Trump’s rivals seek to set themselves apart

By Nathan Wooster

News analysis

As more Republicans challenge Donald Trump for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, the former president’s dramatic impact on Republicans is becoming clearer.

Everyone from Nikki Haley to Vivek Ramaswamy has tried to associate themselves with America First because they love Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement.

A difficult task awaits those Republican candidates. They need to differentiate themselves from Trump and appeal to many of his fans, all with campaigns that can compete in the general election.

How are Trump’s rivals trying to differentiate themselves from the former president, and how can they do so without alienating his fiercely loyal base?

Although it’s still early days, some patterns are already taking shape.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa voters in Des Moines, Iowa on March 10, 2023. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

DeSantis’ fine dancing

While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to commit to a primary bid, he is widely considered Trump’s strongest 2024 challenger.

The Florida governor has so far avoided responding to Trump’s digs at him, though his online supporters, some anonymous, have gone to bat for him.

Paul Ingrassia, a Trump administration veteran and Cornell Law School graduate and lawyer, told The Epoch Times that DeSantis has relied on “numbers figures” to fight for him since he has not yet entered the race.

“He wants these other guys to do his dirty work while staying above the fray,” Ingrassia, who is a prominent Trump supporter online, said in a March 13 interview.

“A few months ago, people in Trump’s orbit decided their best strategy would be to make vicious accusations against former Trump supporters who publicly joined DeSantis in an attempt to scare us into silence,” political consultant and celebrity David Reaboy. In an interview with The Epoch Times on March 14, DeSantis’ lawyer said:

“This is critical to their efforts because they fear that more people will defect and abandon Trump for a much more reasonable option who is much more likely to succeed on every policy issue.”

Both seemed to agree that DeSantis is being portrayed as a more competent version of Trump. In addition, DeSantis’ sometimes critical stance on the COVID-19 response could set him apart from the former president.

Florida’s surgeon general has called attention to adverse events linked to COVID-19 vaccines administered as a result of Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed.” This prompted a critical response from US health authorities.

Ingrassia notes that a significant portion of the population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. He believes DeSantis’ messaging on the issue may not play well with the general public, even if it resonates with Republican primary voters.

DeSantis, he added, “was as rule-following as anyone in the early months of COVID.”

“The longer time passes, the vaccine will become an increasing political liability, much like Trump’s outsourcing of COVID to a class of experts,” Reaboy said.

“Picking a fight over Covid politics with Ron DeSantis, of all people, is pointless.”

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center on March 3, 2023 in National Harbor. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Ramaswamy’s “America First 2.0”

Ramaswamy, a venture capitalist, has openly pitched his campaign as the next evolution of Trump-inspired politics.

He calls his platform “America First 2.0.” His priorities include ending affirmative action, breaking away from China and rejecting the central bank’s push for digital currencies.

“I have a lot of respect for what President Trump has done,” Ramaswamy told The Epoch Times in a Feb. 23 interview. β€œHe acknowledged the problems in this country on both sides of the aisle that no one before him had acknowledged. The question is where do we go from there?”

Reaboy said he had no position on Ramaswamy.

β€œI understand that people are doing it for name recognition or to lose some money from gullible donors, but any other use of their money, focus and time would be better spent on political activism or building institutions to nurture and support the new. cadres of political specialists,” he said.

Ingrassia believes Ramaswamy will fall short against Trump, even if his message reaches “a more educated faction of the Republican Party.”

“I think he’s in over his head,” Ingrassia said.

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida on February 25, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Pompeo criticized “larger than life personalities”

Another figure, Mike Pompeo, also separates himself from Trump.

The former secretary of state and CIA director, who has said he is considering a run, may have a strong case as a longtime critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Democrats and Republicans are beginning to unite against the CCP, justifying the concerns of former China watchers.

However, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 3, Pompeo said America’s “greatest threats are here,” not abroad.

He made what appeared to be an anti-Trump comment, saying conservatives “shouldn’t look for larger-than-life personalities.”

“Over the past few years, I’ve heard some who claim to be conservative justify their hypocrisy by saying things like: “Well, we’re electing a president, not a Sunday school teacher.” It is true. But teaching Sunday school, maybe we could get both,” he told the CPAC audience.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner on March 10, Pompeo said he and his wife were still praying about whether he should run.

“There is still plenty of time,” he said.

Former South Carolina Governor and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in a file photo. (Salena Zito)

Haley emphasizes demographics

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has made her relative youth and other demographics a cornerstone of her campaign.

“We’re not going to win the fight for the 21st century if we continue to trust the politicians of the 20th century,” Haley, 51, said during a February speech in South Carolina.

“The heads of the liberal media are exploding about my running for president,” he said in a speech at CPAC on March 4. “I’m a woman, I’m a minority, and I’m the daughter of immigrants.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference in Lviv, western Ukraine on January 11, 2023. (Yuri Dyachishin/AFP via Getty Images)

The war in Ukraine is dividing the field

Foreign policy has also set Trump apart from many of his former rivals. After decades of thrashing the Republican Party since World War II, his message of relative restraint and focus on the national interest found a friendly audience on the right.

Most of Trump’s 2024 challengers are like Trump on war and peace. Others, however, have stuck to more traditional Republican positions.

A March 13 segment on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” made that clear.

Carlson sent several questions about Ukraine to the 2024 Republican candidates.

Trump said the United States should not support regime change in Russia, telling Carlson that “we should support regime change in the United States.”

DeSantis told Carlson that it was not in America’s interest to get “further embroiled” in the conflict. He also called it a “territorial dispute,” drawing the ire of many Never Trump conservatives or former conservatives who see the language as too friendly to Russia, given that it has invaded Ukraine.

“Amazing. Dangerous,” wrote David French of The New York Times Twitter:.

“DeSantis betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of a critical issue,” wrote the National Review’s Jay Nordlinger. Twitter:.

Meanwhile, journalist Michael Tracy. argued that DeSantis’ language was “not necessarily related to any specific policy position,” saying the Florida governor’s positions were similar to those of President Joe Biden.

Ramaswamy also opposes greater US support for the war. He said European countries should pick up more of the tab because Russia is more their problem than ours.

“It’s in their yard, it’s their borders,” he wrote. “We cannot be the nanny of Europe forever.”

South Dakota Governor Christy Noem and Texas Governor Greg Abbott also rejected the status quo in Ukraine.

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks during an event to promote his new book at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank on October 19, 2022 in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Some hope for more hawks in 2024

Pence, who was Trump’s vice president, sang a different tune.

“There is no place for Putin to apologize in the Republican Party,” he told Carlson.

Responses from Sen. Tim Scott (RS.C.) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were also hawkish.

According to Carlson, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said he was busy, while Pompeo and others did not respond. Bolton’s potential candidacy is largely based on concerns he has with Trump.

“If I decided to run, it wouldn’t be as a one-issue candidate. That would be winning,” he told The Washington Post in an interview in February.

In a March 14 statement, responding to Carlson’s questions, Haley said that confronting Russia is in the interests of the United States.

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