In the shadow of the Russian war on Ukraine, a handful of Republican alternatives to Donald Trump are emerging with the hopes of becoming the party’s standard-bearer in 2024.
From Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to former Vice President Mike Pence, the potential GOP candidates are trying to walk the tricky line of distancing themselves from Trump but not from Trump’s loyal supporters.
Sensing that Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin could hurt the former president’s prospects, the flock of GOP leaders are each trying to showcase their foreign policy chops in the midst of the fierce fighting in Ukraine.
The moves show that even Trump is not invincible and could be vulnerable to a challenge, partly because of his effusive praise of Putin.
But the next nominee can’t be a Mitt Romney RINO. He or she has to be a true conservative. Voters may want change from Joe Biden, but they may not want to go all the way back to Trump.
Pence has been the most notable GOP figure to try and break away from Trump over the last few weeks, warning that there is no room in the party for Putin “apologists” — a not-so-veiled whack on Trump.
In a speech to GOP leaders, Pence — who has been trashed by Trump for failing to overturn the 2020 election — hit back in a surprisingly strong way.
“Where would Russian tanks be today if NATO had not expanded the borders of freedom?” Pence said. “There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin. There is only room for champions of freedom.”
Pence’s well-funded advocacy group, Advancing American Freedom, also launched a $10 million ad buy attacking the Biden administration for increasing America’s reliance on Russian oil.
Rubio, who has already run a failed presidential campaign, has been a fixture on cable news due to his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Rubio also stepped into a controversy when he and another GOP senator shared a screenshot of their live video talk with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, despite being told by Ukrainian officials not to do that.
Rubio defended himself, and sought to turn the criticism back on his Democratic opponents.
“Anybody pretending this tweet is a security concern is a partisan seeking clicks,” a Rubio spokesman said.
Haley made the rounds on Sunday talk shows last weekend to increase her visibility in what could be an audition for 2024. She criticized the Biden administration for not being prepared for the war, but also agreed with the Democratic administration’s decision not to impose a no-fly zone.
“We should be making sure that we’re moving forward on giving (Ukraine) the missiles they need. They have said they don’t have what they need. We should have done all this before Putin did his first move,” she said. “We were late to the game, we’re still late to the game. It’s not too late now, but we’ve got to get on the ball.”
Another potential Republican candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, even got into the act, blaming Biden for what he called weakness and for failing to make America more energy independent.
DeSantis also defended the former president, saying “when Trump was president, they (Russia) didn’t take anything.”
Who would you vote for on the GOP ticket?
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