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Analysis: Ranking the 2024 Republican field

“Over the past few weeks, the former President has been chatting up friends and advisers about the looming 2024 presidential contest, including taking their temperature on an earlier-than-expected campaign announcement.”

Every single bit of evidence — that reporting included — suggests that another Trump presidential bid is a when-not-if question.

“I would say somewhere between 99 and 100 percent,” Jason Miller told Cheddar last fall when asked about the chances that Trump runs again. “I think he is definitely running in 2024.”
This spring, Trump himself was blunt about another bid. “We’ve already won two presidential elections,” Trump told a group of Republican donors in New Orleans. (Fact check: he won the 2016 election and lost the 2020 election.) “And now I feel obligated that we have to really look strongly at doing it again. We are looking at it very, very strongly. We have to do it. We have to do it.”

Given that Trump could be an announced 2024 candidate by the end of the summer, I thought it made sense to offer up my inaugural ranking of the 2024 Republican presidential field now. In addition to Trump’s public statements, a wide variety of other aspiring national candidates have been making the obligatory trips to places like Iowa and New Hampshire as a way to signal their own interest.

Below, I’ve ranked the 10 people most likely to win the Republican nomination as of today. You’ll notice that you don’t see the likes of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan or former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — both of whom would, presumably, run as anti-Trumpers — in the rankings. That’s because I am very skeptical that there is anything close to majority support for a candidate running expressly against Trump/Trumpism.

Don’t see your favorite on the list? Never fear! We are still 884 days away from the 2024 general election! There’s still (plenty of) time! And stay tuned for my rankings of the 2024 Democratic field!

10. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas: I wrestled with who should get the final spot on the list — considering Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley among others. I eventually settled on Cotton because a) I think he is the smartest politician of that group b) he represents the sort of muscular conservatism that I think very much would appeal to Trump voters if the former President isn’t in the race and c) he will outwork almost any one else in the race. Cotton’s challenges are clear: He would have to prove he could raise money to be competitive and he would have lots of work to do to raise his name identification among GOP base voters.
9. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida: Scott has been perennially underestimated in his political career. First, people said that he couldn’t win the governorship. He served two terms in the job. Then they said he couldn’t get elected to the Senate; he knocked off longtime Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to do just that in 2018. Scott’s ambitions are clearly national in scope; his decision to release a policy agenda that he wants to implement if Republicans retake control of the Senate in 2023 is proof of that.

8. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin: Two things are true about the Virginia governor: 1) He was just elected to his first public office in 2021 and 2) He is term limited out of that job in 2025. That second point means that Youngkin, necessarily, is already keeping one eye on his future. His successful win in Virginia in 2021 was widely touted as evidence that the GOP can keep the Trump base of the party happy while also appealing to critical swing, suburban voters. I tend to think Youngkin is more VP material in the end but the success and notoriety derived from his 2021 campaign means he can’t be ignored if he goes for the top job.

7. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott: While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gets the most 2024 buzz among the Republican state executives — more on that below — Abbott has effectively used his perch as the top elected official in Texas to position himself for a presidential race as well. Abbott has been open about his interest in the race — “We’ll see what happens,” he said in the wake of the 2020 election — but has to win his reelection bid against former Rep. Beto O’Rourke first.
6. Former Ambassador Nikki Haley: You can count on one hand the number of high-profile Trump appointees who left the administration on good terms with the former president. Haley, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations, is one of them. “She’s done a fantastic job and we’ve done a fantastic job together,” Trump said when Haley left in 2018. “We’ve solved a lot of problems and we’re in the process of solving a lot of problems.” But, Haley has also publicly flip-flopped on Trump; she was openly critical of him in the aftermath of the January 6 riot at the US Capitol before falling in line behind him once it became clear that the party’s base didn’t view January 6 as disqualifying for the former president.
5. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: Don’t forget that the Texas senator was the runner-up to Trump in the 2016 presidential race. And that, after a rocky relationship with Trump during the fall of 2016, Cruz has gone out of his way to make nice with the man who suggested his father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz’s stronger-than-expected 2016 run should not be discounted — he has organizations in early states and a national fundraising base that is unmatched by those below him on this list.
4. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina: Like a number of people on this list, it’s hard to imagine the South Carolina Senator running for president if Trump is in the field. (Scott is on record as saying he would back a Trump 2024 campaign.) But, in a Trump-less field, Scott is deeply intriguing: He is the first Black senator elected from the Deep South since Reconstruction and the first Black Republican to serve in the Senate since 1979. He’s built a reliably conservative (and pro Trump) record during his nine years in the Senate while showing a willingness to work across the aisle when possible. If Republicans decide they need a new face to lead their party, Scott is at the front of that line.
3. Former Vice President Mike Pence: I really struggled on where the former vice president belonged on this list. On the one hand, he has been disowned by Trump (and the former president’s loyalists) for refusing to overturn the 2020 electoral college results. On the other, Pence has tons of residual name identification from his four years as vice president and retains a solid base of support among religious conservatives. The New York Times reported last month that Pence is trying to edge away from Trump as he considers running in 2024. That’s going to be a very delicate dance.
2. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: There’s a clear gap between the Florida governor and the rest of the Republican field not named “Donald Trump.” DeSantis even managed to beat out the former President in a straw poll conducted at a Colorado conservative political conference over the weekend. DeSantis can’t take his eye off the ball — he is running for a second term this fall — but he has, to date, very effectively used his day job as a way to boost his national profile.

1. Former President Donald Trump: If you want to find cracks in the Trump foundation, you can do it; his endorsed candidates in governor’s races in places like Georgia, Nebraska and Idaho lost primaries earlier this year. But, that would miss the forest for the trees. The simple fact is that Trump remains the prime mover in Republican Party politics. If he runs — and I absolutely believe he will — he starts in a top tier all his own. The nomination is quite clearly his to lose — which doesn’t mean he can’t lose it.

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