Welcome to the Reuters.com BETA. Read our Editor's note on how we're helping professionals make smart decisions.
Skip to main content

United States

At private Texas event, Republican presidential hopefuls tiptoe around Trump

4 minute read
1/2

Former Vice President Mike Pence departs after the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. Melina Mara/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - A private gathering at a hotel in Austin, Texas, last week was billed as a thank you for Republican donors for a state registration drive, but it gave a clutch of 2024 presidential candidates a chance to test drive their pitch - if former President Donald Trump does not run.

Trump was not invited, nor was he the central focus of the event. Speakers did not dwell on his false claims that the election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden was stolen from him, attendees and people briefed on the event told Reuters.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a sometimes Trump ally who is exploring a 2024 run, helped set the tone by telling the crowd of about 200 that "The election is over, Biden won. We just need to beat him in 2024," the sources said.

Christie and other 2024 hopefuls were interviewed on stage by members of the Texas congressional delegation.

The list included Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. senators Tim Scott of South Carolina, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Pence received a standing ovation when he took the stage and talked about the Trump-Pence administration's accomplishments, offering what one attendee called "a lot of platitudes."

DeSantis, described by another attendee approvingly as "Trump without the sharp edges," talked about his military background and his response to the coronavirus pandemic in Florida. About 36,000 people in the state died of the disease; nearly 45% are vaccinated.

Pompeo gave an extended review of global affairs, with a focus on China and Iran; Cotton spoke about foreign policy as well. Rubio said the party needed to update its agenda; and Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, was described as a crowd favorite.

Many in the group are already traveling the country individually and speaking to Republican groups to suss out support for their race. This was the first gathering of several at the same event.

"People wanted to see what the future looks like," said an attendee.

Whether the Republican Party's national future includes one of these candidates remains to be seen. Trump, 74, remains incredibly popular among Republican voters right now, beating out Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush in a recent poll asking who should be the role model for the next generation of party leaders. https://tmsnrt.rs/2Qd4XcV

About 60% of Republicans believe his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

Trump won a straw poll at the CPAC conservatives' convention earlier this year in which 55% of attendees said they would vote for him in the 2024 nominating race. DeSantis was second at 21%.

Trump's advisers say he is aware that a variety of Republicans are considering 2024 runs, but believes he would easily win nomination. They are divided as to whether he really will run, as are a host of influential Republicans.

Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

More from Reuters