It didn’t take long for former President Trump to begin publicly sending signals about 2024.
Just five weeks removed from the White House, and with his role as the kingmaker of the GOP briefly diminished in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists aiming to disrupt congressional certification of now President Biden's Electoral College victory over Trump, the former president was back in the spotlight.
"With your help, we will take back the House, we will win the Senate," Trump predicted as he gave the closing address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, in a speech delivered two weeks after he was acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial on the charge of inciting the deadly attack on the Capitol.
"And then a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House. And I wonder who that will be. I wonder who that will be. Who? Who? Who will that be? I wonder," the former president teased, the first of what would be numerous flirtations this year of launching a 2024 campaign to try and win back the White House.
Fast-forward to the end of 2021 and Trump continues to tease a presidential bid.
"I am certainly thinking about it," he said last month in a Fox News interview. "I think a lot of people will be very happy, frankly, with the decision."
And earlier this month the former president, at an event in Orlando, Florida, emphasized that he is "very strongly" thinking about launching a presidential campaign for "a third time."
Trump’s also held six campaign-style rallies this year, the most recent in October in Iowa, the state whose caucuses for half a century have kicked off the presidential nominating calendar. And he’s been incredibly active in party politics, making scores of endorsements in Republican primary showdowns.
Trump's been a fundraising juggernaut this year. His three main political fundraising committees reported hauling in a combined $82 million during the first six months of the year, with over $100 million cash on hand as of the end of July, which was the most recent filing period for the groups. Fueling much of the fundraising are the former president’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was "rigged" and "stolen."
Public opinion polling indicates that Trump remains very popular with the GOP base, and that at this extremely early point in the 2024 presidential cycle he’s the overwhelming front-runner in the Republican nomination race.
"There’s no doubt he would start in the driver’s seat," longtime Republican strategist Colin Reed told Fox News as he pointed to Trump’s "unlimited pots of money and other financial resources and his proven record of engaging and cultivating small dollar donors, his universal name ID, and as the most recent president he still has a command over the party."
But Reed, a veteran of numerous Republican presidential and Senate campaigns, noted that if Trump ends up running again, "one of the challenges he faces is that history tells us former presidents don’t have a great track record of reclaiming the post they once held."
One thing Trump’s immense clout over his party and repeated flirtations is not doing is discouraging other potential GOP White House hopefuls from visiting the states that kick off the presidential primary and caucus calendar.
In 2021, there were 15 trips to Iowa by nine potential Republican presidential contenders, not far off from the 17 visits by 11 possible candidates in 2013 at this early point in the wide-open GOP nomination race in the 2016 cycle.
According to a Fox News count, there have also been eight visits to New Hampshire this year by six potential contenders, close to the 11 visits by seven possible candidates in 2013 to the state that for a century has held the first presidential primary in the nominating calendar.
"While Trump has staked his claim in 2024, many candidates are still entering states like Iowa and New Hampshire in an attempt to lay down the ground game of a potential candidacy," New Hampshire Institute of Politics Executive Director Neil Levesque told Fox News.
The most recent visitor to an early voting state was former Vice President Mike Pence, who earlier this month made his second trip this year to New Hampshire. Pence’s busy itinerary in the Granite State included all the trappings of a presidential campaign-style trip.
Pence’s travels across the country this year on behalf of Republicans running in next year’s elections have also taken him twice to Iowa as well as South Carolina, which votes third in the GOP primary and caucus calendar, and Nevada, which holds the fourth contest.
"I'm completely focused on 2022. And come 2023, we’ll do as our family has always done. We’ll reflect and pray and consider where we might next serve. We'll go where we're called," Pence told Fox News. Pence spoke while making a retail campaign-style stop, meeting with customers and Republican officials and activists at a bakery in Bedford, New Hampshire.
The week before Pence arrived in New Hampshire, Sen. Tom Cotton – another potential contender – made his second stop this year in the Granite State. The Republican from Arkansas has also made two trips to Iowa and a visit to Nevada.
"I'm not making any decision right now about the future. The election that’s looking at us right in our windshield is the 2022 election," Cotton told Fox News during a stop at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.
Cotton and Pence join the other potential 2024 candidates visiting the early voting states this year in emphasizing that their trips are on behalf of fellow Republicans running in the 2022 midterms, when the GOP aims to win back majorities in the House and Senate. While that’s true, there’s likely an ulterior motive, as the friends and relationships these White House hopefuls make now could pay dividends down the road if they launch presidential campaigns.
And with the possible contenders all hoping to avoid appearing like they’re challenging Trump, emphasizing their efforts to help fellow Republicans has become more essential than ever.
"As long as people have been going to Iowa and New Hampshire, they’ve been denying that they’re running for president. Trump makes that even more important, that you don’t seem overeager to run since nobody wants to get on his wrong side," Conant pointed out.