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Only four more years? GOP primary rivals may take aim at Trump’s term limit

Trump's ineligibility to run for re-election should he win in 2024 has already been brought up by one of his potential rivals.
Image: Former President Trump Holds Event In South Carolina To Announce His Presidential Campaign Leadership Team For SC
Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the South Carolina State House in Columbia on Jan. 28.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump faces a unique limitation that is enticing to both his 2024 GOP rivals and Republicans who hope to be his running mate: He’s eligible to serve only one more term. 

That’s because the Constitution prohibits a person from being elected president more than twice.

So far, one prospective GOP candidate, Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has suggested publicly the term limit could matter to GOP primary voters next year. Pompeo's remarks came last month during an interview on a New Hampshire radio show when asked whether Trump could win a general election matchup should he emerge from the primary.

“We will nominate someone who is decent and serious and thoughtful and ready to crush it for eight years,” Pompeo said on the “Good Morning New Hampshire” radio program.

Whether or not the term limit hurts Trump with the Republican electorate, it enhances the value of a spot on his ticket. NBC News reported last month that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is angling to be Trump’s vice presidential pick, and newly elected Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders created VP buzz within GOP circles when she gave the party’s response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday. 

“It raises the stakes significantly,” said a Republican strategist who worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign. If Trump wins the GOP nomination, his VP pick would be “an obvious front-runner in 2028 should they win” and “a likely front-runner” if they lose, the strategist said.

Few Republicans believe Trump will be judged predominantly on the number of terms he is eligible to serve — and allies contend he could do more in four years than anyone else could in eight — but some in the GOP say there are reasons to believe the two-term limit bolsters the case against nominating the former president. 

“It may give folks who are inclined to sort of move away from Trump anyway cover with their pro-Trump friends — you know, ‘I’d vote for Trump in a second if I thought he could serve eight years, but four is just not enough,’” said Mick Mulvaney, who served as Trump’s acting White House chief of staff. “It’s smart for Pompeo and the other challengers to lay down that narrative, because it may peel away a couple of percentage points of Trump’s support.”

That is not a universally held view.

Trump supporters say he demonstrated in his first term that he could get a lot done in a short period of time, often asserting that he accomplished more in one term than other presidents had in two terms.

“I think people are into one-terming. I think we’re just an impatient country,” said one adviser who is close to Trump. “I think that Trump won’t say ‘only one term.’ I think what he’ll say is ‘I want to complete the unfinished business.”

That’s not far off from the mantra President Joe Biden repeated in his State of the Union address Tuesday: “Finish the job.”

The GOP strategist who worked on Trump’s last campaign said most primary voters won’t concern themselves with the distinction between one term and two terms. 

“It’s an argument that just doesn’t connect with a voter — especially it’s not moving the 30% that are DJT or bust,” the strategist said, using Trump’s initials.

Additionally, Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said the candidate needed less time to do more than any potential rival.

“President Trump is the only proven leader who can stop the radical, leftist agenda from destroying America,” Cheung said. “President Trump, in just his first term, did more to strengthen the country than anybody else could ever do in their lifetime. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either disingenuous or living in a fantasy.”

Of course, it’s still early in the process. Trump is the only candidate in the race right now, and it’s not clear who will run against him — much less which arguments will be made to siphon voters from him.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who said he is seeking re-election rather than the GOP presidential nomination, told NBC News he’s not certain whether the issue can be turned against Trump effectively.

“That’s an interesting question,” he said. “You know, I kind of doubt it. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Vida Keller, legislative director for the Nevada GOP and former Lyon County commissioner, said much will depend on how the primary shakes out, including who's running and where they stand on the issues. Keller said Trump's appeal is that he is a known quantity, even if he can serve just one term.

"If it came down to DeSantis versus Trump, I’d have to weigh the four years ... but it wouldn’t be the deciding factor. DeSantis would have to show me the things that I’m looking for," she said. "I think a lot of people in this country truly believe in Trump and they’re willing to get the four years."