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Trump 2024 talk threatens to freeze other GOP hopefuls in place

President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE is openly flirting with the possibility of running for president again in 2024, complicating the path of Republicans who hope to launch their own bids next cycle. 

Trump, who will travel to Georgia on Saturday to campaign for two GOP senators facing runoff elections next month, explicitly alluded to the possibility this week in remarks to supporters at a White House holiday party, while continuing to deny his defeat to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Manchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE

Given the president’s ironclad grip on Republican voters, even the flirtation with a run could freeze some GOP hopefuls in place given the risk of a battle with Trump.

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“Trump is the 800 pound gorilla in the Republican Party right now. For the time being, everyone else is going to make room for him,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist and former communications director for Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

“I think if you’re somebody who is considering a 2024 presidential bid, in many ways you need to wait and see what Trump does because that will clearly impact what sort of campaign you run, if you run one at all,” he added. 

Trump has told people that he is running again in 2024, according to one person close to the White House, but his allies have doubts as to whether he will go through with it.

There have been reports that Trump may even announce plans to run in 2024 on the same day as Biden’s inauguration. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Wednesday that she is unaware of any such plans and hasn’t spoken to Trump about whether he plans to run again.

One source close to the Trump campaign said that Trump, who would be 78 in 2024, could “dance” with the idea of running for some time to attract media coverage and help his business pursuits, but predicted that he would not seek another term.

Only one former president, Grover Cleveland, has served two nonconsecutive terms as president. While other one-term presidents unsuccessfully ran for another term after leaving office, like Martin Van Buren, recent one-term presidents have not done so. 

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But recent one-term presidents also have not emerged from an electoral defeat with the strength of Trump. While he lost the popular vote handily and Biden won more than 70 more electoral votes, the margins in the three states that effectively decided the contest — Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin — was a total of about 50,000 votes.

Biden won the most total votes of any candidate running for president in history. Trump’s total was the second most.

It is possible that Trump’s sway with Republicans will falter after he exits the White House. He will no longer have the presidential bully pulpit, nor the wheel of the federal government.

He will retain his Twitter account and it remains to be seen how much he will continue to drive news coverage.

Republicans are watching the president’s next moves closely, acutely aware of the clout he holds in the party and his penchant for attacking anyone whom he perceives as a political rival. 

“It’s a matter of playing the long game,” a person close to one potential 2024 contender said. “No one is second guessing their plans yet, but we might have to be a little more subtle about how we approach things – see what Trump does.”

A handful of potential 2024 hopefuls, including Rubio and Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Opposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union MORE (R-Ark.), have traveled to Georgia in recent weeks to stump for Sens. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerGeorgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' Loeffler asks Georgia attorney general to investigate Raffensperger over 2020 election Former Rep. Doug Collins won't enter Georgia Senate race MORE (R-Ga.) and David PerdueDavid PerdueGeorgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' Warnock raises nearly M since January victory Georgia's top election official looks to shake political drama MORE (R-Ga.) ahead of the state’s Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections in an effort seen by many political observers as an early test of influence among GOP voters.

There are some potential contenders who aren’t likely to be put off by the prospect of another Trump candidacy.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who has long been viewed as a future presidential hopeful, hasn’t shied away from criticizing Trump and has called for the GOP to turn away from the president’s combative approach to politics.

At the same time, it’s not entirely clear a centrist Republican such as Hogan could win a GOP presidential primary in the post-Trump era.

Those Republicans who may want to compete to be Trump’s successor have a tougher road ahead as long as Trump himself might run for the White House.

“Pretty much every other person flirting with a run right now, the rationale is ‘I’m the best person to pick up where Trump left off,’ ” one Republican operative told The Hill. “Their candidacy is premised on Trump not running again, except for Larry Hogan, and maybe a couple others.”

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The president’s flirtation with a 2024 campaign “freezes the field and lets Trump and the Trump family toy with them” in the meantime, the operative said.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll released last month found that 53 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters would back Trump if the 2024 GOP primary were held today, while 12 percent would support Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump spokesman says defeating Cheney a top priority GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' MORE. All other candidates received under 10 percent.  

In addition to his broad popularity among the Republican electorate, Trump has one other key advantage: money.

Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC), along with a number of affiliated groups, have pulled in some $207.5 million in the month since Election Day. That includes money raised by Trump’s new political action committee Save America, a leadership PAC that the president can use to fund any future political activities.

The leadership PAC effectively gives Trump a way to retain influence in Republican politics after he leaves office. Not only will Trump be able to use the money to help other candidates — especially those who remain loyal to him and his brand of populism — he will also be able to pay for crucial campaign tools, like consulting services and polling, that could help him keep his finger on the pulse of the GOP.

Trump alluded to the possibility he could run again in 2024 during a holiday party at the White House this week, according to video that was captured by one of the attendees and posted online. 

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“It’s been an amazing four years, we’re trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I will see you in four years,” Trump told the crowd. 

It is unclear how Trump will use his time once he leaves the White House. There has been talk of him potentially starting his own media company, and his allies expect him to vocally weigh in on Biden’s moves in the White House from another perch. 

“Trump’s appeal is uniquely based on his ability to capture media attention. By dominating the coverage, he constantly drives the conversation towards the issues that benefit him,” Conant said, noting that every tweet after Inauguration Day will carry “less news value” because it does not have the power of the presidency.