For Republicans hoping to obstruct Joe Biden’s agenda when he assumes office next month, the stakes of Georgia’s run-off races couldn’t be higher. With control of the Senate on the line, and Democrats seeking to continue the momentum they built there in last month’s election, the GOP is pumping big money into the effort to reelect David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. But for some Republicans, Georgia isn’t only about keeping the Senate—it’s also, they hope, an early launching pad for those hoping to become the party’s standard-bearer in 2024.
With a month to go until voters cast their run-off ballots, a parade of Republicans with White House aspirations have been making their way through the state—ostensibly to campaign for Perdue and Loeffler, but also to strut a bit on this makeshift 2024 campaign stage. Senators Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, and Tom Cotton have all made stops in the Peach State already, with Vice President Mike Pence campaigning in the Atlanta area Friday. Others with presidential ambitions have been working on the back end; Nikki Haley, for instance, is part of Karl Rove’s fundraising team, seeking to keep Republicans’ edge in the state. While Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992, Republicans want to keep its Senate seats in their hands.
For these Republicans with designs on the Oval Office, the visits are an early opportunity to build connections that might be useful down the line; to show off to GOP voters; and, of course, to play a visible role in helping the party in the two high-stakes races. “Georgia is kind of a twofer right now,” a Republican operative told the Hill earlier this week. “It’s easy enough to give the excuse that you’re just there trying to protect the Senate majority, but you’re still getting your name and your face out there for if and when you decide to pull the trigger on a campaign.”
Of course, their efforts to lay the foundations for a 2024 run could be undermined by another Republican itching to run in four years who will also be traveling down to Georgia this week: Donald Trump. Though he hasn’t conceded the race to Biden—and likely never will—he has been openly discussing another White House bid next cycle, with some speculation that he may even announce his candidacy while his successor is being inaugurated, just to get one more petty shot in as he’s walking out the door. That would be painful for the country, of course, considering how literally sick and tired the majority of Americans are of him. But it would also be yet another humiliation for the Marco Rubios of the country, who have eaten a lot of shit over the past four years, all in the hope that they would soon be the heir to his throne. Even if he didn’t stand a chance, Trump running, or even toying with running, could put other Republicans’ Oval Office dreams on hold for another four years. “If Donald Trump wants the Republican nomination in 2024,” loyalist Matt Gaetz told Politico last month, “that’s his.”
“That may leave a lot of thirsty presidential aspirants still thirsty,” the Florida congressman acknowledged. “I say, ‘Stay thirsty my friends.”
As the outgoing president heads to Georgia for a “big Trump Rally” in support of Loeffler and Perdue, he poses a threat to both Republican goals there: to keep the Senate and to start moving the party past him. His nihilistic efforts to delegitimize the election he lost could be jeopardizing the GOP’s efforts in the Georgia runoffs they’re still trying to win. And, in bringing the Trump Show back to town, he’s overshadowing the various enablers trying to make the case that they’re the post-Trump future of the GOP. “As long as Donald Trump tries to maintain control of the Republican Party and begins to flirt with a 2024 race on his own,” the anti-Trump Republican Rick Tyler told NPR Friday, “the rest of the field will remain as frozen as a COVID vaccine.”
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