If Trump runs again, will he be coronated or primaried?

If Trump runs again, will he be coronated or primaried?
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The “invisible” 2024 primary to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is in high gear with a mini-bus full of wannabees not named Donald Trump. They are raising money, appearing on Fox News, speaking at GOP events — all the usual rituals expected from potential candidates in the permanent campaign more than three years from Election Day.

However, there are uniquely historic circumstances surrounding this election cycle due to a question with multi-dimensional answers that every player is forced to contemplate: If the former president runs again, should I drop out or challenge him in a primary fight that could jeopardize my political career?

One high-profile contender was quick to answer. On April 12, Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Noem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis MORE, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina governor, announced, “I would not run if President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE ran, and I would talk to him about it.” Does “it” mean Haley would interview to be his running mate? Probably yes, since Trump would strategically benefit from having a distinguished woman of color on his ticket. 

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For now, the rest of the field ignores “the question,” turning the early horse race into an unprecedented, bizarre waiting game. Yet, the 2024 field is forced to acquiesce while a defeated, elderly, twice-impeached former president who presided over the GOP losing control of the White House and Capitol Hill decides whether to run again. (Sounds more like the lead character from a political comedy series imagined by a scriptwriting team at the cannabis café.) 

Meanwhile, Trump’s “unscripted reality show” aired on Fox News this week. The former president, continuing to play his 2024 teasing game, told Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityMeadows says Trump World looking to 'move forward in a real way' Psaki says Biden admin 'needs' Fox News in order to fight vaccine misinformation Ronny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign MORE’s viewers, “So I say this, I am looking at it very seriously, beyond seriously.” But beyond the audience and aimed at the ears of presidential hopefuls, Trump is really saying, “I’m in total control of this race.” And he will be as long as GOP leaders continue to kneel at his throne.

If Trump decides to run, he is likely to officially announce after the 2022 midterm elections (especially if the GOP wins back control of the House and or Senate) while claiming as much credit as politically feasible.

Conversely, as a master spinner, Trump could even leverage a losing midterm outcome to bolster his campaign message, saying, “The GOP failed to win back Congress because I am not in the White House!”

The GOP’s quandary is if Trump runs, will Republican leadership decide to surrender and “coronate” him? Well before Trump announces, the party must discuss that complex problem knowing full well his decision could hinge on their answer.

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We can practically hear some party leaders and other presidential hopefuls on cable news shows saying, “Republicans don’t coronate. Trump must earn the nomination as he did in 2016. His strength with the base must be tested in primaries.”

Undoubtedly, after Trump has been the leader of the free world, it is hard to imagine him trudging through Iowa debating Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE at the Des Moines Rotary Club. More awkward is Trump slogging through New Hampshire snow to speak at town hall candidate events next to his former VP Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOfficers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE and former Sec. of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoNoem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Pence v. Biden on China: Competing but consistent visions MORE.  

Hence why many political prognosticators believe that Trump is only flirting with a 2024 run to stay relevant in order to maintain his power position as king of the Republican Party.

Alternatively, other party leaders might argue, “Trump won a record 74 million voters in 2020. Let’s build on that base, continue to raise millions, and not waste time and resources with presidential primaries. Trump rallies will be the new primaries, so forget about debates and small ball retail politics.”

Conceivably, any remaining candidates who were bold enough to challenge Trump are strongly encouraged to drop out, and Trump is de facto coronated one rally at a time. Then, when not at rallies, he campaigns on Fox News and other Trump-friendly media platforms that gladly welcome his ratings boost.

But that rosy scenario is way too easy.

There exists the strong possibility that a Trump run fails to meet expectations. What if polls show that the GOP base yearns for a new, younger face with Trump-like fighting qualities? Is there someone who embraces “Trumpism” without all the baggage?

That sentiment appears to be on display at PredictIt — the political prediction “stock market” where shares are bought and sold based on the outcome of political events.

At this writing, the prediction market for the GOP 2024 presidential nominee shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida poll: DeSantis falls behind Crist as COVID-19 cases surge Overnight Health Care: Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge | NYC to require vaccination for indoor activities | Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates MORE leading trading at 23 cents, with Trump at 22 cents. (A 23 percent probability that DeSantis comes out on top.) Far behind is Nikki Haley, trading at 10 cents, while Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemSouth Dakota Gov. Noem says she doesn't plan to increase vaccine messaging Republican governors revolt against CDC mask guidance Western US airports face jet fuel shortage MORE (R-S.D.), Pompeo and Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Biden administration expands Afghan refugee program | Culture war comes for female draft registration | US launches third Somalia strike in recent weeks Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Chuck Todd is dead wrong: Liberal bias defines modern journalism MORE (R-Ark.) trade even lower. (And now former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is rumored to be considering a run with or without Trump, so watch his trading value.)  

You might ask, “How did PredictIt predict the 2020 presidential election?” On Nov. 2, Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE’s shares traded at 64 cents, with Trump at 42 cents.

PredictIt is an excellent indicator for gauging candidate strength, and Trump nearly tied with DeSantis signals that Trump is not a shoo-in. Ultimately, perhaps Trump will offer a grand excuse not to run or bow out if the going gets tough to save face and not show weakness, which he is known to loathe.

No modern former president has ever positioned himself into the upcoming elections as much as Trump is doing now and will over the next two to four years. But if Trump is forced into the 2024 background, we can bet that his behavior will launch another fascinating reality show and new problems for the GOP. Until then, coronate or primary is the question.

Myra Adams writes about politics and religion for numerous publications. She is a RealClearPolitics contributor. She served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008. Follow her on Twitter @MyraKAdams.