About the Author

Beth Fukumoto

Beth Fukumoto served three terms in the Hawaii House of Representatives. She was the youngest woman in the U.S. to lead a major party in a legislature, the first elected Republican to switch parties after Donald Trump’s election, and a Democratic congressional candidate. Currently, she works as a political commentator and teaches leadership and ethics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views. You can reach her by email at bfukumoto@civilbeat.org.

The Republican presidential primary looks set to be a dramatic political showdown.

With the legislative session officially concluded, all partisan eyes will turn toward state conventions later this month and planning for next year’s presidential race. We may still be exhausted from the last presidential campaign (and, probably, the one before), but elections wait for no one.

So far, the Republican primary is shaping up to be the more dramatic of the two major parties’ contests with incumbent President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign likely to clear the Democratic field.

Former President Donald Trump still maintains a lead in the field despite his legal troubles. Trump enjoys a polling average of 52% as of Friday. While former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, with a polling average of 4%, is his closest challenger amongst official candidates.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the only consistent Trump critic in the race, holds only 1% of likely voters

Additional contenders are likely to emerge in the months ahead. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be the strongest of Trump’s potential competitors with a polling average of 22.9%. Following his historic reelection victory in 2022, Desantis appeared to be one of the GOP’s most electable options having flipped the heavily Latino, Democratic stronghold Miami-Dade county in his favor.

However, DeSantis’ favorability may be on the decline as his ridiculous game of chicken with Walt Disney Co. carries on.

Former Vice President Mike Pence may yet enter the race though his eventual capitulation to testify in front of a federal grand jury regarding Trump’s efforts to block the certification of election results is likely to hurt his already dismal 5.7% share of the likely vote.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who is also polling in the single digits, is also considering a run. As the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, Scott has made a name for himself downplaying systemic racism, declaring “America is not a racist country” in his 2021 GOP response to Biden’s first joint address to Congress.

Tucker Carlson on Fox January 2022
Tucker Carlson, following his departure from Fox, could be a political wildcard in 2024. (Fox Screenshot/2022)

The wildest of wildcards is Tucker Carlson, following his departure from Fox News and his plans for a new show on Twitter. The former host of the most popular nightly news program on television would he a highly competitive candidate with the ability to erode Trump’s base and a disconcerting charisma that could also charm establishment Republicans who have cooled on the former President. 

In the anti-Trump camp, both former Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have shown interest in running as alternative candidates. (Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s state as North Dakota.)

While each has supported Trump in the past, Christie has since indicated a change of heart, and Cheney memorably lost her primary after joining House Democrats to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.

While a strong anti-Trump candidate would shake up the race, anyone who needed an insurrection to draw their red line isn’t much of a champion in my books. 

Regardless, a moderate Republican won’t win this race. A CNN/YouGov poll released on May 1 shows that 37% of likely GOP voters want someone who shows loyalty to Trump, 56% don’t want their candidate to talk about Trump, and only 7% want a candidate who will criticize Trump. Of these same voters, 85% prefer a candidate who “challenges woke ideas,” 66% want someone who will “oppose any gun restrictions,” and 61% think their candidate should say Trump won in 2020.

Now, the question is, will Hawaii Republicans buck the trend?

Now, the question is, will Hawaii Republicans buck the trend? I don’t believe in absolutes, so I’ll give it a 1% chance. In 2020, Trump won more votes in Hawaii than any other Republican presidential candidate since statehood. While he didn’t win as large a share of the vote as compared to former Presidents Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon, he still received a sizeable 34%. 

He showed a similarly strong showing in the 2016 Hawaii Presidential Caucuses, when Republican’s still had a wide field of candidates to choose from. Trump won the Hawaii Republican nomination with 43% of the vote while Ted Cruz came in second with 32.3%. Moderate former governors John Kasich and Jeb Bush trailed with 10% and 0.2% respectively.

2020 Legislature Rep Cynthia Thielen rises with a thumbs up during opening session.
Former GOP Rep. Cynthia Thielen was never afraid to buck national party trends. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020)

I used to believe that moderate Republicans could exist in Hawaii. From former Congresswoman Pat Saiki to former Rep. Cynthia Thielen, the Hawaii GOP has a long history of women willing to buck national party trends. But changing the party was a pipe dream. 

Like every state, we have our own links to election denialism. Rep. Kanani Souza has shown herself willing to stand up to the religious right, which is a difficult task I didn’t always have the courage to do. Yet even Souza re-tweeted Trump’s post-election claims of voter fraud and called Sen. Brian Schatz a “nut job” for stating the election was not rigged. 

Rep. Gene Ward, then-Minority Leader, did issue a response condemning the capitol violence after Jan. 6, comparing it to “riots in our cities by those on the left this summer.” His caucus members did not join his statement.

Similarly, self-described moderate conservative Souza re-tweeted far right Rep. Lauren Boebert’s comments decrying Democrat’s violence and attack on free speech three days after the insurrection. Mostly, Hawaii’s elected Republicans have been deafeningly silent on Trump’s antics since his takeover of the party in 2016. We’ll see if that changes before the Hawaii Republican caucuses in March. 

Another far-right Republican, whether Trump or Trumpist, will be on the 2024 presidential ballot. Their ideology presents a continued threat to democracy. While my inner optimist hopes that some Republicans will finally find their voice, I’m not holding my breath.


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About the Author

Beth Fukumoto

Beth Fukumoto served three terms in the Hawaii House of Representatives. She was the youngest woman in the U.S. to lead a major party in a legislature, the first elected Republican to switch parties after Donald Trump’s election, and a Democratic congressional candidate. Currently, she works as a political commentator and teaches leadership and ethics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views. You can reach her by email at bfukumoto@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

Looking at the poll numbers, the Democrat's campaign of "Hate Trump More" doesn't seem to be distracting the electorate from an economy suffering from stagflation, an expensive foreign policy that's instigating a nuclear war with Russia over Ukrainian borders while the US border has become a joke, and a doddering aged Biden defending his bad boy son, accompanied by Harris's giggling fits have become running joke memes.Trump appears to be a clownish punching bag that keeps bouncing back for more and has some voters wondering if his outlandish performance is so entertaining that it might be worth an encore.A question I have is: Can Americans tell the difference between entertainment and politics?

Joseppi · 9 months ago

it's hard to read beth's articles about the party she used to be part of without a hint of bitterness

thenetanyahus · 9 months ago

Hawaii's Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party of Prince Kuhio, and currently, the party of Donald Trump. The people who are constantly referring to the populist conservative movement in thus country as the "far right" aren't the moderates in the same way Joe Biden's policies aren't moderate. Rather, they represent the far left.

elrod · 9 months ago

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