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Tracking the invisible primary: Three lanes to victory in the Republican presidential primary

Elaine Kamarck, Anna Heetderks, and
xfy
Anna Heetderks Research Intern, Governance Studies - The Brookings Institution
Cambron Wade
feq
Cambron Wade Research Intern, Governance Studies - The Brookings Institution

August 21, 2023


  • To examine the various candidate strategies, we studied the extent to which each Republican candidate is courting Trump’s base.
  • So far in the invisible primary, the candidates are defining their lanes in relation to Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric.
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Editor's note:

In this series, we track key election metrics for presidential candidates throughout the campaign period known as the “invisible primary.” 

The list of presidential candidates included is based on the candidates listed in AP News, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Politico’s descriptions of the 2024 field.

Throughout his political career, Donald Trump has weathered scandals that would have cratered other presidential candidates. He has displayed remarkable Teflon in the face of personal scandals, business misconduct, and now his fourth criminal indictment, which, if convicted of racketeering charges, would send him to jail for at least five years.

Throughout this marathon of legal turmoil, Trump remains the undisputed leader of his party. In many polls, both at the state and national levels, he leads his opponents by 40 points or more, making him the undisputed frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Even in the face of news that would have buried any other politician, his base within the Republican Party remains strong and few of his challengers are taking him on directly. A recent New York Times/Siena poll helps explain the GOP dilemma. That survey reveals that likely primary voters are divided into three categories: those who “strongly” support Trump and view him “very favorably,” about 37% of the Republican electorate; those who are persuadable to Trump (37%); and those firmly opposed to him (25%).

Based on this segmentation of GOP voters, candidates are jockeying around the possible routes to victory within this political configuration. Given the politics, the first strategic option is to out-Trump the former president himself. This means playing to his populist base, focusing on cultural issues, and attacking Democrats for unfairly targeting Trump. The second option, typified by Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, is to stand in clear opposition to Trump. And the third lane is a murky one where candidates oppose Trump on some things but support him on others.

To examine the various candidate strategies, we studied the extent to which each Republican candidate is courting Trump’s base. We researched each candidate’s proximity to Trump’s rhetoric and policy positions and visualized the 2024 Republican field as a kind of “solar system” in which Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric form the “sun,” with the other candidates orbiting at varying distances based on how closely aligned they are with Trump’s platform. With Trump’s voter base acting as a Republican candidate’s potential “golden ticket” to the nomination, the essence of a candidate’s campaign strategy lies in their decision to resist or embrace Trump’s gravitational pull or to try and straddle the murky middle.

Trump's voter base

Several ideological and political features define Trump’s base, differentiating it from the rest of the Republican primary electorate. The first is a persistent belief in Trump’s innocence: 75% of Trump supporters believe he did nothing wrong in his handling of classified documents and 92% believe his actions following the 2020 election were within his rights. Second, the Trump base embraces “America First” policy positions, with 63% opposing further aid to Ukraine, 76% supporting less U.S. involvement in world affairs, and 67% opposing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Third, the former president’s voters are drawn to existential and dystopian rhetoric about the state of the country. Trump’s base is more likely than non-Trump Republicans to anticipate a civil war in the next few years (30% to nine percent) and to believe the nation is on the brink of collapse (75% to 54%). Lastly, they embrace a populist view of American politics, with 84% saying elected officials should prioritize the “common sense of ordinary people” over the knowledge of experts (compared to 61% of non-Trump supporters, on average) and 26% (versus 6% of non-Trump Republicans) predicting a coming “storm” that will “sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”

Methodology

To define the “sun of Trumpism,” we analyzed Trump’s campaign website and speech at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). We distilled our findings into four categories to serve as our guide for evaluating each candidate’s proximity to Trump.

Personalistic support for Trump: How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency, and their response to the classified documents indictment in June.

Support for key Trump policies: We identified three areas where Trump’s positions represent either a departure from traditional conservative positions or exaggerated versions of such positions that would have been outside the mainstream in a pre-Trump Republican Party.

Embracing Trump-style rhetoric and tone: The degree to which the candidate replicates the language Trump uses on the campaign trail.

Construal of the 2020 election and January 6: How the candidate talks about the results of the 2020 election and the events of January 6.

We then studied each Republican presidential candidate to see how closely they align with Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric based on their campaign websites, speeches, statements, social media posts, interviews, and media coverage. If a candidate did not have a publicly stated position, we gave them a Not Applicable (N/A). We limited our search to comments made by the candidate since Trump’s emergence onto the political scene in 2016. If a candidate changed their position within this timeframe, we accounted for their most recent position.

We used this data to assign each candidate a score between zero and one for each category where zero indicates a rejection of Trump’s position and one indicates a complete embrace. We summed the scores across categories to calculate each candidate’s score out of a possible 14. Using the total scores, we determined five numeric ranges associated with the following levels of proximity: high, medium-high, medium, medium-low, and low proximity. Based on their overall score, we placed each candidate in one of these numeric ranges, then assigned them to the proximity level corresponding to that numeric range.

The “solar system” of the Republican nomination field

Based on our data analysis, we placed each candidate in the solar system corresponding to their level of proximity to Trump. Candidates in the orbit closest to Trump are the most aligned with Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric, while those in the orbit furthest away are the least aligned. Note the drop-down function where you can see quotes from each candidate that illustrate where they are in relation to Trump.

