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Trump 2024? Some supporters quietly hope he won’t run.

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In modern times, defeated one-term presidents have typically retired into a life of quiet public service. None has sought his party’s nomination again since Herbert Hoover in 1940. The only U.S. president to serve nonconsecutive terms was Grover Cleveland, back in the 1800s. 

Former President Donald Trump, still the dominant figure in the Republican Party, has hinted strongly that he plans to mount another campaign. And polls show that most Republican voters want Mr. Trump to run again.

Why We Wrote This

Although Republican voters strongly approve of Donald Trump, that doesn’t mean they all favor a Trump 2024 campaign. Some fans would prefer a fresh face to pick up Mr. Trump’s mantle going forward.

But not all of them do – including some Trump fans. A Marquette University Law School poll in November found that just 60% of Republicans wanted Mr. Trump to seek the White House again, despite 73% holding favorable views of the former president. 

At a Republican gathering in Weston, Florida, party activists all express strong support for Mr. Trump. But many have reservations about a Trump 2024 campaign. It all suggests a Trump-GOP relationship that is perhaps more complicated than conventional wisdom would dictate. 

“I really don’t think it’s Trump’s time any longer,” says Peggy Brown, a Republican and a Trump supporter who’s currently serving in the nonpartisan role of Weston mayor.

Weston, Fla.

It’s a Tuesday night at Wings in Weston, a chicken joint in a tony suburb of Fort Lauderdale, and the Weston Republican Club is holding its monthly meeting. Some 40 people have gathered to hear from candidates for City Commission and have a bite to eat. 

Images of Donald Trump dominate a makeshift stage along one wall. To the left stands a cardboard cutout of the grinning former president. Another cutout of his face glowers from the center. Below that, a banner proclaims: “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Trump.”

Which makes it all the more surprising that, when asked about a possible Trump campaign in 2024, many here are notably unenthusiastic. 

Why We Wrote This

Although Republican voters strongly approve of Donald Trump, that doesn’t mean they all favor a Trump 2024 campaign. Some fans would prefer a fresh face to pick up Mr. Trump’s mantle going forward.

“I want Trump’s policies without Trump,” says one man. “If he didn’t run,” offers another, “that would take a big argument away from the Democrats.”

“I really don’t think it’s Trump’s time any longer,” says Peggy Brown, a Republican who’s currently serving in the nonpartisan role of Weston mayor. She would prefer to see Mr. Trump transition into more of “an elder statesman. He could be a mentor to whoever comes in.”

Make no mistake: These Republican activists all still love the former president. And if he wins the nomination in 2024, they say they’d move mountains to return him to the White House. “Without question,” says Mayor Brown. “I’m unapologetic.”

But on the question of whether he should jump in, many have reservations. Some worry Mr. Trump is too controversial, too polarizing. That perhaps his time has come and gone. At least one attendee expresses unhappiness with the former president’s full-throated endorsement of COVID-19 vaccines. Some note that the party has a wealth of potentially strong alternatives waiting in the wings – including their own governor, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who leads polls of potential 2024 GOP candidates if Mr. Trump doesn’t run.

To be sure, it’s still early in the 2024 election cycle. Most voters, even activists, have yet to focus much on the next presidential race. While Mr. Trump has hinted strongly that he plans to mount another campaign, he’s said he won’t reveal his decision until after the November midterms.

Nationally, polls show that most Republican voters do want Mr. Trump to run again. A Quinnipiac poll released this week found 69% of GOP voters favor another Trump run. Still, that was down from 78% in October.

A Marquette University Law School poll in November, found just 60% of Republicans wanted Mr. Trump to run again, while 40% did not. The same poll showed 73% of Republicans holding a favorable view of Mr. Trump. 

That 13 percentage point gap between those who view Mr. Trump favorably and those who want him to run again – “there’s the interesting slippage,” says Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette poll. “Give it time, and we’ll see what happens.” 

It all suggests a Trump-GOP relationship that is perhaps more complicated than conventional wisdom would dictate. Last November’s election of Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor of Virginia – a state that voted for President Biden by 10 percentage points – demonstrated that the GOP can be competitive in seemingly blue states when Mr. Trump isn’t on the ballot. Notably, Mr. Trump did not stump with Mr. Youngkin during the race. 

