As the 46th President Takes Office, Let's Discuss the 47th | Opinion

These are tough days for Republicans. Joe Biden and two new Democratic U.S. senators are beginning their terms, ushering in a period of one-party rule. As is the usual exercise after a tough election cycle, strategies and speculation spring to life in response to such dispiriting events. If the current era has taught us any lesson, it is that predicting things four months—or four days—into the future is a risky proposition, to say nothing of four years. But while speculating about the 2024 presidential race is a fool's errand today, there is value in assessing what questions will arise.

To the surprise of no one, those questions center around Donald Trump.

Will he run again? Has that become a ridiculous question as his term whimpers to a riot-torn, ignominious end? If he is not the Republican nominee, will he weigh heavily in the voters' choice as to who is? And will there be appetite for a Trump-like nominee, or will tastes evolve in a different direction?

One easy mistake would be to presume that Trump is such damaged goods that his base will seek to distance itself from him immediately and forever. There is already extensive evidence to the contrary, but having a solid core of supporters in hard times does not necessarily mean those supporters will all remain hungry for a MAGA reboot around mid-2023. Other candidates may have tested the water by then, offering the agenda positives of Trump without the behavioral negatives. There may be a sizable bloc seeking a different style of leadership altogether.

Much depends on the unifying battles of the Biden years. Republicans will coalesce to fight a common political opponent, especially one emboldened by a House and Senate run by his allies. GOP reputations will rise and fall according to how those plot lines play out.

One thing seems certain: Trump will be along for the ride, weighing in constantly, attracting positive and negative attention on every occasion. Does anyone believe a media culture that swore to drive him from office will suddenly ignore him as he returns to the private sector? His opponents have a vested interest in continuing to attack him, hoping to tarnish his 2024 credentials while persuading his voters to seek other options.

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump walks to the White House residence after exiting Marine One upon his return on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. Following last week's deadly pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill, Trump traveled to the border town of Alamo, Texas to view the partial construction of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Drew Angerer/Getty

This may work, or it may backfire. A telling milestone will be the midterm elections of 2022, which, if history repeats, may hand a congressional boon to the party that just lost the White House. If Republicans reclaim the House, and especially if they reclaim the Senate, enthusiasm will pique for the presidential race that will follow in very short order.

If Trump has not ruled out a comeback, expectations for a crowded field may not materialize. The dangers of running against Trump are still burned into the memories of many past rivals. Even if he were not atop the polls, that's a primary season many hopefuls might sit out.

To violate my own advice against predictions, my gut puts a Trump comeback at just below a 50 percent likelihood—not because he will remain a stained man in our nation of short memories and shorter attention spans, but because he may be enjoying the private sector far too much. He will still be everywhere in the news, and he may find the prospect of anointing the 47th president more attractive than actually serving in the role from the ages of 78 to 82.

So if one envisions a field free of Trump as a rival, how many candidates will seek his approval, and with it the approval of however many voters will wish he had run? That will be one wing of the field, featuring key congressional allies, a bold governor like Florida's Ron DeSantis, Trump's loyal vice president or his own son Don Jr.

There will surely be another wing featuring candidates reaching out to Republicans who grew weary of Trump's dramas even while appreciating the results. Others may test the water from the confines of stern opposition. Mitt Romney will be 77 come the next presidential vote, but someone will seek to fill his shoes, to gauge whether there are GOP voters interested in a flavor wholly unlike the Trump years.

So which Republican faction will be the largest? The Trump faithful who will yearn for his return? Those who would prefer an heir to that legacy, but with fewer tweets and unforced errors? Or still others, who will look to regain the White House with a sharply different agenda and style? Make no mistake: Potential candidates are already asking those questions, and millions of GOP voters are itching for the opportunity to provide the answers.

Mark Davis is a talk show host for the Salem Media Group on 660AM The Answer in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and Townhall.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.