Graphic separating Republican presidential candidates by level of proximity to Donald Trump.
High proximity candidates

  • Ron DeSantis

    Personalistic support for Trump

    • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
      • “It seems like he’s running to the left and I have always been somebody that’s just been moored in conservative principles.” (USA Today)
      • “I don’t know what happened to Donald Trump; this is a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016 and I think the direction that he’s going with his campaign is the wrong direction.” (USA Today)
    • Response to the classified documents indictment
      • “The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society….We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation…Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?…The DeSantis administration will bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all.” (Tweet)
      • “As a naval officer, if I would have taken classified [documents] to my apartment, I would have been court-martialed in a New York minute.” (CBS News)

    Support for key Trump policies

    • Immigration (hardline stance)
      • According to the New York Times, DeSantis’ immigration platform includes: mass deportations, ending birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants, detaining children, using deadly force against suspected drug dealers trying to enter the country, building the wall, maintaining the COVID-era Remain in Mexico policy, sending the military to the border, and giving states power to “declare an invasion.”
    • America First foreign policy
      • “Does the survival of American liberty depend on whether liberty succeeds in Djibouti?” (NYT)
      • Ukraine:
        • “While the U.S. has many vital national interests – securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party – becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.” (Written statement to Fox News)
        • Walked it back over a week later: “What I’m referring to is where the fighting is going on now, which is that eastern border region Donbas, and then Crimea, and you have a situation where Russia has had that. I don’t think legitimately, but they had,” DeSantis said, according to excerpts. “There’s a lot of ethnic Russians there. So, that’s some difficult fighting, and that’s what I was referring to, and so it wasn’t that I thought Russia had a right to that, and so if I should have made that more clear, I could have done it.” (AP)
    • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
      • Said as president he would eliminate the IRS, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, and Department of Education (The Guardian)
        • “If Congress will work with me on doing that, we’ll be able to reduce the size and scope of government, If Congress won’t go that far, I’m going to use those agencies to push back against woke ideology and against the leftism that we see creeping into all institutions of American life.” (Fox News)

    Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

    • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
      • See above anti-institutionalist rhetoric surrounding eliminating agencies and America First policy platform
    • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
      • “The candidacy of Governor Ron DeSantis, of Florida, contains some extra, darker emotional layers: defensiveness, a bristling ideological fixity, an undercurrent of dread.” (New Yorker)
      • Elements of the DeSantis campaign rely on generating fear
        • A tweet from Casey DeSantis containing a Mamas for DeSantis ad said “We will not allow you to exploit the innocence of our children to advance your agenda. When you come after our kids, we fight back.”
    • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
      • “We’re going to have all of these deep state people, you know, we are going to start slitting throats on day one” (The Hill)
    • Distrust of mainstream media
      • In his time as governor, DeSantis has been consistently antagonistic toward mainstream media:
        • Following Hurricane Ian’s destruction in 2022: “Quite frankly, you have national regime media that they wanted to see [the hurricane strike] Tampa, because they thought that that’d be worse for Florida. That’s how these people think.” (The Hill)

    Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

    • Election denial/skepticism
      • “Of course he [Trump] lost. Joe Biden’s the president.” (NBC News)
    • January 6 response/narrative
      • In May 2023, said he would consider pardoning participants (“Now, some of these cases, some people may have a technical violation of the law. But if there are three other people who did the same thing but just in a context, like [the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020], and they don’t get prosecuted at all, that is uneven application of justice, and so … we will use the pardon power.”) (Washington Post)
      • On July 18, DeSantis said Trump should have “come out more forcefully” against the events, but maintained his behavior was not criminal (Waashington Post)
  • Vivek Ramaswamy

    Personalistic support for Trump

    • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
      • In Ramaswamy’s message to Trump after being prompted by Piers Morgan, he said: “I love your energy man, I love what you’ve done for this country. You were an inspiration for what you did in 2015. Now it’s my turn and we’re taking this forward and reviving America. It’s something you care about, something that I care about, and hopefully we can work together to do it someway because it’s going to take every one of us to revive this nation.” (Interview with Piers Morgan)
      • “Trump could have ended affirmative action with the stroke of a pen. He didn’t. Trump had a chance to use military force against the cartels — didn’t do it.” (Interview with New York Post)
    • Response to the classified documents indictment
      • “I submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request to the Biden Department of Justice demanding what did Biden tell Jack Smith, what did Biden tell Merrick Garland, what did Merrick Garland tell Jack Smith. They are required within 20 business days to tell us about any direct or indirect communications. If they do not comply with the law, we will sue them in federal courts.” (Press conference outside Miami courthouse)
      • “I have signed a commitment to pardon President Trump promptly on January 20, 2025, for the federal charges … I respectfully request that you join me in this commitment or else publicly explain why you will not.” (The Hill)

    Support for key Trump policies

    • Immigration (hardline stance)
      • According to the New York Post, Ramaswamy “planned to send the U.S. military to the southern border to stem the flow of migrants and rein in murderous drug cartels now flooding the country with fentanyl.” (Interview with New York Post)
      • According to The Chicago Sun Times, Ramaswamy “thinks migrants should be humanely and respectfully transported back to the countries they came from.” (Chicago Sun Times)
    • America First foreign policy
      • Within Ramaswamy’s “America First 2.0” policy platform, his key foreign policy priorities are “Declaring Independence from Communist China and Using military force (drones) to eliminate Mexican drug cartels & end the fentanyl crisis.” (Campaign website)
      • According to a campaign video, Ramaswamy deeply disagrees with the policies of globalist institutions like the World Economic Forum and has donated the proceeds of his lawsuit against the World Economic Forum to the anti-globalist America First Policy Institute. (Campaign video)
      • “I would not send another dollar of U.S. resources to Ukraine. I don’t think the war in Ukraine directly relates to American interests therefore I do not want to use American resources that we could instead use on actual policies that affect Americans here at home – such as using our military to secure our own border instead of somebody else’s.” (CNN interview)
    • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
      • According to a New York Times profile, “He will go much further than former President Donald J. Trump did to “drain the swamp” of the “Deep State. And he says he will do it unilaterally, ending Civil Service protections by executive order, imposing eight-year term limits on federal positions, shuttering the Education Department and replacing the F.B.I., the I.R.S., and other agencies.” (New York Times)

    Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

    • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
      • In the blurb for Ramaswamy’s 2019 book “Woke, Inc.,” he wrote “The modern woke-industrial complex divides us as a people.  By mixing morality with consumerism, America’s elites prey on our innermost insecurities about who we really are.” (Google Books)
      • According to a WBUR article, “Vivek Ramaswamy sees environment, social and governance investing, or ESG, as Wall Street titans pushing lefty, big-government politics. As his argument goes, these closet Wall Street “liberals” strong-arm the companies they invest in to be politically correct.” (WBUR)
    • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
      • “America is experiencing a national identity crisis. Faith, patriotism, and hard work have disappeared – only to be replaced by new secular religions like covidism, climatism, and gender ideology…We hunger to be something bigger than ourselves, yet we cannot even answer the question of what it means to be an American. Today, the woke left preys on that vacuum – they tell you that your race, your gender, and your sexual orientation govern who you are, what you can achieve, and what you are allowed to think. This is psychological slavery.” (Campaign video)
    • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
      • “Any politician who says they’re going to “fix” the deep state is delusional. The only solution is to *shut it down.*” (LinkedIn)
    • Distrust of mainstream media
      • N/A

    Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

    • Election denial/skepticism
      • N/A
    • January 6 response/narrative
      • “Donald Trump isn’t the cause of what happened on January 6th. The real cause was the systematic and pervasive censorship of citizens in the year leading up to it. If we fail to admit the truth, January 6th will just be a preview of far worse to come — and I don’t want to see us get there.” (Facebook)
  • Larry Elder

    Personalistic support for Trump

    • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
      • “I think Trump did a fantastic job as president on the borders, taxes, regulations, judges, and being energy independent and I am going to continue those policies.” (KUSI News interview)
      • “We have an electability problem. I have asked voters to ask themselves the following questions: Have you lost friends because of Trump? Are you walking on eggshells at work because of Trump? Do you have strained relationships with friends, and family? At some point, Republican voters are going to realize that we need to coalesce around someone that isn’t Trump so we can beat Biden-Harris in 2024, and I am that person.” (KUSI News interview)
    • Response to the classified documents indictment
      • “As President, I would instruct my Attorney General to drop the politically motivated charges against Trump. The politicization of the criminal justice system in this country is appalling, and the partisan prosecution of Donald Trump is just one example.” (Fox News interview)

    Support for key Trump policies

    • Immigration (hardline stance)
      • “I would reimpose policies that gave us the most secure border we ever had until Joe Biden. Put back stay in Mexico. Stop the catch and release. Arrest people who are here who cross the borders – once you arrest them you can deport them. Once they are in the interior, good luck trying to get them out.” (KUSI News interview)
      • “The constant flow of illegal migration, drugs, and cartel activity across the border poses significant threats to our communities and people…We must invest in physical barriers (walls work!), bolster the resources available to our border patrol agents, and restore the rule of law to our border with Mexico” (Website)
    • America First foreign policy
      • “America’s status as the world’s sole superpower is essential not only for our own security and prosperity but also for maintaining the liberties of hundreds of millions of freedom-loving people around the world.” (Website)
      • “Put America first by aiding Ukraine: Besides being moral, it’s in our strategic and economic interest to help stop Putin.”(Facebook)
    • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
      • N/A

    Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

    • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
      • For the Larry Elder Show, he made a video with The Epoch Times on “This Is Why America’s Elites Are Bowing Down to Communist China” (Twitter)
    • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
      • “America’s great cities have seen better days. Office buildings are half-empty, streets are littered with garbage, and hundreds of thousands of individuals suffering from mental illness and drug addiction are dying on the streets. This is unacceptable. We must address the root causes of urban decay. And we must first acknowledge that nearly every major city has had one-party Democrat rule for decades.”  (Campaign website)
    • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
      • “The way that this country was shut down because of COVID against science. There’s something called The Great Barrington Declaration (an open letter in response to COVID restrictions) and it was suppressed because of the way that Twitter worked with the government to suppress anyone dissenting on whether there should be lockdowns or mask or vaccine mandates.” (Forbes interview)
      • According to the Los Angeles Times, Elder “offered no pushback when a doctor last month called in to his nationally syndicated radio show to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous and didn’t object when the physician implied that Bill Gates might have backed the “experimental” immunizations as a form of “population control.” (Los Angeles Times)
    • Distrust of mainstream media

    Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

    • Election denial/skepticism
      • During an appearance on The Morning Answer radio show, Elder was asked if he believed President Biden had won fairly in 2020. Elder responded “No, I don’t.” (New York Times)
    • January 6 response/narrative
      • “Of the nearly one million Trump supporters who were in Washington DC on January 6th concerned that the election was compromised if not stolen, 0.07% were arrested and charged with something none by the way with sedition or insurrection. There was one reason and one reason only the Democrats and the media keep calling January 6th an insurrection. Fourteenth Amendment section three bars anybody from becoming president if he has been engaged in an insurrection. That is the sole reason they keep calling it an insurrection.” (The Hill)
Medium-high proximity candidates

  • Perry Johnson

    Personalistic support for Trump

    • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
      • “I proudly supported President Trump in 2016 and 2020 and could very easily support him in 2024.” (Campaign website)
      • Johnson has described himself as “Trump without the baggage.” (Quad City Times)
    • Response to the classified documents indictment
      • “Glad to have @VivekGRamaswamy join me in calling for the pardon of @realDonaldTrump. Time to end the weaponization of law enforcement in this country! I plan to pardon Trump and then eliminate the FBI as President.” (Tweet)

