But relying on Trump to run again could leave the party exposed. If he teases another campaign and backs out, the GOP will have sacrificed itself for him and blocked the rise of up-and-coming candidates for no reason at all. Simply announcing that he’ll run is enough to potentially clear the Republican field, or at least monopolize the attention that would normally be paid to candidates positioning themselves for the nomination. “How are you going to say you’re running for president in 2024 when Trump is telling everybody he is?” Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of the few Republican members of Congress who’s been willing to publicly criticize Trump, asked me.
Even before the election, heretics inside the Trump-branded GOP were quietly discussing ways to wean the party from a polarizing leader who stood a good chance of losing. “There are conversations among elected officials who recognize there’s no future with Trumpism. It’s a dead end,” Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona, told me.
John Bolton, the president’s former national-security adviser, has been talking privately with present and past senators, House members, and governors about redefining the party. Bolton’s hope is that over time, the fear that Trump engenders among Republican elected officials will dwindle, creating space for people who care about the party’s future viability to plot a course that doesn’t involve the 45th president.
“Once Trump is no longer in the Oval Office, once a Trump Twitter rant doesn’t risk exiling a member of Congress to Siberia, the dynamic will change dramatically,” Bolton told me. “He’s not going to disappear, but it’s very different when you’re a former president as opposed to a sitting president.”