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Trump's expected GOP presidential challengers have yet to announce their bids

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Not only is former President Trump returning to Facebook and Instagram, he's also returning to the campaign trail for the first time since announcing his reelection bid in November. Trump will speak to New Hampshire Republicans on Saturday before going to South Carolina. Meanwhile, the first primary is a little more than a year away, and no Republican has come forward to challenge Trump. Zach Montellaro is a reporter at Politico and he looked into why. Good morning, Zach.

ZACH MONTELLARO: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

FADEL: Thanks for being here. So what did you find out? Why doesn't Trump have any competition yet?

MONTELLARO: Well, it's really a two-pronged problem for Republicans in the race. One is Trump himself, you know, kind of a reverse of 2016. Candidates think now - and their advisers think now - that if they get in the race, a one-on-one match with Trump would be a - it would be bad for them, that they would be attacked pretty ruthlessly by the former president, that if the attention is on a one-versus-one race, it would end up poorly for them. And then the other part is that there's some level of voter fatigue. We have had a busy six years, I would say, since the 2016 election. And there's some thinking that voters just at some point aren't ready for another presidential campaign.

FADEL: Yeah. But at some point, if they want to challenge him, they have to get in the race. Are they coordinating so it's not a one-on-one?

MONTELLARO: Right. You know, we're not that far away from the first election. It feels like it, but, you know, a year is not that long in political time, especially to run a national campaign. So there has been at least some background chatter. OK, you get in first and we'll follow along. You know, the likely situation here is that one candidate will make the plunge, will get in the race to face off against Trump 1v1 and will likely not share that stage for very long. But we're kind of in a standoff right now for somebody to make that first move.

FADEL: So is that person the sacrifice?

MONTELLARO: I'm not sure if sacrifice is the right term, but they'll certainly have a couple of weeks of unique campaigning. Going up against the former president when they're the sole target will have its benefits, of course. You know, fundraising - it's easier to fundraise when you're one of two as opposed...

FADEL: Yeah.

MONTELLARO: ...To one of, you know, seven or eight or 10 or 12. But they will also have to face down Trump's wrath. We've seen the former president attack even folks he think could be candidates. Thinking about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He hasn't announced a campaign yet, but Trump has already started to attack him, thinking that he might run against him.

FADEL: Right. So any indication of who might be the first?

MONTELLARO: You know, we've heard some rumblings about U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley who served during Trump's tenure in the White House, potentially making a move soon. But beyond that, a lot of candidates have shown they're pretty comfortable waiting. Ron DeSantis is one of the only candidates spending money on important digital ads - spending any meaningful amount of money. Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state under the - former President Trump, just said yesterday on TV, you know, he'll make a decision in a couple of months. So at this point, no one seems super eager to be the first one in the race.

FADEL: Are they waiting it out a little bit, hoping that maybe Trump will take himself out between his legal issues and moves like dining with an antisemite?

MONTELLARO: That's certainly part of it, is that the former president hasn't had a great run of it since launching his campaign. He really hasn't even been campaigning. Now, this weekend could be the change to that. As you mentioned earlier, he's actually going to the earlier states, he's going to be back on Facebook. But since Trump launched his campaign, he hasn't actually fundraised all that much online, he hasn't actually traveled. So they're pretty content to let Trump do what he wants to do on his own.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, what about the anti-Trump candidates that there are rumblings about - former Representative Liz Cheney, Larry Hogan, the former Maryland governor? Are they going to declare?

MONTELLARO: You know, they're up in the air, too. We haven't seen - among many of these candidates, they are the few that haven't actually made any sort of serious steps yet other than that background move of hiring staffs.

FADEL: Zach Montellaro from Politico, thank you so much for your time.

MONTELLARO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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