Exclusive: Dem opposition group targets wide field of 21 Republicans for '24 battle

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The opposition research group American Bridge is gearing up to track a whopping 21 possible candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, according to a document provided to Yahoo News.

The Democrats’ largest opposition research group, which tracks stunning candidate comments and monitors the expansive world of conservative media, has hired a new presidential research director and a squad of more than a dozen researchers as it gets ready for the 2024 race, which is expected to start in earnest in just a few weeks.

And the field they’re tracking is the most expansive in modern memory. Top targets for the Democratic trackers include the de facto frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, and his chief competition, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But they’re also watching "Never Trump" Republicans who have toyed with a run, including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. And a handful of governors who have flown under the radar, including Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Greg Abbott of Texas.

In short, 2024 isn’t Trump’s playing field alone.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Alie Skowronski/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“I think part of it is an insurance policy. I think part of it is also acknowledging that a lot can happen, especially as we’re seeing sort of the walls close in around Trump,” said Julie Alderman Boudreau, American Bridge’s new presidential research director, brought in to oversee the group’s 2024 tracking operation. “We’ve acknowledged Trump as a candidate. And I think it’d be foolish to say he’s not the frontrunner, but at the same time there’s going to be a contest. We might as well get ready.”

The target list outlined by American Bridge is almost as notable for the celebrity and spur-of-the-moment prospects not listed. Trump’s oldest son, Donald Jr., who at one time was floated as a possible contender, is off the list. So too is Fox News’ top talker, Tucker Carlson. And rap superstar turned conservative influencer Kanye West, who stole headlines recently with a series of antisemitic remarks, is also absent.

But Alderman Boudreau said the group is ready to add the rapper to their efforts if he gets serious. She noted the rise of antisemitic remarks from Republican hopefuls well beyond West’s outbursts.

“We put out a statement when [Sen. Marco] Rubio [one of their 2024 targets] said something about how George Soros and the cultural elites were in charge, this antisemitism is becoming out loud and proud,” she said. “DeSantis was fundraising over fearmongering over George Soros. So this is definitely not limited to Kanye.”

Kanye West
Kanye West at an event in 2019. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Her team is also adjusting for a new world of politics in which politicians make more outlandish accusations and comments publicly (a change ushered in by Trump in 2016) and it’s harder to break through amid the torrent of political news. The answer, Alderman Boudreau said, is to cover more aspirants faster and stay nimble to keep up with the nanosecond news cycles.

“We’re providing data points to create big narratives,” she said.

The days of a candidate being sunk by a single extreme comment — like 2012 Missouri Senate nominee Todd Akin’s statement that “legitimate rape” can’t possibly result in pregnancy — are long gone, she said. Now the team of researchers that she’s overseeing for the 2024 tracking operation will have to string together as many astounding moments as they can to build a case.

And they need to cover more candidates than ever before. Alderman Boudreau said that in 2016, American Bridge had just about every possible contender — even then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — covered as part of their early efforts, except the one who ended up winning the Republican nomination and ultimately the White House: Trump. (They came late to the game on Trump in 2016, admittedly.)

Alderman Boudreau also said she expects the trend of politicians trolling and clamoring for attention on social media to intensify, not subside, in 2024.

“I think it’s only going to get worse from there,” she said. “Someone like Ron DeSantis, who’s shown an appetite for this, right now he’s running in a general election. And the idea of a general election is to run to the center, and he’s still deporting people ... to Martha’s Vineyard on false pretenses. It’s going to get worse from there.”

People waiting outside a migrant resource center
People waiting outside a migrant resource center in San Antonio in September. (Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images)

The expansive field they’re tracking includes eight Republican governors, seven U.S. senators, five former officeholders (including Trump and Pence) and one U.S. representative.

The conventional wisdom, supported by numerous pundits and polls, shows a majority or strong plurality of Republican voters supporting Trump for the nomination in 2024.

But Alderman Boudreau, who is joined by deputy research directors Aaron Carlson and Joe O’Connell, said the group picked a wide array based on who is making all the moves of a likely contender — traveling to early-voting states like New Hampshire and Iowa, hiring political staff, stumping for other Republicans and generally attempting to grab the spotlight.

One strategy she’s discerned has been Republicans trying to thread the needle of winning over Trump supporters while distinguishing themselves from Trump himself.

“I think everyone is walking on eggshells. You see people who are desperate to appeal to Trump supporters and desperate to distance themselves from Trump, someone like [Arkansas Sen.] Tom Cotton. I think the strategy is really interesting — and abhorrent, frankly,” she said.

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Minden, Nev., Oct. 8. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

But the group also picked a number of Republicans who, for lack of a better term, constitute the waning establishment wing of the party and who have routinely locked horns with Trump. The tactic of hitting mainstream Republicans at a time when more extremist candidates are floating antidemocratic ideas like refusing to acknowledge election outcomes has split Democrats and activists on the left.

But Alderman Boudreau said the bar can’t be lowered just because of Trump.

“The bar is below the surface level,” she said. “Has Liz Cheney done the right thing by serving the Jan. 6 committee and speaking the truth? Yes. But that can't be the only qualifier. She’s still the person who put out a statement the day that Roe got overturned.”

American Bridge’s target list for 2024:

  1. Former President Donald Trump

  2. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

  3. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

  4. Former Vice President Mike Pence

  5. Florida Sen. Rick Scott

  6. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

  7. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem

  8. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney

  9. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan

  10. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin

  11. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott

  12. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley

  13. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton

  14. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley

  15. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

  16. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

  17. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu

  18. Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott

  19. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey

  20. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson

  21. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney