With the first 2024 primary contests just over two years away, Republican hopefuls are already starting their jockeying in the media in case former president Donald Trump decides not to run. On Sunday, two such would-be candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and “Fox News Sunday,” respectively. But both interviews only cemented the case that, even if Trump doesn’t run, his hold on the Republican Party will remain as tight as ever.

On CBS, host Margaret Brennan asked Cruz about Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s recent book, in which they reported “detailed conversations you had with President Donald Trump … on Jan. 6, and that you knew there was no congressional authority to overturn the election. Didn’t indulging the doubters damage our democracy and our standing in the world?” First Cruz nitpicked over whether he spoke with Trump on Jan. 6 or merely in the lead-up. Then he tried to compare the 2020 election and the repeatedly debunked allegations of fraud around it to the 1876 election, when armed White mobs intimidated Black voters in several states, and one state reported a voter turnout of 101 percent.

“If we had had a credible electoral commission do an emergency audit, it would have enhanced faith in democracy,” Cruz insisted. “But instead, Democrats and a lot of the press decided to just engage in incendiary rhetoric rather than acknowledge voter fraud is real.”

“There is no evidence of fraud that would have really drawn the outcome of the election into doubt,” Brennan replied. “You know that.”

“Voter fraud has been persistent from the very first election that has ever occurred,” Cruz spluttered. Yet somehow, it only seems to be a problem when Democrats win.

Over on Fox, Christie bashed the White House as “far left,” praised the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial and lauded the former president’s record. “The [Trump] policies have been outstanding, cutting taxes, cutting regulation, conservative judges and justices to our courts, strength overseas, you know, new trade policies,” Christie said. “All those things have added to America in a very positive way.” For much of the interview, you could have swapped Christie and Cruz and gotten essentially the same answers.

There was just one difference between the two: the 2020 election. Asked whether Trump will ever concede he lost, Christie told host Bret Baier, “I hope that what he’ll do is move on and just stop talking about it. Even if he doesn’t formally concede, we need to stop talking about the fact that the election was stolen when, as I lay out in the book, there’s really no solid evidence that it was.”

Two politicians, both conservative, both combative, both overflowing with praise for Trump’s record. But the heresy of admitting the 2020 election wasn’t stolen has been enough to tank one of the two’s potential presidential campaign right out of the gate. A recent Harvard/Harris survey finds that, if Trump runs, he’ll start with the support of 47 percent of GOP primary voters — nearly 40 points ahead of the next closest contender. If he doesn’t, then the three leading candidates are Mike Pence — Trump’s vice president — at 23 percent, Ron DeSantis — doing his best Trump impression as Florida governor — at 21 percent, and Cruz himself at 12 percent. Meanwhile, Christie’s name is frequently left off these types of surveys.

The message from Republican voters is clear: If Trump doesn’t run, they want someone just like him — no matter the lunacy.