In the latest sign that Donald Trump may have difficulty earning a third consecutive nomination for president by the Republican Party, Americans for Prosperity, a major conservative interest group and source of campaign donations, has announced it will seek to endorse a 2024 candidate other than the former president.
On Sunday, Emily Seidel, the CEO of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and a senior adviser to its affiliated political action group, AFP Action, sent a three-page letter to her organization’s staff and the group’s network of activists outlining the organization’s strategy for 2024.
“[T]o write a new chapter for our country, we need to turn the page on the past,” she wrote. “So the best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter. The American people have shown that they’re ready to move on, and so AFP will help them do that.”
Major conservative voice
Americans for Prosperity was founded in 2004 with the backing of brothers Charles and David Koch, billionaire industrialists with a history of activism in conservative and libertarian politics. Through its affiliated super PAC and with the cooperation of a nationwide network of wealthy activists, the group has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into U.S. political campaigns since its inception.
Experts told VOA that having AFP actively campaigning against Trump is bound to pose a challenge for the former president, who announced his candidacy in November but has held few campaign events so far.
“Americans for Prosperity has been one of, if not the most, influential money groups on the conservative side for the last decade and a half,” Sarah Bryner, director of research and strategy at the Center for Responsive Politics, told VOA.
“They rank very highly in terms of the amount of money spent overall — and that's just money that we know about, there’s money being spent that we don't,” said Bryner, whose organization tracks political spending. “They have a huge network, and they’re bankrolled by some of the most important conservative donors in the country. To have this group — this powerhouse — say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ to Donald Trump is a major setback for his campaign.”
No clear alternative
Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told VOA that the decision by AFP is consequential, but that its ultimate impact is not yet clear.
“I do think this is significant — the Koch apparatus is very well-funded and their support (or opposition) could make a difference in the Republican nominating contest,” Kondik said in an email exchange. “That said, I think it’s fair to say that conservative organizations and political elites were never as supportive of Trump as a lot of Republican voters were, and I can imagine Trump using the opposition of these kinds of groups as an argument for his own candidacy as the campaign heats up.”
Kondik added, “Ultimately, AFP and others are going to have to coalesce around an actual alternative to Trump — [Florida Governor] Ron DeSantis seems like the most logical person to get that support, but we’re just at the start of the campaign and DeSantis is not yet a candidate. But if conservative elites don’t want Trump to be the nominee — and it’s pretty clear a lot of them don’t — they will need to work to try to stop him. This announcement is an indication that at least some of those groups are going to try to do that.”
Other conservatives opposing Trump
In turning aside from Trump, AFP becomes the most recent major Republican donor to signal a lack of enthusiasm for a second Trump presidency, though, as of yet, none has coalesced around an alternative candidate.
The Club for Growth, an activist group focused on lower taxes and other economic policy matters that has been a force in Republican politics for more than two decades, has signaled that it is also in the market for a new Republican presidential nominee in 2024. Billionaire financiers Stephen A. Schwarzman and Kenneth C. Griffin, both major Republican donors, have also indicated a desire to move on from Trump.
In the past, however, Trump has demonstrated an ability to overcome the disdain of party elites, using his core of die-hard supporters as a base on which to build a winning primary campaign, as he did in 2016.
For that reason, some experts wonder how firm the opposition to the former president really is among Republican donors.
‘A different tune’
Robert Maguire, research director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told VOA that during the 2016 Republican primary, major donors generally lined up on the side of candidates other than Trump but fell into line once his victory became inevitable.
“If he is able to do it again, I’d expect them to be singing a different tune [drop their current opposition to him],” Maguire said.
However, in the meantime, AFP’s announcement is a signal to other potential Republican presidential candidates to begin courting the organization’s endorsement, he said.
“This demonstrates the degree to which some people, because of the vast wealth that they can pour into elections, get far greater access to powerful politicians than ordinary Americans,” Maguire said.
Other potential candidates
So far, Trump is the only one of a number of potential Republican presidential contenders to officially enter the race, though several others seem to be waiting in the wings.
Some of Trump’s possible rivals are former officials in his administration.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Trump’s presidency, is expected to announce her candidacy soon. John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser, has already said that he is considering running.
Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, is also believed to be considering a challenge to the former president. As is Mike Pompeo, who served first as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and later as secretary of state during Trump’s White House years.
DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is widely considered to be Trump’s most formidable opponent. A popular second-term governor who has won conservative plaudits for his stance as an aggressive culture warrior, DeSantis has yet to officially express interest in the office.
Some others believed to be considering a run for Republican nomination include Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who lost the nomination to Trump in 2016, and Virginia Governor Glen Youngkin.