    Support for key Trump policies

    • Immigration (hardline stance)
      • “My border policy will have three main focuses: (1) Tight and non-porous border security. (2) Strict policies to cease and desist illegal immigration, with a zero-tolerance policy toward those who are discovered to have immigrated illegally. (3) Create an easier pathway to citizenship for vetted immigrants (based on economic, social, and cultural needs of our nation at a given time)” (Campaign website)
      • “Our economic and immigration policies are the key to making sure Social Security and Medicare work. If our economy is running at full speed, and we increase our supply of labor and people paying INTO the systems, there is more money available for those receiving benefits.” (Campaign website)
    • America First foreign policy
      • Ukraine:
        • “I think it’s ridiculous to send $100 billion to Ukraine when we’re going broke.”(Quad City Times)
    • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
      • “I propose ending the Department of Education and getting the money back to the schools instead of to the bureaucrats…The corruption and politicization of the Department of Justice and the FBI has reached unthinkable levels. As President, I will appoint an Attorney General who will eliminate the FBI entirely and lead a massive overhaul at the Department of Justice.” (Campaign website)

    Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

    • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
      • N/A
    • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
      • More optimistic: “We live in the greatest country the world has ever known. And I want to keep it that way!” (Campaign website)
    • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
      • N/A
    • Distrust of mainstream media
      • N/A

    Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

    • Election denial/skepticism
      • N/A
    • January 6 response/narrative
      • Has not addressed (other than to say he would pardon Trump for Jan. 6 indictment)
    Medium proximity candidates

    • Nikki Haley

      Personalistic support for Trump

      • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
        • “We can’t go back to the pre-Trump GOP. Those days are over, and they should be.” (WSJ op-ed)
        • “Most of Mr. Trump’s major policies were outstanding and made America stronger, safer and more prosperous. Many of his actions since the election were wrong and will be judged harshly by history. That’s not a contradiction. It’s common sense.” (WSJ op-ed)
      • Response to the classified documents indictment
        • “Two things can be true. One, the DOJ and FBI have lost all credibility with the American people, and getting rid of just senior management isn’t going to be enough to fix this. This is going to require a complete overhaul and we have to do that. Two, the second thing can also be true. If this indictment is true, if what it says is actually the case, President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security.” (National Review)

      Support for key Trump policies

      • Immigration (hardline stance)
        • “We fix [the border crisis] by going back to Remain-in-Mexico, we fix it by stopping catch and release, we fix it by putting up an actual wall and closing our border.” (Fox News)
      • America First foreign policy
        • Supports US withdrawal from UNESCO, UN Human Rights Council, Paris Climate Accord (Campaign website)
        • “This is bigger than Ukraine. This is a war about freedom, and it’s one we have to win. What we have to understand is that a win for Ukraine is a win for all of us, because tyrants tell us exactly what they’re going to do.” (CNN)
      • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
        • On the FBI: “This is an agency that’s going to need a serious overhaul, just because the whole mission has been compromised” (Fox News interview)

      Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

      • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
        • N/A
      • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
        • “I am running for president to renew an America that is strong and proud, not weak and woke. When I look to the future, I see our country rededicated to freedom and opportunity, but when I look to the president I see the opposite. Joe Biden and the Democrats are giving us oppression, poverty and lawlessness. This is not the America that called to my parents 50 years ago and — make no mistake — this is not the America I am going to leave to my children.” (Washington Times)
      • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
        • N/A
      • Distrust of mainstream media
        • N/A

      Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

      • Election denial/skepticism
        • “I think we all know there were irregularities in there and there were some issues that happened. We know there was mail-out balloting that shouldn’t have happened. Do I think that changed the results of the election? No. I think President Biden ended up winning the election.” (RealClearPolitics)
      • January 6 response/narrative
        • “We need to acknowledge he let us down. He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.” (Politico)
      • Tim Scott

        Personalistic support for Trump

        • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
          • “I will simply say this — the former president is a good guy. We get along really well. At the end of the day I am running because I believe America can do for anyone what she has done for me. We’re going to continue to restore hope, create opportunities, and protect the America we love.” (Fox News)
        • Response to the classified documents indictment
          • Called the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump a “serious case with serious allegations” while simultaneously criticizing the DOJ: “As Americans, we have to have a justice system where the lady of justice wears a blindfold. What we see today across this administration of President Joe Biden is a double standard. That double standard is both un-American and unacceptable. You can’t protect Democrats while targeting and hunting Republicans.” (Post and Courier)

        Support for key Trump policies

        • Immigration (hardline stance)
          • “There’s a crisis in the workforce, and to me a part of the solution of that crisis is going to a merit-based immigration system, for bringing, whether it’s the blue-collar worker or a four-year degree person, we need the workforce of the future” (Des Moines Register)
          • Immigration policy according to campaign website: (1) Expel illegal immigrants trying to enter the country by reinstating Title 42 to combat the fentanyl crisis. (2) Fully fund the construction of the wall at the southern border, while strengthening law enforcement’s capabilities to detect drug smugglers and human traffickers before they enter our country. (3) End Biden’s “Catch and release” policies which weaken our nation’s security, and undermine our nation’s sovereignty. (4) Recognize drug cartels as terrorists and let the world’s greatest military power defend our borders and our lives.
        • America First foreign policy
          • “We must boost economic growth and competitiveness through a renewed commitment to free enterprise, free trade, rule of law, and international U.S. leadership.” (statement)
          • “President Biden has done a terrible job explaining and articulating to the American people what is America’s vital, national interest in Ukraine. From my perspective and from the American people’s perspective that answer is degrading the Russian military. The more we degrade the Russian military, the less likely there is to be an attack on our sovereign territory. And it protects our NATO partners. I think that we should be in Ukraine. I believe that the truth is simple, that degrading the Russian military is in America’s best interest.” (NBC News interview)
        • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
          • Would eliminate “every single political appointee in all of the Department of Justice” (Iowa Capital Dispatch)

        Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

        • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
          • N/A
        • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
          • “I believe people are starving for a message of hope and optimism. What they won’t allow is a hopeful, optimistic message that lacks conservative principles or a background. I got both!” (Des Moines Register)
          • “I think you’ll find you can have the same conservative policies, with the optimism that can persuade others to join the team, so our policies are the law of the land, rather than something we’re yelling about from the outside looking in,” he said. “That’s what I offer, is a unique life story that reinforces: conservatism works.” (Des Moines Register)
        • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
          • N/A
        • Distrust of mainstream media
          • N/A

        Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

        • Election denial/skepticism
          • Voted to certify the election results for Biden: “As I read the Constitution, there is no constitutionally viable means for the Congress to overturn an election wherein the states have certified and sent their Electors.” (statement)
        • January 6 response/narrative
          • “I don’t care who you voted for or what you think about the 2020 election — what happened on Jan. 6 was wrong. This tragic day was the culmination of individuals making bad choices” (Politico)
        • Mike Pence

          Personalistic support for Trump

          • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
            •  “I had always been loyal to President Donald Trump. He was my president, and he was my friend.” (his book, as quoted by Politico)
            • “In 2016 Donald Trump promised to govern as a conservative, and we did for four years. One of the reasons . . . I’m running for president is because he makes no such promise today.” (WSJ interview)
          • Response to the classified documents indictment
            • “I think two things are true today: Number one is no one’s above the law. This indictment includes serious charges. I can’t defend what’s alleged there. The handling of classified materials is vitally important to the country,” he said. “But look, we’ve gone through about — trying to do the math here — about out seven years where the American people have lost confidence in our Department of Justice.” (CNBC)

          Support for key Trump policies

          • Immigration (hardline stance)
            • Backs Trump-era policies including Title 42, Remain in Mexico policy, and building the wall (The Hill)
          • America First foreign policy
            • “I think America is the leader of the free world, and I think we’re in the midst of a vigorous debate within the Republican Party whether or not we’re as a party going to shrink from that role.” (WaPo)
            • Ukraine:
              • “Make no mistake: This is not America’s war. But freedom is America’s fight. And I believe that if Mr. Putin isn’t stopped in Ukraine, the day will come when a NATO ally is directly threatened, tragically pulling American forces into a war that could have been avoided if the U.S. had done more to support Ukraine’s courageous stand. (WSJ op-ed)
              • The Reagan Doctrine is as true and necessary today as it was 40 years ago: If you’re willing to fight America’s enemies on your soil, the U.S. should give you the means to fight so our servicemen and women don’t have to.” (WSJ op-ed)
          • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
            • The Post described Pence as “an institutionalist in a time of rebellion.”
            • Did say he would “clean house at the highest levels of the Justice Department” (Politico)

          Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

          • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
            • “Leaders in our movement need to resist the temptation—resist the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles.” (WSJ)
          • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
            • Dearth of existential rhetoric (“I really do believe that democracy depends on heavy doses of civility”) (ABC News)
          • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
            • N/A
          • Distrust of mainstream media
            • N/A

          Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

          • Election denial/skepticism
            • “The 2020 election was not stolen. We have a process in this country, where states conduct elections. Questions of irregularities and fraud are then adjudicated in the courts, the states then certify electoral votes, and as we did on January 6, in the wake of that terrible violence, the role of the Congress is to open and count those votes and to certify the election. We did that, until Biden was elected President of the United States of America.” (CBS News)
          • January 6 response/narrative
            • “History will hold Donald Trump accountable for January 6. Make no mistake about it: What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way. President Trump was wrong. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.” (WaPo)
            • “I don’t know if the government can meet the standard, the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt for criminal charges. But the American people deserve to know that President Trump and his advisers didn’t just ask me to pause. They asked me to reject votes, return votes, essentially to overturn the election.” (WaPo)
          Medium-low proximity candidates

          • Doug Burgum

            Personalistic support for Trump

            • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
              • “I voted for him twice, and if he’s running against Biden I will absolutely vote for him again” (NBC News)
              • On whether he’d do business with Trump: “I don’t think so…I just think that it’s important that you’re judged by the company you keep.” (NBC News)
            • Response to the classified documents indictment
              • “One thing I can tell you from talking to the voters [is] that people are very concerned about a double standard in this country. They’re concerned that if we have lost trust in our institutions, if we don’t believe that the [Department of Justice] is going to enforce the laws equally between the two political parties, that’s even more serious than the charges themselves.” (ABC News)
              • On pardoning Trump: “You’re asking me a hypothetical question about something from two years from now, when we don’t even know if this is going to go forward or if there’s even going to be a conviction.” (NBC News)

            Support for key Trump policies

            • Immigration (hardline stance)
              • “’Nobody wants to see a child that gets cut on razor wire [installed by Texas Governor], but why are people not entering (legally) through ports of entry,’ said Burgum, who added that he would support changes to the U.S. immigration system to allow more migrants to enter the country legally.” (Des Moines Register)
              • “When we have 11 million jobs open in America, we’re hurting our economy, our long-term competitiveness by not being smart about how we’re going to do this. But we can’t have a conversation in this country about immigration policy without … secure borders.” (Des Moines Register)
            • America First foreign policy
              • Ukraine:
                • “Russia cannot have a win coming out of this, because if it’s a win for them, it’s a win for China. And so, I just say, again, every time the U.S spends dollars, whether it’s defense or whether it’s on healthcare or any program, there ought to be transparency and accountability, and that’s one thing we brought in North Dakota.” (KFYR TV)
            • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
              • N/A

            Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

            • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
              • N/A
            • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
              • “We must recognize the real threat to America and strengthen national security. Our enemies aren’t our neighbors down the street. Our enemies are countries that want to see our way of life destroyed.” (WSJ op-ed)
            • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
              • N/A
            • Distrust of mainstream media
              • N/A

            Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

            • Election denial/skepticism
              • N/A
            • January 6 response/narrative
              • On Jan 6, he tweeted “We support the right to peacefully protest. The violence happening at our nation’s Capitol is reprehensible and does not represent American values, and needs to stop immediately.” (Twitter)
            • Francis Suarez

              Personalistic support for Trump

              • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
                • Suarez did not vote for Trump in 2016 or 2020 (wrote in Rubio and Pence)- but said he would support Trump in 2024 if he is the nominee (WSJ)
              • Response to the classified documents indictment
                • “If my candidacy is going to be about responding to things that former President Trump did, then there’s not going to be much of a candidacy – by the way, for me, and not for any other Republican nominees” (ABC)
                • “But certainly, if I became president, one of the things I would look at as president is using the pardon power to heal the country. That, by the way, doesn’t go for one party. That goes for both parties.” (MSNBC)

              Support for key Trump policies

              • Immigration (hardline stance)
                • “I would even go back earlier than that, in the ‘80s, Republicans and President Reagan were also much more moderate on immigration. We’ve got to look at this issue, immigration, and talk about it coherently and I don’t think we are. I think everything is about the border, border, border, border. On both sides, by the way, in my opinion, are to blame for this. (WNYC)
                • I think we’ve got to take a look at this issue from a legal immigration perspective because we’re a country of laws and we all believe in the rule of law and what’s in our best interest from a national security perspective and from an economic perspective. If you ever see like Miami, that’s 1.4% unemployment we need employees. I can tell you that right now.” (WNYC)
              • America First foreign policy
                • “I agree in a strong national defense and the fact that America should have a proper role that it’s the most democratizing and liberalizing force in the world.” (WNYC)
              • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
                • N/A

              Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

              • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
                • N/A
              • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
                • “I think that means that this is the people struggling with these two choices. The question is, is there a better choice? Is there a better path? What is that path I’ve often said that the 2024 election will be defined by four questions. Is it a boomer or is it a next generation candidate? Is it someone that has an inspirational aspirational message, or is it a culture war starter? Someone who’s divisive and wants to continue this divisive rhetoric that we’re hearing.” (WNYC)
              • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
                • N/A
              • Distrust of mainstream media
                • N/A

              Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

              • Election denial/skepticism
                • N/A
              • January 6 response/narrative
                • N/A
            • Ryan Binkley

              Personalistic support for Trump

              • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
                • “He stands up. He’s bold. He’s got a lot of great ideas on some things, but he’s not led with a message of unity, and I think that’s what we need today” (Sioux City Journal)
              • Response to the classified documents indictment
                • “Many of the things that he’s faced has been brought upon him on a purely political standpoint. and I’m saddened by our country in that. We need to get all of this politics out of that area and be able to allow people to run freely and my prayers are that equity and justice will come for him and for everybody else.” (Siouxland Proud)

              Support for key Trump policies

              • Immigration (hardline stance)
                • “Our southern border is still overrun with drug peddlers, criminals, and human traffickers, while millions of people live here with no legal status…We need an immigration system that secures the border, identifies and removes dangerous illegal immigrants, and provides a realistic, compassionate, and effective solution for the millions of undocumented families who are already here…It’s time to bring the people living in our nation illegally out of the shadows by providing them with a realistic path to legal status. They won’t jump to the front of the line, but it’s time to give them a place in that line.” (Campaign website)
                • According to NBC news, “Binkley endorses The Dignity Act, a bipartisan bill that would fine undocumented immigrants thousands of dollars for crossing the border but provide them a pathway for citizenship within the United States.” (NBC News)
                • According to his campaign website, Binkley also wants to “Build a physical barrier to help secure the Southern Border.” (Campaign website)
              • America First foreign policy
                • “The way to freedom is an America that is proud and secure in its place in the world, unflinching in the face of tyranny, slow to anger, quick to aid its allies, but always willing to extend the hand of diplomacy to anyone who will take it in good faith.” (Campaign website)
                • On his campaign website, he described the war in Ukraine as “Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine” and would prioritize defending “freedom-loving nations.” (Campaign website)
              • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
                • N/A

              Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

              • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
                • N/A
              • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
                • “God wants to bring an awakening back to America economically and spiritually. This is a new message for our country,” Binkley said. “It’s time for us to make a decision. Where are we going to go as a country? Much of America is disappointed; we’re dissatisfied with the status of our country. We’re divided and unhappy. People are connecting to our message that it’s time for us to unite as a country to solve our biggest problems.” (Yahoo Finance)
              • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
                • N/A
              • Distrust of mainstream media
                • N/A

              Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

              • Election denial/skepticism
                • N/A
              • January 6 response/narrative
                • N/A

               

            Low proximity (outermost orbit)

            • Chris Christie

              Personalistic support for Trump

              • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
                • 2024 campaign launch speech: “A lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog is not a leader. The person I am talking about, who is obsessed with the mirror, who never admits a mistake, who never admits a fault, who always finds someone else and something else to blame for whatever goes wrong — but finds every reason to take credit for anything that goes right — is Donald Trump.” (AP News)
                • “The Trump agenda is not worth anything to Republicans if Trump’s the one trying to execute it because he’s proven he didn’t know how to get things done. He didn’t know how to build the wall. He didn’t repeal or replace Obamacare. He added $6 trillion to the national debt, after he said he was gonna balance the budget in four years.” (The Hill)
              • Response to the classified documents indictment
                • “We’re in a situation where there are people in my own party who are blaming D.O.J. How about, blame him? He did it. He kept — he took documents he wasn’t supposed to take.” (NYT)
                • “Everybody, whether you like Donald Trump or you don’t like Donald Trump, this conduct is inexcusable, in my opinion, for somebody who wants to be president of the United States” (NYT)

