2020 isn't over yet. But these 11 Republicans are already making waves positioning themselves for 2024.
- The 2024 Republican nomination is still four years away, but these 11 politicians are making moves and positioning themselves in ways that party insiders say looks like the start of presidential runs.
- Insider spoke with nearly 30 Republican strategists, campaign operatives, Trump advisers and others to come up with this list of potential candidates eyeing a White House campaign.
- Presidential run are possible from some familiar 2016 faces, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, as well as newcomers like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and even Donald Trump Jr.
- Vice President Mike Pence is the current front runner, but there are two wild cards who could easily shake up the entire field depending on what happens on November 3, 2020: Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
It's time for the Republican national convention, which means it's time to update Insider's rankings of the leading contenders in the great big shadow, would-be, prospective race for the GOP's next presidential nomination in 2024.
Officially, nobody has declared their candidacy for president in 2024 yet. They need to wait first to see if they'll be running to succeed a two term Trump presidency or challenging an incumbent Democratic administration led by Joe Biden or Kamala Harris.
But that doesn't mean Republicans aren't already positioning, tacking, hiring and maneuvering to keep their name in the mix for the next presidential campaign. In fact, some of the people eyeing their own shot at a future White House run won coveted speaking slots on the virtual GOP convention stage this week. Others were left out.
Here are Insider's latest rankings of the prospective 2024 field based on interviews with more than 30 Republican staffers, aides, Trump advisers and all-around operators. And keep on scrolling to learn about the two wild cards who could make things especially interesting:
11. Donald Trump Jr. (Previous rank: 11)
Until Donald Trump Jr. explicitly states that he's not running, and perhaps even after that, Trump Jr.'s name will be in the mix for 2024. The president's oldest son has already gotten plenty of press on the idea while toggling between declining to rule anything out and telling Bloomberg radio in March 2019 that he has "plenty of time" to make a decision about his own political career.
Trump Jr. will have a prime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention Monday and continues to poll strongly in early 2024 polling. He has also continued showing up regularly on the Trump campaign's online videos, and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle holds a top spot leading fundraising for Trump's campaign.
Trump Jr., like his younger sister Ivanka, will continue to command attention as long as the Trump name dominates the Republican party. All could easily change if the president pulls down the entire ticket with a loss in November, but it is unlikely to dent the diehard base of conservative populists which evolved out of the tea party and into Trump's MAGA crowd.
In four years, Trump Jr. has evolved from "Fredo", the unwitting son who accepted a special meeting with Russian operatives in June 2016, to "Don Jr.", the political heir to the Trump brand. He's grown into a regular hype man for his father on the campaign trail and last year did something that's often a prerequisite for GOP White House candidates — Trump Jr. published a book attacking the left. He's got a follow-up book publishing at the start of September.
Several operatives pushed back on the idea of a Trump Jr. 2024 presidential bid. They say the 42-year old is still too green and has never held elected office, much less run for anything before. More likely is a possible run for either one of New York's US Senate seats or New York governor, though Trump Jr. has also let at least one of those opportunities go in the past. (One veteran strategist fervently beat back that speculation, saying instead Trump Jr, "wants to continue being an influential voice in the conservative movement" and that a run for office is probably further down the line.)
10. Florida Sen. Rick Scott (Previous rank: 8)
The former Florida governor and Sunshine State's junior senator drew attention to his national ambitions during the Iowa caucuses earlier this year by buying airtime in the state. Pundits noticed.
"'I'm Rick Scott, and I'm running for president'" said longtime CNN analyst Gloria Borger, after watching the ad.
But since then, Scott has yet to break through on the national stage. Scott has not had some of the viral moments or the consistent exposure which has fueled other nascent bids. And he is not slated to speak at the Republican convention.
Still, he is making all the moves to position for a run. Through the beginning of 2020, Scott held regular meetings with his top political advisers, including the GOP consultants Curt Anderson and Wes Anderson and other strategists who Republicans expect would form the core of a 2024 run.
Still, some Republicans aren't impressed.
"You can ask Bobby Jindal what that's worth," said a GOP strategist who competes against the Anderson brothers and noted they helped direct former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's underwhelming bid for president in 2016.
GOP operatives studying the 2024 field noted Scott has other obstacles. For starters, he has yet to have a breakout "moment" that draws extensive media attention and fires up the Republican base.
