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Republicans should reset the 2024 primary schedule: These two states could go first

Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump
Associated Press-John Locher/Associated Press-Andrew Harnik

Now that we know where the Democrats plan to hold their first 2024 presidential primary vote (South Carolina is the big winner, much to the chagrin of rivals Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire), let’s turn our attention to how Republicans plan to prioritize the same four states a year from now.

Here, the GOP has a problem — that is, if the purpose of the early primaries is not only to winnow the field but also to produce a frontrunner who can retake the White House.

The winners of the last seven Iowa caucuses in years when there wasn’t an incumbent Republican president were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Govs. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) and George W. Bush (R-Texas), the late Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas (in 1996 and 1988) and the late George H.W. Bush. Only the younger Bush managed to secure both his party’s nomination and the presidency.

New Hampshire’s record is better, as Ronald Reagan, the elder Bush and Donald Trump all won the Granite State primary and the White House months later. Then again, Trump twice lost New Hampshire in November elections — so much for general-election transferability.

If Republicans want to escape the “same-old, same-old,” as have the Democrats, here’s a suggestion: It’s time to think outside the box and choose a new state, other than the same four to which we’ve become accustomed, as the starting point on the road to Milwaukee and the 2024 GOP national convention.

I have two suggestions.

First, why not cut to the chase and start — and maybe settle matters — in Florida?

It makes sense if you believe, as I do, that the 2024 GOP race could be as simple as a referendum on two Floridians — Trump vs. Gov. Ron DeSantis (assuming the latter joins Trump as a presidential contender). Make that three or more Floridians if the seemingly restless Sen. Rick Scott turns his attention from antagonizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (and vice versa) to tormenting DeSantis. (The senator and governor recently clashed over whether unspent federal COVID relief dollars should be returned to Washington.)

For a party fond of less bureaucracy and streamlined regulation, a Florida kickoff offers a chance for early closure: DeSantis topples Trump, whose aura of primary invincibility then plummets to earth faster than a Chinese spy balloon; conversely, Trump trounces DeSantis and proves that his hold on the Republican primary electorate is much the same as in 2016.

Of course, that won’t happen. Heaven forbid we settle matters in one day.

So, let’s move on to another alternative state: Wisconsin.

Why the Badger State? In part, because of electoral math.

Presuming Arizona and Georgia revert to their traditional red hues in 2024 (Biden carried both by 3 percent or less in 2020), and keeping the other 48 states the same as in 2020, the GOP nominee will have to find at least nine more electoral votes to reach 270. Wisconsin, with its 10 electoral votes, is the easiest reach. (Biden carried it by only 0.7 percent, a difference of just 20,600 votes.)

But there’s another argument that favors Wisconsin as the earliest of primary states: It could be a proving ground for the party’s priorities.

Look no further than two GOP Wisconsin lawmakers fresh off reelection and busy with investigations in the new Congress. Sen. Ron Johnson’s interests are synonymous with the sordid affairs of Hunter Biden and his father’s struggles with classified documents. Rep. Mike Gallagher, chairman of the newly minted House special committee on China, is a media go-to source on the troubled state of U.S.-Sino relations — what my Hoover colleague, the eminent historian and geostrategist Niall Ferguson, likens to “Cold War 2.0”.

Why mention these two Republicans, neither of whom has shown any presidential interest? Because the senator’s approach is a sure-fire way to win heart and minds … of Fox News’ prime-time viewing audience. Whereas the congressman’s field of study connects to a sweeping set of issues — national security, global diplomacy, economic competitiveness, climate change, technology and privacy — that should be the bedrock of a Republican platform in 2024.

Remember these suggestions a year from now, should Republicans decide to once again start their selection process in Iowa, home of the troubled vote count (or, as Trump would have you believe, a dishonest one at that). Which might be the strongest argument for a first-in-the-nation Florida presidential primary. 

In addition to clement weather and settling the GOP’s alpha-male debate, you wouldn’t have to wait long for the results.

Bill Whalen, the Hoover Institution’s Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Distinguished Policy Fellow in Journalism, is the moderator of Hoover’s GoodFellows broadcast and its Matters Of Policy & Politics podcast. Follow him on Twitter @billwhalenca.

Tags 2024 gop primary 2024 Republican primary Bob Dole Donald Trump Florida Florida Republicans George H.W. Bush George W. Bush GOP primaries GOP primary GOP primary election Hunter Biden Joe Biden Mike Gallagher Mike Huckabee Mitch McConnell Republican Party Republican primaries Republican Primary Rick Santorum Rick Scott Ron DeSantis Ron Johnson Ronald Reagan Ted Cruz Wisconsin Wisconsin Republicans

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