Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans are wrestling with how to forge their paths forward in a post-Trump world as potential 2024 candidates begin to set their sights on the first-in-the-nation caucus and primary states.
It’s a question with which the GOP as a whole is grappling. But while state Republican parties in Arizona, Wyoming and Massachusetts have sought to make their loyalty to former President TrumpDonald TrumpKelli Ward rejects request for Arizona GOP race audit Gun sales on the rise amid pandemic uncertainty, Biden’s vow for gun reform Top Trump impeachment lawyer Bowers leaves team: reports MORE known by punishing GOP figures critical of the former president, Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans say they are focused on attracting a diverse field of candidates going into 2024.
They know the contests — the first tests of what the party is looking for in its next nominee — could help set the tone of the presidential campaign.
“We truly are wrestling with that right now,” said Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann.
Trump won both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary in 2016 and in took the Hawkeye State in the 2020 general election by 8 points. He still enjoys considerable popularity among New Hampshire Republicans.
A new University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll found that nearly 60 percent of Granite State Republicans believe the GOP should follow Trump’s leadership going forward.
“Make no mistake, he’ll continue to have a strong influence here,” veteran New Hampshire-based GOP strategist Jim Merrill said.
“But I think there’s going to be plenty of room for others to present their issues, present their ideas, make their case known, and for New Hampshire Republicans locally, I think we’ve done best when we keep politics local,” he added.
Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans also both made gains in November. Republicans in New Hampshire held onto the governor’s mansion and retook control of the state House and Senate. In Iowa, the GOP kept their majority in the state Senate, fended off a strong bid by a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and took back two U.S. House seats.
Kauffman said those wins can be attributed, in part, to Trump’s popularity in the state.
“Here he had coattails,” Kauffman said in an interview with The Hill. “It’s not an overstatement to say that there are Republicans in office in this state right now that are there because of his coattails in the state.”
Despite falling approval numbers, Trump is still widely seen by many within the GOP as the party’s de-facto leader. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyImpeaching a former official rests on a shaky precedent Lou Dobbs knocks ‘petty’ Republicans criticizing Trump Marjorie Taylor Greene touts Trump call amid growing backlash MORE (R-Calif.) made a trip to Trump’s home in Palm Beach on Thursday, which the former president’s team called a “good and cordial meeting.”
Additionally, reports surfaced that the RNC has invited the former president to speak at its spring meeting.
Still, national Republican leaders appear to be at a crossroads, cognizant in the role they will play in 2024.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said this week that the party will remain neutral in 2024, even if Trump makes a second bid for the White House.
“The party has to stay neutral. I’m not telling anybody to run or not to run in 2024,” McDaniel told The Associated Press. “That’s going to be up to those candidates going forward. What I really do want to see him [Trump] do, though, is help us win back majorities in 2022.”
State parties are also aware of the ongoing battle between those who want to appeal to Trump’s base and those who want nothing more to do with the former president. The Arizona Republican Party has notably gone as far as to censure Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceySunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variants spread in US; Redditors shake Wall Street with Gamestop stock South Carolina GOP votes to censure Rep. Rice over impeachment vote Legislators go after governors to rein in COVID-19 powers MORE (R) over his coronavirus restrictions, in addition to censuring former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSouth Carolina GOP votes to censure Rep. Rice over impeachment vote Legislators go after governors to rein in COVID-19 powers Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward faces election recount calls MORE (R-Ariz.) and Cindy McCain over their support for President Biden in the election.
However, that trend does not appear to be extending at the state party level in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“They’re attacking Republicans who are winning elections,” Merrill said, referring to other state Republican parties censuring their own members. “What we’ve been able to do in New Hampshire is get away from the politics of personality and focus on the politics of principal and of conservative leadership and conservative accomplishments, and I think that’s why we won at the state level last year.”
Kauffman, despite Trump’s popularity with voters, also emphasized the necessity for Republicans to remain unified in the state in order to maintain a winning streak.
“This all started in 2016 when we made a conscious decision here,” he said. “We decided we were going to stand together, and in that particular case we stood together because the president was our nominee.”
There are also questions as to how the state parties would react if Trump were to launch a second presidential bid, and whether he would be treated as an incumbent or as one of the pack of candidates.
“Everyone is going to be treated well that comes into this state,” Kaufmann said, but suggested Trump’s popularity and status as a former president could make him appear to be the natural incumbent.
“My hunch would be that he would be seen as the incumbent,” he said. “In Iowa, that’s going to work for him.”
Ultimately, many Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans say their top priority is to preserve their state’s status as “first-in-the-nation,” allowing their voters and political observers to come face-to-face with the candidates, whether that involves heading to the state fair or local diner.
“I think you can separate the question of Trump’s political future from the institutional desire for the Republican and Democratic parties in Iowa to maintain the integrity of their process moving forward because the caucuses are sort of meaningless without the presidential primaries,” said veteran Iowa Republican strategist David Kochel. “There’s a purpose for them, obviously it’s to organize both political parties.”
Kaufmann added that there is also a purpose to provide every eligible candidate with a stage.
“We don’t pick the next president in Iowa,” Kauffman said. “What we do is that we make sure that everyone, regardless of their campaign resources has a chance to be heard and seen on a national platform.”