The Republican Party's primary elections are still far away, but candidates other than Trump are formalizing their candidacies. Well-known figures such as Haley, DeSantis, Pence, and Christie will try their chances against Trump, but the Republican Party's transformation under Trump's influence and the increasing marginalization of the centrist Republican line leave little room for candidates who are not aligned with Trump or the Trumpist ideology. On the Democratic side, if Biden runs for re-election, the pressure for renewal within the Republican Party may decrease, further weakening the voices of those who want to leave Trump in the past.
Trump's legal problems don't seem to have dealt a significant blow to his leading position in the party's candidacy race. In the first case opened against him in New York, where he was charged with document forgery, Trump has been convicted of sexual harassment in another case and ordered to pay a $5 million fine. In addition, the investigation into secret documents in Washington, D.C. has reached the "grand jury" stage, indicating the possibility of a new lawsuit against the former president. It would not be surprising if a new case is opened in the election interference case in South Carolina.
These cases, which are seen by the Trumpist base as nothing more than part of a conspiracy, could have an impact on center-right Republicans who seek more change. Surveys show that Trump has left his mark on the Republican Party and transformed it. In the states that occupy the top positions in the primary schedule, Trump seems to have support ranging from 50% to 60%, significantly surpassing his closest follower, DeSantis.
The performance of candidates against Trump in their respective states' polls can be a significant indicator. While Trump is clearly leading in national polls, it appears that he may not have the same level of comfort in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where the primaries will be held earliest. If he fails to perform strongly in the early stages of the race and even suffers a defeat in one or two states, it will be challenging for him. However, the party's base, which has become extremely Trumpist, indicates that Trump is still the most likely candidate for success.
In the pre-2016 primaries, Trump succeeded in defeating his rivals in the states they represented, pushing Marco Rubio out of Florida and Jeb Bush out of South Carolina. Similarly, Trump is currently significantly ahead of Niki Haley in South Carolina, while he is in a close race with DeSantis in Florida. Haley's reluctance to directly criticize Trump actually demonstrates her aspiration for the vice presidency. At this stage, DeSantis appears to be the candidate with the highest chance against Trump, both on a national level and in the early primary states.