              Support for key Trump policies

              • Immigration (hardline stance)
                • Criticized Trump for failing to build the wall (CNN)
                • Advocated sending National Guard to border (CNN)
                • ‘You have to change the immigration laws in this country to make them fairer, clearer and have some teeth to them.” (CNN)
              • America First foreign policy
                • “The question is what makes America first? And one of the things I think that makes America first is that we have friendships and alliances all over the world that come to us freely because they believe in our system. They believe in liberty and freedom of choice for people. We don’t have to buy our friendships. China has to run around the world and buy friendships.” (CFR)
                • Ukraine (CNN):
                  • “They [Trump and DeSantis] are wrong. They are wrong. This is a proxy war with China. That’s what it is. China is buying Russian oil like no one else in the world is doing.”
                  • “We need to give the Ukrainians every piece of military hardware they need to protect themselves against this aggression, and we need to continue to do it until they are ready to resolve the conflict in Russia.”
              • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
                • N/A

              Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

              • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
                • N/A
              • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
                • “I believe America is a leader around the world and that the world is great when America leads, and America can only be great when we lead. We can’t be great by being small, small arguments, petty arguments, dividing each other.” (CNN town hall)
              • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
                • N/A
              • Distrust of mainstream media
                • N/A

              Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

              • Election denial/skepticism
                • Election denial/skepticism: “The election wasn’t stolen. He lost. I understand why he has a hard time coming to terms with losing to Joe Biden.” (Semafor)
                • January 6 response/narrative
                  • “I would say it was one of the most disgraceful days in American history and that the president was principally responsible for it. Through the conduct and his words from election night forward, inciting people and insisting that the election was stolen, [when] it wasn’t. Through his speech that day, when he attacked directly his own vice president and incited those people to be angry at Mike Pence, who was just performing his constitutional duty.” (Washington Examiner)
              • Asa Hutchinson

                Personalistic support for Trump

                • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
                  • “The actions taken by former President Donald Trump demonstrate that he has chosen not to govern by honoring our shared conservative values. Instead, he has undermined the fabric of our democracy by questioning the outcome of the 2020 election and using violent rhetoric to stir protesters on January 6, 2021.” (CNN op-ed)
                • Response to the classified documents indictment
                  • “This is bad for our country, bad for the presidency, and it is a legitimate campaign issue. We do not need to have our commander in chief of this country not protecting our nation’s secrets. If these allegations and probable cause have been found against any military person, any public servant that wasn’t named Donald Trump, they would have been indicted a long time ago. This is equal application of the law.” (CNN appearance)

                Support for key Trump policies

                • Immigration (hardline stance)
                  • “Legal immigration is the foundation of our diverse and prosperous society. However, the illegal crossing of individuals directly undermines our institutions and public safety and threatens the well-being of our children.” (Fox News op-ed)
                  • “We must recognize the need for immediate and attainable first steps and a long-term solution. Comprehensive immigration reform is out of reach until the American people have confidence that sufficient action has been taken to protect our southern border. In other words, we are upholding the rule of law. Our immediate action to take is to pass laws and budget resources to strengthen border security.” (Fox News op-ed)
                • America First foreign policy
                  • “Isolationism only leads to weakness, and weakness leads to war.” (CFR)
                  • “It’s really a post-Trump phenomenon that you have this wing of the party that is more isolationist, and that is dangerous for America, is dangerous for our freedoms and dangerous for stability and peace in the world.” (Politico)
                  • Ukraine (Fox News interview):
                    • “Well, I’m supporting our funding of the fight in Ukraine because if we show weakness there then you’re gonna have our aggressors take more significant action like China toward Taiwan. But Russia will not stop at Ukraine. There is a national interest in our support of Ukraine.”
                    • “You need to support those that are being oppressed against the oppressor. Right now that is Ukraine. Now, hopefully we can stop it there. Hopefully, Ukraine, as they have stood up very bravely, will have the continued support of the Western world to fight against aggression. To me, that is the best instincts of Americans but also our history.”
                • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
                  • “Trump has done great harm to our rule of law. Defunding the FBI is, off the charts, a bad idea.” (WaPo)
                  • “We’ve had these times of division before in our history, but we’ve always had leaders to bridge the gaps who have said we need to build respect, we need to restore confidence in our institutions — today we have just the opposite. That defines the course of 2024. We’re going to have a leader that brings out the best of America, which is the first job of being president. Or you’re going to have somebody that increases distrust that we have in our institutions.” (NYT)

                Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

                • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
                  • N/A
                • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
                  • “I’m not an outrageous person. What we’re seeing in the party is a reflection of leadership. Our leader of the party, Donald Trump, appealed to the base instincts of Americans, and he has built his campaign on grievances of the past.” (WaPo)
                • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
                  • N/A
                • Distrust of mainstream media
                  • N/A

                Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

                • Election denial/skepticism
                  • “I don’t believe the election was stolen. They were challenged and the result is that President Biden is in office.” (press conference at meeting of National Governors Association)
                • January 6 response/narrative
                  • “I have said from the beginning that Trump’s actions on January 6 should disqualify him from ever being President again.” (campaign statement)
                • Will Hurd

                  Personalistic support for Trump

                  • How the candidate talks about Trump and the Trump presidency
                    • “If we nominate a lawless, selfish, failed politician like Donald Trump, who lost the House, the Senate, and the White House, we all know Joe Biden will win again. Republicans deserve better, America deserves better; it’s common sense. (Campaign video)
                    • “I’m not going to support Donald Trump. I recognize the impact that has on my ability to get access to the debate stage, but I can’t lie.” (CNN)
                  • Response to the classified documents indictment
                    • “He absolutely could have put people’s lives at risk for not returning these documents.” (The Hill)
                    • According to CNN, “Hurd said the evidence provided in the federal indictment of Trump is ‘proof that this guy is not, should not be president of the United States, and we shouldn’t be defending him.’” (CNN)

