is in…or out? Fox News, and even the left-leaning television networks, might be forced to start covering his rallies live again, just in case he decided to make a formal announcement.
The slow-play would also serve to frustrate his would-be challengers: how do they really commit to throwing their hats in the ring so long as Trump is still “undecided?” One would imagine that a lot of the big GOP money might also choose to wait on the sidelines … or at least refrain from making major commitments, until Trump made a final decision.
One angle that I don’t think has gotten much attention is how Trump could essentially co-opt the early races and make them part of his campaign even without being on the ballot. For example: he could make those first four primaries a sort of a “Vice-Presidential Celebrity Apprentice” competition. I can almost hear him now: “Many people are saying I should wait and see who the people want as my vice-president. I’m announcing tonight that whoever wins the most delegates in the first four races will be my vice-presidential nominee. Tune in this week as I interview each of them.” Taking the almost made-for-television nature of such a move, one can even envision Trump setting up shop in early 2024 in those first primary states to host his own televised debates, with him as a moderator.
Yes, the Republican National Committee would probably be beside themselves if Trump usurped the early races in such a fashion. But I doubt there is much they could do about it (or would have the will to do anything about it, even if they had the ability).
Speaking of the RNC, it has mostly gone unnoticed that the group has agreed to pay Trump’s legal fees in his ongoing criminal investigations into his business operations in New York state. Put aside whether RNC donor money is better spent on Trump’s legal fees or, say, on winning back majorities in the House and Senate in the 2022 midterms: that decision may provide yet another reason for Trump to delay a 2024 announcement. That is because apparently (per my discussions with one RNC insider) the committee can only legally pay those fees so long as Trump is not officially a candidate. So then, as long as that money is still flowing, there is a very real financial motivation for Trump to sit tight.
Of course, all of this assumes that Trump will run in 2024. Personally, my educated guess is that he will. That said, anyone who tells you that they know for sure that they know what he is going to do, and that includes Trump himself, is lying to you. He is a master at keeping his options open, building attention and excitement (and earning free media by doing so), using uncertainty as leverage, and generally keeping attention focused on him. It is, in short, part of what makes him the most capable politician of our age. It is a big part of how he won in 2016. And may well win again in 2024.
But my point is simply this: He can easily do all of that without even entering the primary in South Carolina.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Ambassador Mick Mulvaney has served in several roles in both the state and federal government, including as Director of the Office of Management and Budget and White House Chief of Staff. He lives in Lancaster County, S.C.
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