WASHINGTON – There is an old saying that senators look in the mirror and see a president. These days, it seems like many mirrors in the room are broken.
Republicans have an open presidential primary in 2024, and the Senate is packed with hyper-ambitious and self-confident politicians, many with national followings and barely concealed presidential aspirations. But almost all of them are taking a pass on an offer from the White House next year after former President Donald Trump launched his attempted comeback campaign in November.
“This cycle is shaping up to be very different from every cycle since 2000, where it looked like half the Senate was campaigning for president,” said Alex Conant, who worked for Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida in his Senate office and then in his presidential office in 2016. campaign.
That year, the GOP field was so crowded with senators – Rubio, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – that Conant recalled a forum for candidates in New Hampshire in which top candidates participated from Capitol Hill. studio. None of them showed interest in running this cycle.
Now, a newer group of Republican senators with higher aspirations — Rick Scott of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa — are also rumored to be bowing out or sitting on the sidelines.
“Every senator has a different reason,” Conant said. “A lot of them are young and have the luxury of staying. In 2024, you’re fighting a current president and a former president, so historically it’s a big hill to climb. This is not like 2016 when the White House was open and the GOP race was wide open.”
Cruz, Hawley and Rick Scott, whose seats are up in 2024, chose to seek re-election rather than roll the dice on a White House run.
“I never said I was going to run for president,” said Hawley, 43, who has steadily raised his national profile with foreign policy speeches and headline legislation. “I’ve never visited Iowa or any of those places. So I hope to run for re-election” in the Senate, he said.
Rick Scott simply said, “I’m running for the Senate.” Asked if that means he’s definitely not running for another office in 2024, he replied, “Right.”
One exception to the Senate trend is Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who is heading toward a 2024 presidential run but has not yet announced a final decision.
Cruz, runner-up to Trump in the 2016 contest, criss-crossed the country during the 2022 midterm election cycle, stumping for fellow Republicans and adding chits. But in recent weeks, he has indicated that he plans to run for another term in the Senate and help his party regain control of the chamber.
“It will be an interesting year. I suspect it will be a wild and woolly race,” Cruz, 52, said when asked about former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley jumping into the race. “I look forward to supporting the Republican nominee.”
Back in 2016, Cruz, Paul and Rubio were freshman senators. Today all three hold more glamorous titles as ranking members on key committees — Cruz on the Commerce Committee, Paul on the Homeland Security Committee and Rubio on the Intelligence Committee. Graham, who won a fourth term in 2020, is the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
And Trump’s streak is unraveling that year. Although he lost the election in 2020 and inspired the crowd that attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, Trump has a passionate following on the right, he leads the field in most polls GOP and is seeking endorsements in Congress.
“President Trump is the undisputed leader of the Republican Party and is in a unique position to defeat Joe Biden, so it only makes sense that so many senators are supporting his campaign rather than running themselves,” said Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller. “We expect the impressive list of senators approved by President Trump to grow in the coming weeks and we are grateful for their support.”
On the Democratic side, the Senators are also taking a pass on 2024. Just four years ago, seven sitting Senators ran for president. They all lost to a former senator and one of them became vice president. With President Joe Biden almost certain to run again, his former rivals in the Senate are backing his re-election.
Republican elites who want a viable alternative to Trump looked largely outside Washington to his protégé, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who many believe will run for president.
Other big names with access to deeply focused donors, such as former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appear to be gearing up for a launch.
“Everyone has to have a lane. In elementary school, if you can’t find your lane, you can’t find your path to get there. Because everybody has to separate themselves but also get a block of voters,” said freshman Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., who endorsed Trump.
“Voters are their voters – they will remain there. They won’t move,” said Mullin, “So I don’t see where anyone else’s path is going to go.”
Not everyone shares that view. In Iowa on Wednesday, Tim Scott previewed what his potential presidential campaign might look like, making a “Faith in America” listening tour stop at Drake University and delivering a keynote address at the Lincoln Polk County GOP Dinner.
Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, described what he called the “Democrats’ blueprint for destroying America” – out-of-control spending and inflation, open borders, the opioid epidemic, and critical race theory in schools – but he also spoke at length about his family’s inspiring story “from cotton to Congress.”
“I am here because my family chose faith over anger, responsibility over resentment, and patriotism over pity. My grandfather taught me that I could be bitter or better. Not two. My mom said we could be victims or winners. She chose victory. I am living proof that our Founding Fathers were innovators that we should celebrate, not cancel,” said Tim Scott at Drake University in Des Moines.
“We are indeed the land of opportunity, not the land of oppression. This is just my American story.”
Like Mullin, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has thrown his support behind Trump; he was expected to play golf with the former president at Mar-a-Lago this week. The former Auburn University football coach said the way for the GOP to develop a deep bench of leaders is for younger and experienced candidates to succeed.
“It’s called persistence. Before I became a head coach, I kept doing interviews and interviews, finally I worked my way in. That’s how you do it — jumping in there,” Tuberville said.
But he said it would be a “bite” for some of his Senate colleagues to run this cycle and be away from their young families, especially with Trump, and possibly DeSantis, leading the field.
One senator familiar with the demands of a presidential campaign is Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who ran for the White House in 2008 and was nominated by the GOP in 2012.
“It’s very energy-consuming, money-consuming, but it’s great fun. You come away more optimistic about the country because you meet people who are not making the news but the people who are making a living and driving our economy,” Romney said in an interview. “If you get the chance to run for president, make sure you do it.”
When asked if he had any plans to run for president a third time, Romney responded with a one-word answer: “No.”