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.

They range from the mundane — Trump dominates amid low turnout — to the much more intriguing.

Despite his ebbing poll numbers and flailing campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will join former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on the Hawaii Republican Party’s presidential caucus’ March 12 ballot.

As of Nov. 28, DeSantis and Haley are still trailing distantly, though the latter is gradually gaining support. While Trump may seem like the nominee apparent, a month is like a year in politics.

To be clear, I think the Republican options run from bad to worse. DeSantis appears a craftier and, therefore, more terrifying version of Trump. And Haley, who has presented herself as a reasonable, principled Republican throughout her career, threw her values out the window the moment Trump offered her a prestigious U.N. ambassadorship.

Still, it’s worth exploring the possible outcomes when it’s Hawaii’s turn to vote.

The presidential caucus is a new invention for Hawaii’s GOP. I was a part of the GOP leadership committee and, briefly, the interim party chair in 2011 when we discussed and planned the inaugural event. In switching from a convention selection process, we hoped the caucus would help the party register and identify local Republicans, generate momentum for the general election and boost the party bank accounts with a $10,000 filing fee charged to presidential candidates who wanted their names on the ballot.

It worked better than expected. The caucus attracted over 10,000 people, many of whom were previously unregistered with the party. In 2016, 15,672 voters participated in the caucuses. Feeling frustrated with the party and disappointed with my choices, I can’t remember if I showed up to vote. In 2020, the caucus was canceled due to overwhelming party support for Trump’s reelection.

Next year will only be the caucus’ third run, and there are a few ways it could go.

The most likely scenario is that Trump’s enormous lead will continue, one or both competitors will drop out and turnout will be underwhelming. Without a sudden influx in the Republican population or a candidate like Mitt Romney, who attracted unregistered Republicans in the Mormon community, the Republican party roster won’t see much growth.

Though less likely, the more interesting possibility is that either Haley or DeSantis starts closing in on Trump. Both Iowa and New Hampshire will decide their presidential picks in January. While Trump will almost definitely sweep the Iowa caucuses, there’s a chance New Hampshire could buck the national trend. Haley is quickly rising in the polls with close to 20% of the vote, and if Chris Christie drops out, his 11% could flock to Haley.

The Hawaii GOP presidential caucus in 2016, more than 15,000 people took part. (Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2016)

A strong performance, or even a win, in New Hampshire could boost Haley going into her home state of South Carolina, which votes fourth in the Republican calendar. Trump holds the lead in South Carolina with nearly 50%. However, Haley’s polls seem to run contrary to DeSantis’ in her state, and as he steadily falls, she’s gaining more ground. If she can gain her state’s support along with New Hampshire, she’ll be in a strong position going into Super Tuesday.

Twenty-one states will vote before the Hawaii Republican caucus, which takes place a week after Super Tuesday. My guess is that the DeSantis campaign will implode by then, but Haley could be picking up speed. She stands to gain from DeSantis’ decline and Trump’s ongoing legal troubles. Further, the establishment GOP appears to be coalescing around Haley as the most viable Trump alternative with Charles Koch’s alarmingly influential Americans for Prosperity super PAC committing to her campaign just this week. AFP spent over $69 million in the 2022 midterm elections.

If these factors manage to propel Haley to within striking distance of Trump, she could pick up a sizable portion of Hawaii’s Republican delegates. Based entirely on gut instinct, I expect Trump still retains a diehard base within the local party. Yet, from personal experience, I also know that Republicans appreciate soft-spoken, potentially white-passing, Asian female candidates, and I would bet many GOP voters here and elsewhere would love to put a woman in the White House before Democrats do.

Finally, there’s the highly unlikely yet exciting third scenario in which Trump goes to jail and drops out. The resulting showdown would pit DeSantis, the conservative culture war hero, against Haley, the former darling of the Republican establishment. That match-up could tell us just how many traditional Republicans managed to hang on through the Trump years. But let’s be honest, this possibility is fanciful at best. Trump may very well go to jail, but he’ll probably campaign from his cell.

Now, if you’re a Trump Republican, this hasn’t made you hate me any less. If you’re a Republican who doesn’t like Trump, you may still hate me as well. No one likes a turncoat. I get that. However, while I may have switched teams, I still believe that our republic will only function properly with a reasonable, credible opposition party. Our head of state must support and defend our democratic institutions, including the Constitution. So, if you are a Republican, I hope you’ll vote accordingly.

For those interested in participating in the 2024 Hawaii Republican presidential caucus, visit the Hawaii GOP’s website for details.


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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)

Our head of state must stop taking bribes from foreign countries,must stop financing foreign wars and must secure our borders . I hope you’ll vote accordingly.

palakakanaka · 2 months ago

I'm struggling to find the differences here between them, other than presentation. They all believe in getting rid of medicare, and social security. All believe in Milton Friedman economics, all believe transgenders are the reason you live paycheck to paycheck. All believe climate change is a hoax, all say they are for the 1st amendment then turn around and make laws making protest illegal, and actively ban books. All repeat what they heard on FOX word for word, all hate abortion, but refuse to fund the child after birth, all complain about the lackluster performance of the EPA but refuse to fund them, all don't believe in net neutrality. All take money from the Koch family and big oil, all don't know the difference between inflation and price gauging. So if inflation is only 6% and oil companies raise there rates 600% all you get is blank stares. All ignore that wage theft by companies is more than all burglaries, robberies and grand theft combined. All think its OK for a Supreme Court justice to take bribes. If you ask me this party is more akin to the Borg on Star Trek. A party that acts more like the mob in that "loyalty" is more important than Democracy and ideas.

TheMotherShip · 2 months ago

Support Nikki Haley...& you support a candidate who has, time & again, called for doing whatever it takes to provide assistance (weapons & money) to the Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Out of all the GOP candidates, she has taken the most hawkish stance. So...support her if that is what you want.

KalihiValleyHermit · 2 months ago

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