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Pompeo fuels 2024 speculation under shadow of Trump

Former Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoNikki Haley warns Republicans on China: 'If they take Taiwan, it's all over' The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters RNC's McDaniel launches podcast highlighting Republicans outside of Washington MORE has aggressively sought to boost his public profile in recent weeks amid speculation of a 2024 presidential run.

Since leaving his post at Foggy Bottom in January, Pompeo has made speaking appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to vote in presidential nominating contests. He’s joined Fox News as a contributor, giving him a clear platform to speak to the network’s conservative audience. And he’s involving himself in legislative efforts on Capitol Hill, joining a group of Republican lawmakers this week in unveiling legislation curbing President BidenJoe BidenJapan to possibly ease COVID-19 restrictions before Olympics 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday China supplies millions of vaccine doses to developing nations in Asia MORE’s ability to lift sanctions on Iran.

But despite his early and aggressive efforts to position himself for a White House bid, Pompeo faces the same obstacle as any other Republican eyeing the party’s next presidential nomination: former President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Carolina Senate passes trio of election measures 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos MORE, who is weighing a political comeback of his own in 2024.

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Republicans have little doubt about Pompeo’s intentions, noting that Pompeo’s actions since leaving the State Department this year resemble a by-the-book approach to a presidential campaign.

In addition to making back-to-back appearances in Iowa and a virtual showing at a New Hampshire GOP fundraiser, Pompeo has emerged as the most ardent critic of the Biden administration’s approach to foreign policy and international cooperation among former Trump administration officials.

“He’s building on his strengths, which is foreign policy,” Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former aide to Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCyber concerns dominate Biden-Putin summit Nikki Haley warns Republicans on China: 'If they take Taiwan, it's all over' It's past time we elect a Black woman governor MORE (R-Fla.), said. “One of the challenges of running for president is you don’t know what voters will be looking for in three years. If it’s a national security election, because of external events, all of a sudden Pompeo looks like a front-runner.”

“You always want to run on your strengths in politics,” Conant added. “It’s what gives him relevance. If he was giving a speech on tax policy right now, it probably wouldn’t resonate much.”

Republicans see him leveraging his experience as Trump’s top diplomat to establish himself as the logical successor to the former president’s “America First” vision for U.S. foreign policy.

“He’s setting himself up to be the leader on America First foreign policy after President Trump,” one Republican consultant said. “He’s leaning on the experience that he has in order to stand out and stay in the spotlight.”

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“I think that might be a smart move,” the consultant added. “He’s essentially showing off his leadership skills and talking up President Trump’s agenda at the same time, which makes it difficult for anyone, including Trump, to see him as overstepping or betraying Trump.”

Pompeo hasn’t exactly been bashful about his ambitions. Asked by Fox News’s Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityBook claims Trump believed Democrats would replace Biden with Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama in 2020 election 9 Republicans not named Trump who could run in 2024 Fox Nation to stream primetime Fox News shows in full MORE last month whether he would consider a 2024 presidential bid, Pompeo did not deny the possibility.

“I’m always up for a good fight,” Pompeo said. “I care deeply about America. You and I have been a part of the conservative movement for an awfully long time now. I aim to keep at it.”

Hannity said he would take Pompeo’s remarks “as a strong maybe,” to which Pompeo replied: “That’s perfect.”

Pompeo would likely end his run as a Fox contributor if he did officially announce a run for office, something the network has done with other contributors.

Beyond his new role at Fox News and his early appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire, Pompeo joined a handful of potential 2024 hopefuls in addressing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February.

In another move that fueled speculation about his political future, Pompeo’s still-active House campaign committee transferred $155,000 to a newly formed political action committee, Champion American Values. While Pompeo hasn’t officially announced his affiliation with the group, its name resembles a phrase used repeatedly by the former secretary of State in recent months, and the PAC is using the same bank and treasurer as Pompeo’s House campaign.

But Pompeo faces a number of challenges on his path to 2024, not the least of which is his former boss.

Polling of the 2024 GOP presidential primary at this point shows that Trump remains far and away the favorite for the nomination should he decide to run again. And even if he doesn’t, early surveys show Trump acolytes like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDeSantis: Florida officers to respond to 'border security crisis' in Texas, Arizona Sanders 'delighted' DeSantis asked White House to import Canadian prescription drugs Conservative group launches organization billed as 'NRA for families' MORE and former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceNikki Haley warns Republicans on China: 'If they take Taiwan, it's all over' The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters 21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol MORE leading the pack of would-be contenders.

What’s more, if he runs in 2024, Pompeo will likely be competing with a crowded field of Republicans. In addition to DeSantis and Pence, other potential contenders include Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonCourt fines baker 0 for refusing to make gender transition cake Nikki Haley warns Republicans on China: 'If they take Taiwan, it's all over' Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE (R-Ark.) and Rubio, as well as South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemRNC's McDaniel launches podcast highlighting Republicans outside of Washington South Dakota governor slams Biden over fireworks plans: 'What a hypocrite' Overnight Energy:  Senate climate advocates start digging in on infrastructure goals | Judge rebuffs Noem's bid for July 4th fireworks at Mount Rushmore | Climate advocate wins third seat on Exxon board MORE and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyNikki Haley warns Republicans on China: 'If they take Taiwan, it's all over' Pence slams Biden agenda in New Hampshire speech Vandalism at Rep. Mace's home sparks bipartisan outcry MORE.

Republicans are acutely aware of how protective Trump is of his ability to shape the direction of the GOP and its candidates. The former president remains the most influential Republican in the country and any eventual GOP presidential hopeful will have to pick up the support of his ultra-loyal voter base to win the party’s nomination.

“The rule for all these guys needs to be: prepare to run like DJT isn’t in the equation,” one former Trump campaign official said. “If he runs, be ready to back off or take your chances.”

Haley has already indicated that she would forego a presidential bid if Trump were to jump into the race. She told reporters earlier this month that she would support the former president should he make a comeback in 2024, expressing a dilemma that virtually every would-be GOP hopeful may have to grapple with.

“I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” Haley said. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point if that decision is something that has to be made.”

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Still, many Republicans are privately skeptical that Trump will make another run for the White House. Some operatives are encouraging other potential candidates to move forward with preparations for eventual campaigns, fearing that a failure to prepare could leave Republicans at a disadvantage later on if or when Trump backs out of a 2024 bid.

Conant, the former Rubio adviser, said that despite Trump’s looming presence in the budding 2024 contest, the Republican field is likely to be fluid, with no candidate having a clear claim to front-runner status.

“The conventional wisdom amongst party insiders is that Trump’s political career is over, but nobody wants to be the one to tell him,” Conant said. “Therefore, you have all these 2024 candidates showing a great deal of deference but forging ahead with their own plans.”

“This is the most wide-open field we’ve seen in many cycles,” he added. “There’s no obvious front-runner. I think Mike Pompeo has an interesting lane and shouldn’t be counted out.”