The 2024 GOP presidential primary season is kicking off. Here’s the potential field.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu made clear in a recent interview with Fox News that he is looking at a run but is in no rush to decide.
By Hannah Knowles and Amy B Wang, Washington Post
Campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination kicks off in earnest on Saturday, with Donald Trump visiting New Hampshire and South Carolina. The trip marks the first declared candidate making his first campaign swing through early primary states.
Plenty of other Republicans are making moves toward challenging Trump, as the former president faces blame for disappointing election results and has struggled to consolidate the support he once enjoyed in the party. But none of them has officially jumped in the race yet, leaving the future of the contest in flux.
Some polls show Trump leading in a hypothetically crowded field with many lesser-known candidates, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also has wide support following a decisive reelection victory. While other contenders trail well behind, registering single-digit support, the first nominating contests are still a year away, and a lot could change in coming months.
Here’s a look at the potential field and the jockeying that is already underway:
1. The polling leaders
DeSantis has dodged questions about his 2024 intentions – but behind the scenes the Florida governor’s advisers are meeting to prepare for a potential presidential run, according to two Republicans familiar with the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity. One of the Republicans said DeSantis’s political team has already identified potential operatives in early-primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
Fresh off a reelection that cemented his GOP star status, DeSantis has continued to roll out policies that play well with the conservative base, sometimes positioning himself to the right of Trump. The governor has increasingly disparaged the coronavirus vaccines the Trump administration helped shepherd into existence, and one January news conference featured a doctor who has baselessly claimed that the vaccines caused the death of Elvis Presley’s daughter.
Trump got an early start, announcing his third White House bid in mid-November from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., and declaring, “This comeback starts right now.” But that launch hardly cleared the field. The first weeks of his official campaign were dominated by backlash to his impromptu dinner with the rapper Ye and the far-right activist Nick Fuentes, who have both made antisemitic comments.
Saddled with legal investigations and increasingly criticized by prominent members of his own party, the former president has said he wants to recapture the underdog vibe that helped him take the GOP by storm in 2016.
Trump spoke Saturday at the annual meeting of the New Hampshire GOP in Salem, N.H., and planned to be in South Carolina later for his first campaign event since launching, featuring Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R) and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. Trump allies scrambled to line up support for the event in Columbia, S.C., a smaller gathering than the massive rallies he regularly held in past campaigns.
Meta this week announced that it was reinstating Trump on Facebook and Instagram, where the ex-president fundraised heavily in 2016 and 2020. The move could give him a boost in fundraising, an important metric in the primary.
2. The former Trump administration officials
Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, has tried to walk a tightrope as she navigates her relationship with Trump and pursues her own Oval Office ambitions. Though she has at times distanced herself from Trump’s false claims of a stolen election in 2020, and said that his post-election actions “will be judged harshly by history,” she also campaigned with pro-Trump candidates who questioned or denied the results of the 2020 election. In 2021, she said she would not run if Trump decided to do so.
But in an interview with Fox News that aired this month, she took a different tack, saying, the “survival of America matters, and it’s bigger than one person. And when you’re looking at the future of America, I think it’s time for new generational change.” Haley has signaled she is looking closely at running, and South Carolina operatives expect her to announce in the coming weeks.
Pence has not yet announced a run, but the former vice president has been traveling to key primary states, visiting with Christian conservative leaders, and advocating for abortion restrictions while highlighting the Trump administration’s role in overturning Roe v. Wade. He released a memoir last fall. Recently, he said he would decide on whether to run “in the months ahead.”
Pence most famously broke with Trump when he refused to interfere with the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win on Jan. 6, 2021, leading some in the pro-Trump mob outside the U.S. Capitol that day to chant, “Hang Mike Pence!”
Still, Pence has been restrained in criticism of Trump, simply saying the two may never “see eye-to-eye” over what happened Jan. 6. In November, Pence issued a rare rebuke of Trump over his dinner with Fuentes and Ye, saying Trump “was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table.”
Pompeo, the former secretary of state during Trump’s presidency, recently published a book about his time in the Trump administration, in which he lashes out at the media, downplays the consequences of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and takes shots at Haley.
Pompeo, an ex-member of the U.S. House from Kansas and later the director of the CIA, has said he will decide on whether to run for president “in the next handful of months.” His team has reached out to potential staff in early primary states.
3. The governors
The former governor of Maryland is openly weighing a 2024 run after eight years as the moderate GOP head of a blue state, Maryland. He left office in January.
