Donald Trump’s entry into the 2016 campaign was treated largely as a joke by nearly everyone who covered him, but the message that would knock over two political dynasties and carry him to the White House shined through from the very beginning.
“When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us,” Trump queried an audience, adding “when was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn’t exist, folks. They beat us all the time.”
“Surely the country doesn’t want this,” the country’s Republican elite wondered. Within weeks they were horrified to see Trump top national GOP polls amid a crowded field of established senators, governors, and other business figures. His support within the party only solidified throughout the debates and rocketed as he placed in second in the Iowa Caucus and took first in the New Hampshire primary.
Within months it became a foregone conclusion that Trump would become the Republican nominee. He delivered 90% of registered Republican votes in the 2016 presidential election along with the 306 electoral votes that carried him to the White House.
In a single speech, Trump knocked over nearly every Republican waiting in line for power and rocketed himself to the top ushering a new political moment.
The Republican party officially became the party of Trump.
It is impossible to know if Trump will win re-election in 2020, let alone who will be the party’s nominee in 2024. Still, one thing remains generally true: Whoever does succeed him will almost certainly need his blessing. (RELATED: Can Trump Win Again In 2020?—And How)
Trump’s approval rating among Republicans has remained at astronomically high levels throughout his presidency, data reviewed by The Daily Caller shows. The lowest approval rating Trump ever registered among Republicans was a whopping 77% in December 2017, according to Gallup’s presidential approval polls.
Trump has spent the vast majority of his presidency hovering in the 80th and 90th percentile of approval among Republicans. At the time of this writing, he garnered 90% approval rating among Republican voters and hasn’t dipped below 85% intra-party approval since September 2018.
These approval ratings have weathered crisis after so-called crisis with multiple government shutdowns, the Mueller investigation, a historic border crisis, and multiple firings.
But Trump will not be president forever, and when he leaves office, a Republican Party that has grown accustomed to his populist set of priorities will expect someone to take up the mantle.
Despite their stated focus, five particular names appeared to surface in conversations of those who might succeed Trump: Donald Trump Jr., Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.
Each prospective candidate in their own way embraces a piece of the Trump agenda that originally set him apart from others in the Republican mainstream. Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, a respected historian and author of “The Case For Trump,” outlined for The Daily Caller the policy platform that any of these candidates hoping to succeed Trump must embrace.
They “will have to embrace fair and symmetrical rather than just unlimited free trade, strict border security and enforcement, and an end to sanctuary city nullifications of federal law, and greater skepticism of international and transnational trade and commercial agreements,” Hanson said. (RELATED: Trump Floating More Tariffs If Xi Doesn’t Sit Down At G20)
Hanson noted the importance of such a platform because, “traditional Republican orthodoxy simply did not turn out the 4-6 million former Reagan Democrats/Perot voters/Tea-party voters necessary to flip (although barely) those key swing states of the Midwest where today’s close elections are so often decided.”
Trump Jr. bears the president’s last name, has been a vociferous Republican campaigner throughout his father’s presidency. The First Son has taken it upon himself to serve as a Twitter warrior against Trump’s enemies and has frequently appeared alongside his father at different campaign rallies. His visible role and full-scale embrace of his father’s agenda has caught the eye of several veteran political strategists.
Asked recently whether he would consider a run for office himself, Trump Jr. told Bloomberg News “I never want to rule it out. I definitely enjoy the fight. I definitely like being out there and I love being able to see the impact and the difference that it makes on these people’s lives that I get to see all over the country,” adding “my father decided to get into politics at 68. I’m 41, I’ve got plenty of time.”
Pence similarly bears the natural connection to Trump as his Vice President with a credible claim to continue his legacy. Trump has delegated a large part of his foreign affairs agenda to Pence, and in particular has made him a point person on relations with Latin America. Pence has loyally defended Trump at every turn throughout the 2016 campaign and within the White House.
The Vice President however had notable policy differences while serving as Indiana’s Governor and was perceived within the party as a more establishmentarian conservative. Whether he would embrace Trump’s trade and immigration agenda as his own under his name remains to be seen.
Haley meanwhile entered Trump’s orbit as a star in her own right, endorsing him in the 2016 presidential election but only after vocally supporting Rubio in the Republican primary. The former South Carolina governor was seen as a rising Tea Party star within the Republican party and entered the Trump administration with one of the biggest public profiles of any cabinet member.
Throughout Haley’s nearly 2-year run as Ambassador to the United Nations, she played a significant role in defending Trump’s foreign policy. Haley got into several spats with the Russian Ambassador to the UN and achieved viral fame across the right on several occasions. She left the administration on her own terms with Trump’s blessing in the Oval Office. Polling has also shown that Haley is arguably the most popular politician in the country.
A Quinnipiac poll from last year showed that 63% of Americans approved of the job Haley was doing as UN ambassador, with only 17% disapproving.
Nonetheless, Haley never held any major position that required her to embrace Trump’s domestic agenda. The former ambassador has since taken to Twitter to selectively defend Trump’s policies, but has attempted to maintain a more level-headed conservatism. She is expected to release a new book in Fall 2019, in which she’ll reflect on her experiences in government and offer her view of how America moves forward.
DeSantis shocked a lot of people when he upset Andrew Gillum in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race. The charismatic Gillum had already built up a major following in the Democratic party, and lead DeSantis in the vast majority of polls leading up to the election. However, DeSantis ended up winning by a little over 30,000 votes in what was one of the most hotly-contested races in the country, and the early returns have been good.
A poll released earlier this year showed DeSantis with a roughly 60% approval rating, which included the support of 42% of Democrats.
The 40-year-old DeSantis has all the credentials of a future Republican president. The former Navy JAG lawyer served in Congress for three terms, and was a member and co-founder of the staunchly-conservative House Freedom Caucus. He’s also the governor of the nation’s most pivotal swing state, and is a close ally of Trump.
Of course, much of DeSantis’ future presidential chances will rely heavily on the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections when he will be up for re-election. If DeSantis successfully wins re-election, he should be one of the leading contenders for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Hawley is only a few months into his first term as a Senator, but he’s already become a major figure within the party and the conservative movement. At 39-years-old, Hawley is the youngest member of the Senate and handed his party a critical victory in the 2018 mid-terms by handly defeating incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Hawley has dipped his toe into economic populism, and recently introduced a bill which would require the president restrict the exportation of any technology that could help China’s military. Hawley has made his opposition to “Big Tech,” the signature of his early career, slamming corporations such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube for censoring conservative voices.
Additionally, Hawley has also questioned the conservative credentials of several of Trump’s nominees, and has been a staunch defender of religious freedom. Hawley is currently leading the opposition to Michael Bogren, a Trump judicial nominee who has made disparaging comments about Catholics. (RELATED: Sen. Josh Hawley: Big Tech Has Too Much Power To Control Information)
President Trump created a new kind of Republican politics, and it seems unlikely that things will ever go back to business as usual. But will the one to pick up the torch when he leaves be a family member, a repentant NeverTrumper, or his right-hand man from his time in office? It’s the great question on the American right today.