The next Grover Cleveland?

In modern times, defeated one-term presidents have typically retired into a life of quiet public service. None has sought his party’s nomination again since Herbert Hoover in 1940. The only U.S. president to serve nonconsecutive terms was Grover Cleveland, back in the 1800s. 

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/File

Former President Donald Trump looks on during his first post-presidency campaign rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio, June 26, 2021.

Yet Mr. Trump clearly remains the dominant Republican in the country today. Even elected Republicans who have openly opposed him concede the point. 

“There’s no other option right now in the Republican Party,” Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan – one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach then-President Trump over the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol – said last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” 

Republicans’ views of the former president’s role going forward, however, are nuanced. One poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last September found that two-thirds of Republican voters – including independents who lean Republican – want Mr. Trump to remain “a major national figure for many years to come.” But that group was divided into two camps: 44% who want him to run again in 2024 and 22% who would prefer he support another presidential candidate who shares his views. 

The bottom line is that “the Republican base is still very supportive of Donald Trump,” says Carroll Doherty, director of political research at Pew. But “some people are saying, let’s wait and see what happens.” 

Lately, Mr. Trump has been focused on shoring up his role as kingmaker, putting out some 100 press releases endorsing candidates in GOP primaries for House, Senate, governor, and other key offices. 

He’s taken particular aim at two high-profile GOP incumbents. One is Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who has publicly condemned Mr. Trump for what she sees as his role in inciting the Capitol riot. 

The other is Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who angered Mr. Trump by refusing to help him overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia. The former president recruited former Sen. David Perdue to mount a primary challenge against Governor Kemp.

In coming weeks, Mr. Trump plans to travel the country, campaigning for his endorsees and holding rallies. Next up is Jan. 15 in Arizona, a battleground state where Mr. Trump has claimed without evidence that the election was stolen from him. He had scheduled a press conference for Jan. 6 at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, with plans to talk about the “stolen election.” But two days before, he canceled it amid reported concerns by advisers and prominent Republicans that it would be a distraction. 

The scheduling change served as a reminder that the former president, who often welcomes controversy, can be persuaded to avoid it when it might hurt his cause.

A Trumpist, either way

David Strom, a GOP consultant from Minneapolis, had reservations about Mr. Trump in 2016, and didn’t vote for him. But given the president’s record on the economy, judicial appointments, and foreign policy, he supported him wholeheartedly in 2020. 

Looking ahead, however, Mr. Strom lists two main concerns about the former president mounting another campaign: his age (he’ll be 78 in 2024), and his “rough edges.” He thinks the GOP would be better off with a fresh face at the top. 

“There’s just a very large number of people whose repulsion toward Trump had to do with their judgment of his character,” he says.

He adds that, regardless of whether the former president runs again, his political legacy is already profound. 

“The working-class coalition Trump has built is the new face of the Republican Party,” Mr. Strom says. Even if Mr. Trump isn’t the 2024 nominee, he predicts “the winner will almost certainly be from that wing of the party – a Trumpist.”

Of course, many Trump supporters say they’ll be with him to the bitter end. One is Maciek Niedzwiecki, a Polish immigrant who lives in Reno, Nevada. During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump inspired him to become an American citizen, and while Mr. Niedzwiecki missed the election by a month, he happily pulled the lever for Mr. Trump in 2020 – and wants him to run again in 2024. 

Mr. Trump’s personal style doesn’t bother him, he says, because the president’s job isn’t to be a spiritual or moral leader. It’s about the issues: a strong border, energy independence, trade deals that put America first, fighting socialism. 

“I look at the president as more of a CEO,” say Mr. Niedzwiecki, a 40-something father of two who works for a biofuel company. “He’s not taking any hits from people, and [he’s] standing his ground.”

Back in Weston, Florida, at the local party meeting, at least some attendees are just as enthusiastic. 

“Yeah, I think he should [run],” says Lenny Heda, who has a tech support business. “I’m no sycophant,” he adds. “His stance on pushing the vaccine stuff – I disagree.” 

But on a Trump 2024 campaign, he’d be all in. “I would take a bullet for the guy.”