Mike Pompeo is eager to win the nomination by doing his best impression of Trump — but the best impression in the world won’t be anything next to the real thing. On the party’s withered anti-Trump wing, only Nikki Haley is as a plausible contender. She of course worked in the Trump administration, and would somehow have to convince NeverTrumpers to vote for her while also pulling away some of Trump’s own support. Her best chance, in theory, lies in a primary splintered by several Trump-like candidates. If Trump’s support splits, a single ‘Bush Republican revivalist’ candidate might sweep up the anti-Trump vote. But this is a Lincoln Project opium dream: none of the Trump-wannabes is in a position to draw substantial support away from him, and Haley has no base, personal or ideological, to match Trump’s. The same is true of Mike Pence. His standing has risen since the riot in the Capitol, but he lacks the personal following that Trump has. And with Haley already making plans to run, Pence would not have the stop-Trump lane to himself.
Of course, Republicans do want to win in 2024. At least, the party elite does. Could the party mandarins, gathering once again in a mythical ‘smoke-filled room’, rig the primaries to stop Trump? Nothing that has happened in Republican politics since Trump came down that escalator in 2015 suggests that the mandarins could stop him even if they tried, and most of the evidence suggests they don’t want to. The mandarins who think Trump can’t win in 2024 might well take a long view, bowing to the inevitable in the primaries and general election, and setting their sights on a truly clean, post-Trump slate in 2028.
After all, if the party establishment did stop him, Trump would still be in a position to deprive the GOP of a victory by running as a third-party candidate, or simply as a write-in.