                  Support for key Trump policies

                  • Immigration (hardline stance)
                    • “We are treating everyone who comes into this country illegally as an asylum seeker and that is the wrong way to do it…We should be working on root causes in the countries that are fueling illegal immigration – lack of economic opportunity, extreme poverty, and violence… Streamline legal immigration, in this day and age we should be on a month by month basis be able to determine what industries need workers and which one doesn’t. This way you have people paying taxes and helping with some of the broader issues.” (Campaign website video)
                  • America First foreign policy
                    • “America has become an exceptional nation not because of what we have taken but what we have given. We need a foreign policy that inspires fear in our enemies and causes our friends to love us.” (Campaign website)
                    • “Ukraine can win a war against Russia, and they are going to need our help. Why should Americans care about sending dollars to Ukraine? America built an international system that benefits us – using hard and soft power to build networks around the world. The only way that we can ensure that the 21st Century stays the American Century is if we have allies.” (Fox News radio interview)
                  • Overhauling/abolishing governmental institutions
                    • N/A

                  Adopting Trump’s rhetoric and tone

                  • Populist/anti-institutional and anti-establishment
                    • N/A
                  • Existential/apocalyptic/dystopian language
                    • “When I talk about the soul of our country, the very foundation of our government is being attacked. We have a lack of trust in all of our institutions by the American public, whether it’s federal government, state government, local government, academia, the press … you name it. And so, the only way that the United States is going to exist for another 247 years is if we address some of these macro problems.” (NPR)
                  • Narrative of “corrupt” deep state
                    • In an edition of Texas Monthly that he was on the cover of and posed for photographs for, the write-up said: “He also happens to be young (41), a proud veteran of the deep state (he spent his twenties as an undercover CIA operative in South Asia), and the only African American Republican in the House of Representatives. In tone, temperament, background, and worldview, Hurd has carved out a space as the anti-Trump.” (Texas Monthly)
                  • Distrust of mainstream media
                    • N/A

                    Construal of the 2020 election and January 6

                    • Election denial/skepticism
                      • “The 2020 election was not stolen, rigged or fraudulent. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump fair and square. To say otherwise, or support, or prop up candidates who spread the Big Lie is undermining our democracy.” (Twitter)
                    • January 6 response/narrative
                      • “This isn’t a peaceful protest. This is an attack on our democracy and domestic terrorism to try to stop certifying elections. This should be treated as a coup led by a president that will not be peacefully removed from power.” (Twitter)
                      What does this tell us?

                      The first orbit represented on this visualization consists of three Republican candidates who are running with the hopes of garnering the bulk of the Trump base. Two are long shots, but so far in the invisible primary, the third one, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has done better than anyone else with a “more Trump than Trump” strategy. At the other end of the spectrum, we find three other candidates who have decided to run in clear opposition to Trump; unlike some of the other Republican challengers, they have serious backgrounds in government and are plausible presidents. They are betting that they can solidify the non-Trump voters behind their candidacies and return the Republican party to some sort of normalcy. So far, this lane hasn’t gotten any of them very far but former Governor Chris Christie’s surprising second-place finish in a recent New Hampshire poll shows that perhaps there is a growing non-Trump lane.

                      And then there is the murky middle: seven candidates who have sometimes been critical of Trump but who are clearly hoping to take a piece of the Trump base. Chief among them is former Vice President Mike Pence. He is the most important opponent of Trump’s claims about the election and has provided the basis for the indictments regarding January 6. Yet, up until January 6, Pence was a constant and loyal supporter of Trump.

                      Correctly defining a “lane” in the presidential nomination race and then executing a strategy around it is one of the most important and also one of the most difficult things to do in a multi-candidate race. So far in the invisible primary, the candidates are defining their lanes in relation to Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric. These lanes could change by the end of the year, and we won’t know which might lead to the Republican nomination until the voters speak.

                      In next week’s debate as well as during the fall campaigning, it will be important to evaluate how candidate orbits shift, whether Trump’s luster starts to dim, and the degree to which candidates currently in the murky middle start to create greater distance between themselves and Trump. If candidates such as Pence, Scott, and Haley escalate their attacks on Trump, it could transform the campaign narrative and start to peel off voter support for the current frontrunner.

                      Authors

                      • Footnotes
                        1. These include:
                          • Immigration: Hardline stances on immigration, including support for building the wall; zero-tolerance policies for undocumented immigrants; support for the Remain in Mexico policy; ending birthright citizenship; and antagonism toward immigrants and immigration in general.
                          • Foreign policy: “America First” foreign policy, encompassing isolationism and rejection of globalism as well as skepticism of or outright opposition to U.S. support for Ukraine.
                          • Government institutions: Support for overhauling and/or abolishing federal agencies such as the DOJ, FBI, and Department of Education; attacks on civil servants.
                        2. These include the following aspects: For each, we have included an example from Trump’s CPAC speech.
                          • Populist and anti-institutional appeals: “I will fire the unelected bureaucrats and shadow forces who have weaponized our justice system like it has never been weaponized before, these are sick people, and I will put the people back in charge of this country again, the people will be back in charge of our country.”
                          • Existential, apocalyptic, and dystopian language: “If those opposing us succeed, our once beautiful USA will be a failed country that no one will even recognize. A lawless, open borders, crime-ridden, filthy, communist nightmare…That’s where it’s going.”
                          • References to a conspiratorial “deep state:” “We will dismantle the deep state. We will demolish woke tyranny, and we will restore the American republic to all its radiant glory.”
                          • Distrust of mainstream media: “The press is going crazy, they’re going crazy because they’ll do anything to hurt Trump, anything, they’re evil people in many cases. In some cases, they’re great people, but a lot of evil people.”