opinion | Mike Rogers, a pre-Trump Republican, is looking for an opening in the 2024 field


Mike Rogers, a Republican former congressman from Michigan, is a snapshot of what his party looked like before the Donald Trump circus hit. He is a free market conservative and a former FBI agent with extensive national security experience from his many years as head of the House Intelligence Committee.

This kind of mainstream conservatism seemed to be on the way to extinction. But it may have a second life as Trump is newly vulnerable and Republicans increasingly fear they won’t win without a broader, more stable image.

In a sign of the ferment in the Republican Party these days, Rogers has recently spent time in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – delivering speeches and meeting with activists. He is not running for President; He’s not even officially investigating an offer. As John Stineman, an Iowa Republican public affairs strategist who advises a Rogers political group, puts it, “He’s checking if he should check.”

The bet Rogers and a long list of other potential candidates are weighing is that the Republicans don’t want to be the party of the lunatics anymore. The GOP is looking to win in 2024, and after the beating extreme Trump-backed candidates suffered in the midterm election, the former president looks like a loser. Trump remains popular with his base, but the latest polls show less than half of Republicans back him for 2024. “This race is wide open,” argues Stineman.

Rogers is among the least known in the potential candidate field. He doesn’t sign up for the latest Harvard-Harris poll, showing Trump’s 46 percent support; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 20 percent; former Vice President Mike Pence at 7 percent; Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) at 3 percent; former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley at 2 percent; and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senator Tim Scott (SC) with 1 percent each. But this early in the game, this is mostly a name-recognition exercise.

Rogers told me this week that as he visited the early elementary states, he “gets a lot of encouragement from people to make this something for 2024.” He faces the dilemma every other potential candidate faces — how to reject Trump , without alienating the voters he brought into the party. “Trump’s time is up, but we still want to speak to people who are frustrated with where America is going,” Rogers said. He wants Trump voters, even if the former president’s tactics are “clearly destructive.”

What interests me about Rogers is that he actually got things done while he was in Congress. He became chairman in 2011 of a House Intelligence Committee that had become so partisan it was dysfunctional, and with the support of senior Democrat CA Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), he made it work. The committee passed permitting legislation for the first time in years. Rogers became his party’s most prominent foreign policy spokesman, appearing on more Sunday talk shows than any other member of Congress in 2014, the year he announced his resignation.

During Trump’s presidency, Rogers went into the wild, which could be an advantage now because he doesn’t carry around Trump-era baggage. Now Rogers flatly and unequivocally rejects Trump’s claims that he won the 2020 election and condemns the violence that ensued. “Biden was legitimately elected to the presidency,” he says. As for the January 6 riot, “There is never a time in American democracy when violence gets you what you want. … It is abandoning our Constitution when you storm the Capitol to try to change an election.”

For Republicans like Rogers and half a dozen others who oppose Trump, the political rationale is simple math. To win in 2024, Trump would likely need to win a combination of six battleground states he lost in 2020 – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump-backed candidates have fared poorly in most of those states this month. Republicans looking to take back the White House can count the numbers.

Republicans who have heard Rogers’ recent speeches in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are all saying pretty much the same thing. The beefy ex-FBI agent is good at retail politics. When he talks about the problems facing manufacturing workers, he has the advantage of actually having worked on the assembly line. When he warns of the competitive threat from China, he speaks as former chairman of the Intelligence Committee and now chairman of MITER Corp., a government-backed defense think tank.

When Republicans talk about 2024, Rogers “should definitely be in the conversation, no question about it,” says Van Hipp, a former South Carolina Republican Party leader who invited Rogers to speak at Wofford College in Spartanburg last month. A New Hampshire Republican campaign adviser who heard Rogers speak at St. Anselm College in Manchester this month said the audience had responded kindly and was relieved that “it wasn’t about partisan battles.”

Rogers’ speech in New Hampshire came two days after the midterm elections, and he shared a story about fighting organized crime in his FBI days that ended with the punch line: “There’s nothing like a good spanking to get the family together.” Stick together.” Rogers and the many other potential candidates are hoping that after the Republican family became angered this month, they will turn to a candidate who can restore some of the party unity that was shattered during the Trump years.