Long at odds with Trump and critical of his endorsed candidates in the midterms, Hogan has said he sees new room for critics of the ex-president in the GOP. His team recently launched a federal political action committee. But many Republicans see a difficult path for candidates such as Hogan, given many GOP primary voters’ desire for someone further to the right.
Hutchinson, who spent eight years as governor of Arkansas and just left office, has hit the trail in Iowa to signal his 2024 ambitions and told NBC News in late January that he is “absolutely” considering a presidential run. He urged Republicans to look past Trump well before the midterms that intensified GOP doubts and in January said the ex-president’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol “disqualifies” him for another term.
Hutchinson and other lesser-known candidates are working to raise their profile and amass the funds for a grueling campaign. Hutchinson has been talking with donors and gauging his ability to raise the money for what he see as an “endurance race.”
Kristi L. Noem
Noem, the governor of South Dakota, won reelection to her second term in November, and has gained attention within conservative circles for shrugging off restrictions and mandates in South Dakota during the coronavirus pandemic. She has claimed the state got through the pandemic “better than virtually every other state,” though South Dakota in 2020 had among the highest coronavirus infections and death tolls per capita.
Her team is already watching potential rivals on the national stage, with one adviser contrasting her with DeSantis late last year and a spokesman openly criticizing the Florida governor’s record on abortion. But it’s not clear Noem will take the plunge, and she recently told CBS News that she’s “not convinced” that she needs to run for president but that she also believes “that this country needs somebody to lead us that has a vision.”
The governor of New Hampshire – a key early primary state – won his fourth term by a 15-point margin in November, and he has signaled interest in a presidential run. A vocal critic of Trump, Sununu roasted the former president at last year’s Gridiron Club dinner as “f—ing crazy.” (But even as Sununu has distanced himself from Trump, he endorsed a candidate for the Senate who helped spread Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.)
Sununu made clear in a recent interview with Fox News that he is looking at a run but is in no rush to decide. “A lot of folks are coming to me. A lot of folks want me to run. It’s definitely conversations that we’re having.” He said there’s “no timetable for making decisions.”
Youngkin, the Virginia governor who flipped the office in 2021, has repeatedly said he is “humbled” by speculation he may run for president, without committing to anything. The former executive of a private equity firm recently made headlines for rejecting the possibility of a Ford electric battery plant opening in his state; Youngkin cited concerns about the car manufacturer’s work with China, but some critics viewed his objections as political positioning for a potential GOP primary in 2024.
Youngkin is also pushing for further individual and corporate tax cuts in Virginia but is running up against opposition from Democrats, who hold a majority in the state Senate.
4. Others to watch
The former Wyoming congresswoman has waged a long, lonely battle to steer her party away from Trump, persistently criticizing the former president and warning of the damage he was doing not just to the GOP but also to democracy. For her efforts, she was ousted in 2021 from her position as House conference chair and replaced with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a staunch Trump defender. She would go on to serve as one of two Republicans on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Last year, Cheney lost her primary race in Wyoming to Harriet M. Hageman, another election denier, by a historic margin. Cheney has vowed to do whatever it takes to prevent Trump from reaching the White House again, and has not ruled out running for president herself.
Cruz, a senator from Texas and finalist in the 2016 GOP primary, has said he will run for reelection to his Senate seat in 2024 but has not ruled out another presidential campaign. Cruz was a vocal critic of Trump when the two were primary opponents, but he did an about-face after Trump won the party’s nomination. Cruz has called his unsuccessful 2016 campaign “the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”
Scott, the only Black senator in the GOP, has made trips to Iowa and filmed campaign ads for fellow Republicans in key states, stoking speculation that he might run for president.
He has waved off talk of a 2024 run, joking more than once that he might run as president – of his homeowners’ association. But the lawmaker from South Carolina, a pivotal state in the primaries, also hinted at national ambitions after winning reelection the past fall, saying he wished his grandfather lived to see a second man of color elected president – “but this time let it be a Republican.” People close to Scott said this month he is considering a run.
5. The Republicans who have said they are not running
The second-term senator from Arkansas pitched donors on a possible presidential run last year, emphasizing that strong showings in early primary states can be more predictive of success than early name recognition. But he decided against a 2024 bid before the end of the midterms.
Hawley, a senator from Missouri sometimes discussed as a possible contender, has also repeatedly said he won’t run for president in 2024.
The Florida senator just announced his reelection team and recently told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, “I have no plans to run for president and I have a 100 percent plan to run for the U.S. Senate.” (However, he also denied that he planned to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for GOP leader, before doing just that earlier this month.) As the chairman of GOP senators’ campaign arm for the 2022 election cycle, Scott has faced criticism for Republicans’ disappointing midterm performance.
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