MATTHEWS: 2024 promises to be a wild ride for the GOP

FILE – Former President Donald Trump stands on stage before speaking at a campaign event, July 8, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

With the start of 2023 came the anticipation for how the GOP presidential race would shake out. 

Former President Donald Trump was the first to declare his candidacy in November 2022, attacking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis right out of the gate well before he’d decided on whether he would run. 

Other contenders soon made their intentions clear, like former Trump ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy announcing in February. 

DeSantis formally made it official in May. 

The race has proved both surprising and predictable in many ways, with the surprising part being DeSantis consistently polling a distant second behind Trump in double digits in many national and state polls despite his popularity with Republican voters. 

The predictable part has been how Trump’s numerous indictments have only increased his standing with the GOP faithful due to the fact that many believe they are politically motivated charges designed to take down a potential general election opponent for President Joe Biden. 

Those feelings will increase in the aftermath of the Colorado Supreme Court ruling last week in a shocking 4-3 decision that Trump’s name should be removed from the state’s primary ballot on grounds that he allegedly engaged in an “insurrection” on Jan. 6, 2021, something no court anywhere has ruled. 

While some legal experts have predicted that the United States Supreme Court is likely to overturn that ruling, that will not change the view in the minds of Trump loyalists that Democrats have tried to rig the system against him ahead of 2024. 

The Republican Iowa caucuses are less than a month away and between that and the New Hampshire primary that will follow a week later and then the South Carolina one in early February, we are likely to know early on whether Trump’s consistent polling lead will carry him through those states. 

If DeSantis or Haley manage to pull off any upsets or at the very least give strong showings, it could be a game changer and perhaps prolong the primary battle, showing primary voters in upcoming states that maybe a Trump nomination isn’t so inevitable after all. 

But whoever the eventual nominee is for the GOP needs to treat the general election battle as though they are 20 points behind even if they’re not, never letting up on the gas and giving the campaign everything they can, because Democrats will be pulling out all the stops to drag Joe Biden and Kamala Harris over the finish line one more time. 

In the 2022 midterm elections, the polls deceptively predicted a strong red wave in the U.S. House. But though Republicans did win back the House, it was by very slim margins. 

Some blamed Trump’s endorsements on the House side for the narrower-than-expected takeover in 2022, suggesting independents had soured on him and voted accordingly for Democrats. But some polls this time around are indicating that their dissatisfaction with Biden is leading some of them back into the Trump camp. 

Whatever the case may be, we are in a political climate right now where Joe Biden is wildly unpopular with voters, receiving some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency recently. 

If Republicans can’t beat Biden in 2024 despite how much the political winds have shifted favorably in their direction, they will need to do some serious soul-searching and course-correcting or risk facing the wrath of Republican voters who will sit home in 2026 to teach GOP politicos a lesson on what it’s like to be taken for granted. 

As always, stay tuned. And Happy New Year, everyone! 

North Carolina native Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a media analyst and regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.