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June 05, 2023

SIU political experts: Trump has the edge in expanding GOP presidential hopeful field

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — With an already-crowded Republican presidential primary field likely to add more candidates to the list of 2024 hopefuls, political experts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale believe the party’s mainstay at this point continues to be former President Donald Trump, with President Joe Biden facing no effective or serious opposition from Democrats.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christi and former Vice President and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence are expected to announce their presidential bids this week to bring the field to 12 declared noteworthy candidates, according to information from Ballotpedia and Politico. However, Kenneth Mulligan, associate professor of political science, notes that Trump’s support within the Republican Party is “narrow but deep,” and John Jackson, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute visiting professor, says a change in party rules may favor the former president. John Shaw, institute director, adds Trump’s myriad legal issues add another component to the campaign.

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Kenneth Mulligan is an associate professor of political science in SIU’s School of Anthropology, Political Science and Sociology. His research and teaching involve American political behavior, media and politics, and public opinion.  He can be reached at 618-201-9634 and

John Jackson, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute visiting professor, has more than four decades of political expertise and research in presidential politics, campaigns and elections. He can be reached at 618-303-1240 or

John Shaw, director, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, spent 26 years in Washington, D.C., covering Congress and economic issues for Market News International before his arrival at SIU Carbondale in 2018. He has been a guest on the PBS NewsHour and C-SPAN. He can be reached at 618-453-4009 or

“Other Republican candidates are treating Trump almost as if he were an incumbent,” Mulligan said. “He has huge leads in national polls of Republican voters. According to research by FiveThirtyEight, historically speaking, candidates this far ahead, at this point in the campaign, almost always win the nomination. So, I think it is Trump’s to lose.”

Yet, Mulligan said, it’s still fairly early, and most voters aren’t paying attention. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is one viable challenger.

“Despite Trump's commanding lead, DeSantis has a lot going for him,” Mulligan said. “Including, most especially, the support of monied and influential anti-Trump Republicans who are acutely aware that the only way to beat Trump in the primaries is to coalesce around a single alternative candidate. This makes it a two-candidate race in my view.  It is possible that a longshot such as Nikki Haley (former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina governor) or Tim Scott (South Carolina senator) could break out. That would make it interesting, but it seems unlikely.”

John Jackson, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute visiting professor, notes the Republican primary race “is well underway” with new candidates entering every week. The large field “in many ways looks a lot like the choices facing GOP voters in 2016 when Trump won handily,” Jackson said.

“The more candidates who enter the race the better the odds for Trump. He has the advantage of a big poll lead with the party base and being a former president,” Jackson said. “The sleeper that few have noticed is that Trump’s people controlled the party rules committee in 2020 when the RNC set the rules for 2024. They expanded the number of winner-take-all state primaries. This will be a major advantage for Trump in 2024 when he has a loyal base of about 35%, which will be enough for him to be the strong favorite in a crowded and splintered field.”

John Shaw, director, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute director, believes the 2024 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination “will be one of the most intriguing moments in recent American politics as ambitious GOP contenders try to find ways to derail” Trump’s campaign without incurring the wrath of Trump or his supporters.

“No one has managed to do this successfully since Trump began his first presidential campaign in 2015, “ Shaw said. “Trump’s myriad legal difficulties add further complexity to the 2024 campaign.”

Kenneth Mulligan

Kenneth Mulligan

John Jackson

John Jackson

John Shaw

John Shaw