Defining Moments: Top 5 Highlights from 2023 Republican Primary Campaign Trail
How much a year can change.
Donald Trump, the former president, was the only declared contender for the Republican candidacy at the beginning of 2023.
However, he was far from certain. In some of the early 2024 polls, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who had just won a landslide reelection to the state legislature, was tied with Trump.
The former president continued to draw criticism for his role in the GOP’s dismal showing in the 2022 midterm elections. Furthermore, several pundits mocked Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign kickoff, which took place at his Palm Beach, Florida, Mar-a-Lago club a few weeks after the midterm elections.
But as 2023 draws to a close, Trump is firmly in the lead for the Republican nomination, putting himself in position to win the presidency for a record three times.
These five events helped to mold the contest for the Republican nomination.
March: Trump achieves historic legal success
A grand jury in the Manhattan borough of New York City accused Trump on allegations pertaining to an allegedly illicit 2016 hush money payment. Being the first sitting or former president to face criminal charges, Trump created history.
Later in the year, Trump was also charged in three more incidents, including one where it was alleged he attempted to reverse his defeat in the 2020 presidential contest. However, Republican voters continue to support him despite those situations.
Republicans have been galvanized by Trump’s legal controversies, and his legal entanglements have made room for his challengers for the nomination scarcer.
Veteran Republican strategist and communicator Ryan Williams stated, “Every time he’s targeted by legal actions, it just improves his standing with the conservative base.”
A few days ago, DeSantis stated in an interview that appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network that “I think for the primary, it distorted.” Yes, I believe it to be distorted. “I would say if I could have one thing change, I wish Trump hadn’t been indicted on any of this stuff,” DeSantis said.
May: DeSantis Campaign Kickoff Was Derided
DeSantis sought to create a stir with his campaign launch on Twitter Spaces with Elon Musk, following months of testing the waters with visits to the pivotal early-voting states.
But things didn’t work out that way. Then still known as Twitter, X was unable to manage the spike in usage, causing the software to crash often and causing the event to start 20 minutes later than scheduled.
For DeSantis, it was the first of many unfortunate signs. Over the summer, the governor of Florida made headlines once more for all the wrong reasons: a slew of staff purges and resets, as well as accusations that the campaign was running out of money.
For several months, DeSantis was without a doubt Trump’s second-best opponent in the Republican primary. However, by the end of 2023, DeSantis had been overtaken by former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley on a number of indicators.
Trump Skips the Debates in August
Choosing to run his campaign in an incumbent style, Trump declined to debate his fellow Republicans. Ahead of the first debate in August, Trump posted on his social networking site, “The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had.” “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!”
Due to his hosting of opposing activities on debate nights, the former president was unable to attend any of the four candidate debates this year.
Trump appeared unaffected by his absence. Since the first debate, he has remained mostly unaffected by his opponents and holds a commanding lead over the rest of the field.
Trump was unaffected by the debates, but they did contribute to narrowing down the field of competitors as almost all of those who were unable to advance to the finals withdrew from the campaign. By December, the field of over a dozen candidates in August had shrunk to just five front-runners.
November: Youngkin is Unsuccessful
As summer gave way to fall, the party’s donor class started talking about the possibility of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin entering the 2024 GOP nomination contest later than expected.
Youngkin, a newcomer to the party’s corporate wing, defeated outgoing Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2021 to become the first Republican to win a governor race in the swing state that had leaned Democratic over the previous ten years.
Youngkin shot to fame as a member of the Republican Party, and commentators saw him as a possible candidate for the GOP in 2024.
However, Youngkin denied the rumors, stating time and time again that his sole political goal was to seize total control of his state legislature in Virginia’s off-year elections of 2023.
Following his extensive financial support of Republican legislative candidates while touring the state and conducting rallies, Youngkin rose to prominence as the leader of his party’s campaign in Richmond to seize complete control of the state government.
December: Haley Makes a Breakthrough
Thanks in part to her well-received performances in the first three Republican presidential primary debates, Haley had a lot of momentum in the polls this autumn.
In New Hampshire, which hosts the first primary and votes second after Iowa, she outperformed DeSantis for second place. In addition, she is ranked second in her home state—another important early-voting state that hosts the first southern contest—in her home state.
But Haley’s life took a sharp turn just after Thanksgiving. At that point, the billionaire Koch Brothers’ influential and well-funded fiscally conservative network, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Action, gave Hillary their endorsement. AFP Action is committed to supporting Haley and helping the Republican Party surpass Trump by allocating tens of millions of dollars and organizing its strong grassroots network.
Haley’s campaign seemed to gain momentum from the governor’s support, and she also gained a well-known and vivacious surrogate who hasn’t stopped promoting her in local and national media appearances.
For Haley, everything seemed to be clicking. She is currently within striking distance of Trump after seeing a sharp increase in the most recent New Hampshire polls.
Furthermore, she’s tied with DeSantis in Iowa, where the GOP nomination process begins on January 15 with the caucuses.