There are auditions. A lot of them.
Before White House hopefuls can step even onto a soap box at a state fair, those candidates need a message, connections to members of Congress, realistic ways to make money, and more. Much more. This is the shadow primary, which is already getting started, at least in the Republican Party, as a slew of ambitious politicians position themselves to compete for a chance to challenge President Biden.
Enter the Republican Study Committee, the largest GOP caucus on Capitol Hill. “If you are a 2024 hopeful,” the group’s chairman, Rep. Jim Banks, told RealClearPolitics, “it's not hard to look around and see that this is where the action is at.”
Those keeping an eye on who is up and who is down on the right could do worse than watch the RSC. It is an easy, if not exact, way to keep tabs on a race that hasn’t officially begun. Banks and the 147 other members of the group have held court with a handful of likely hopefuls already and expect more to make their way to the Hill in the months ahead. Founded during the Carter administration, the RSC has served as much as an ideas factory as a hangout: It’s where committee members draft white papers and build partnerships, then work to put those policies into law.
With the GOP not only out of power but struggling with an identity crisis, there is a sense of urgency. “We are developing the agenda in the post-Trump era,” Banks told RCP, “bringing Republicans back together at a time when we haven't been all that united recently.”
While big name Republicans routinely work with the RSC, potential presidential candidates see it as vehicle for the party to unite around them. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo huddled with committee members just off Capitol Hill to discuss the future of the conservative movement a dozen days before his boss left office (Tucker Carlson of Fox News also addressed that gathering).
Other rumored candidates, such as Nikki Haley, make a point to keep in touch.
“Hat tip to Congressman Jim Banks and the Republican Study Committee for focusing and getting to work on the policies that will unite the Republican Party and move our country forward,” the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations tweeted. “Let’s get to work.” A spokeswoman for an advocacy group Haley founded added that more outreach is on the horizon, saying that “Haley and our team at Stand for America have enjoyed working with [the RSC] on strong policy that unites conservatives.”
One early area of unity has been opposition to federal funding for abortion. The committee drafted a letter to both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledging their opposition to any legislation that undoes the Hyde Amendment, the longstanding provision prohibiting federal funding of abortion. The letter was signed by 200 House members.
The RSC also rallied opposition to the granting of a waiver for retired Gen. Lloyd Austin when he was nominated to be the next defense secretary. It was, Banks said, a joint effort with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. He added that the group has worked with others mulling a presidential bid, such as Florida Sen. Rick Scott, on his election-integrity initiatives.
The biggest name expected to run for president is former VP Mike Pence. This week, he locked up key spots critical for organizing grassroots and motivating donors by teaming with both the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Young America’s Foundation. He also has an open invitation at RSC. Pence was himself chairman of the committee, which proved to be a steppingstone to House leadership and eventually Indiana governor. Banks, who expects Pence to run in 2024, told RCP that the former vice president is in regular touch with the committee.