And while Scott did well by self-funding his own Senate campaign, it could be nearly impossible for the billionaire former hospital executive to spend his own way to victory on a crowded national stage where the cost of a successful primary campaign could be upward of $100 million and where Michael Bloomberg's own $500 million flop in the Democratic 2020 primaries will serve as an important reminder of the fact money alone doesn't equal votes.
Another drawback for Scott is what could easily be a very crowded "Florida Lane."
9. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (Previous rank: 9)
The two-term Republican governing a deep blue state will be in a unique position come 2024, one that no one else in the field can come close to matching.
In 2015, Hogan seized control of the response to violent protests in Baltimore over the police killing of Freddie Gray. This year, he often dominated cable news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, even pulling the cameras away from Trump.
His style has grabbed the attention of national observers, enough so that longtime Republicans despondent over Trump's takeover of the GOP tried without success to recruit Hogan to run against Trump in the 2020 primary. Hogan declined, but 2024 may provide a very different playing field.
Already, Hogan has formed "An America United," an outside group with a focus on "uniting, not dividing" the country. He launched a similar effort a decade ago on the state level called "Change Maryland" and four years later ran and narrowly won the race for governor.
Hogan released a new book, "Still Standing", at the end of July and embarked on a high-profile book tour with appearances on a wide range of media from the major networks to conservative programs.
With the book, and his handling of the coronavirus response in Maryland, Hogan has built his brand as an effective chief executive. But it remains unclear if the Republican Party of 2024 is one that would accept Hogan.
Several of the Republican strategists offered conflicting views on whether someone like Hogan could break through in 2024. One person said the 2024 cycle could be "the return of the governors" to the presidential field. Another said that even if Trump loses in 2020 the bulk of the party will still refuse to support a "pro-choice, pro-impeachment" Republican like Hogan.
And a third party operative said that Hogan could do well in 2024 if it turns into an overly crowded primary like the one the GOP endured in 2016 where it only takes a strong base of about 20 percent to 25 percent of voters to eke out wins.
8. Missouri Sen. Joshua Hawley (Previous rank: 10)
One Republican campaign veteran called Hawley the "intellectual future of Trump-ism." In his brief time in the Senate, the freshman from Missouri has worked on some surprising issues for a Republican including pushing for a guaranteed income through the pandemic.
But Hawley has also stuck close to Trump, tearing into former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in June for his role in launching special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
While Hawley hasn't made the same kinds of overt movements and positioning of other prospective 2024 candidates, his name comes up regularly among GOP political strategists. Brad Todd, a longtime strategist and co-author of a book on the rise of the populist right that carried Trump to office, also remains on retainer under Hawley.
Hawley sparked some additional interest in June, after the Supreme Court decided that LGBTQ+ employees could not be fired based on their sexual orientation. The senator delivered a fiery speech from the chamber floor where he derided Neil Gorsuch, the Trump-appointed associate justice, for siding with the courts' liberal members.
"It represents the end of the conservative legal movement or the conservative legal project as we know it," Hawley said. Then he added that social conservatives would no longer "sit down and shut up" when brow-beaten by establishment and business-minded Republicans.
Should Hawley enter the 2024 field he'd likely be among the youngest names in the GOP pack, occupying space that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz dominated four years ago. If he won, Hawley would be 45 on Inauguration Day 2025, making him the third youngest president behind only Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
7. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (Previous rank: 7)
Shortly after Trump took office, the Sunshine State's senior senator flirted with taking firm stances against his 2016 primary rival, particularly on the Mueller investigation. But Rubio has since come more into the fold with Trump.
"Rubio's message has gone from a globalist, free-trading, big business Republican, to more of a populist Republican," said a GOP strategist.
Notably, Rubio didn't get an official speaking slot at the Republican convention this year and has not had many recent breakthrough moments. But he remains a formidable force in Republican politics who has taken moves to position himself for 2024.
For now, Rubio isn't saying if he'll be back for another try at the GOP nomination. He's brushed back questions of whether he'd run by repeatedly saying it's too early to make that decision. He's also left open the door too, and operatives took notice when the senator hired a pair of prominent conservative campaign workers, Dan Holler and Michael Needham, the former heads of the Heritage Foundation's political arm.
Rubio would face some drawbacks. Even though he is still young — he'd be 53 on Inauguration Day 2025 — he may have missed his window. The party has changed dramatically since he first ran for president and the scars of Rubio's "small hands" attack on Trump still linger.
6. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Previous rank: 5)
DeSantis is probably the most active of the sitting governors currently positioning himself for 2024. One strategist said DeSantis is great at political strategy and seeing where to position himself, but has been ineffective as a chief executive of one of the largest states in the union.
The first-term Republican is viewed by operatives as the most "Trumpy" of the governors. But some operatives noted that DeSantis' connection to Trump is more of a one-way street, with DeSantis seeking attention and accolades from Trump but not offering the president much in return. Republicans also say the 41-year old DeSantis still looks green despite serving three terms in Congress and almost two years as governor.
The summer has been rocky for DeSantis. He presided over a stunning spike in coronavirus cases, one month after leading the re-opening of the state.
DeSantis has enjoyed a close relationship with former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, who some Republicans expect to run DeSantis' re-election bid in 2022. That connection helped DeSantis hold a line into the White House. But when Parscale was demoted in July, Republicans said that DeSantis' standing with Trump also took a hit.
DeSantis also lost a long-simmering fight with longtime Florida Republican campaign guru Susie Wiles last month, after Trump hired her on to his campaign over the objections of DeSantis. DeSantis previously engineered her exile from GOP politics at the end of 2019, but that exile did not last long.
5. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Previous rank: 6)
Few Republicans have as deftly navigated the world of the Trump administration and the changing fortunes in Republican politics as well as Pompeo. When he joined the administration, first as CIA director, he had been a two-term congressman who ardently fought against Trump becoming the party nominee. Now he controls one of the most prominent Cabinet positions and according to Trump advisers is widely respected by Trump.
Unlike other speakers at the Republican Party's virtual convention, Pompeo will be delivering his speech from Israel, where he is touting the Trump administration's negotiating of an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to show up in early 2024 polling and is talked up regularly by Republican campaign operatives.
Pompeo passed on running for Kansas' open Senate seat this cycle, which fueled further speculation of his presidential ambitions. One Republican noted there's little benefit for Pompeo in dropping out of a prominent role in the Trump Administration to bang heads in a Republican primary.
Pompeo is tied closely to the Koch brothers, first from his work creating an aerospace firm with seed money from the conservative family's industrial powerhouse and later as one of the biggest beneficiaries of their political donations. Strategists also noted that Pompeo gets his political advice from Ward Baker, who in 2016 led the Senate Republicans' successful bid in 2016 to keep control of the chamber.
How Pompeo would do on a presidential campaign stage remains to be seen. GOP operatives said the secretary of State has developed a reputation for having thin skin, which is generally considered a vulnerability for a vicious primary fight. Earlier this year, Pompeo chastised an NPR reporter. He also carries some significant baggage from the Trump administration — including the president's firing of the State Department inspector general who was investigating Pompeo's push for arms sales to Saudi Arabia, doing an end-run around Congress' typical approval process for major arms sales.
4. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (Previous rank: 4)
As a freshman senator up for re-election in November Cotton has aimed high for the national spotlight as a national security hawk who can tout a close relationship with Trump.
Cotton has been making all the moves of someone running for president. He drew attention with a high-profile jaunt to New Hampshire at the end of July where he helped Republicans raise money. And as a close ally of Trump, he also secured a speaking slot at the Republican convention.
The 43-year old senator had his biggest breakout moment in June — one that could form the core of a 2024 run. He claimed the scalp of the opinion editor of the New York Times after the newspaper sparked controversy by publishing his op-ed calling for military troops to descend on protesters. As Times reporters objected to the publication of Cotton's op-ed, he tweeted a GIF of Sesame Street's Elmo, arms outstretched, in front of raging flames, "Live look inside that @nytimes staff meeting going on right now."
Cotton has retained Brett O'Donnell for communications strategy since coming to Washington in 2015, a known entity among DC Beltway insiders who helped lead Sarah Palin's media operation and running then-Rep. Michelle Bachmann's 2012 insurgent bid for the White House.
Republican strategists warned that Cotton has some challenges. He still has trouble working rooms while on the campaign trail and doing the kind of retail, one-on-one politicking needed to win in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
"A very good candidate on paper, but I can't see him lighting up Iowa," said one GOP strategist.
3. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (Previous rank: 2)
Cruz drops one spot based on being left off the RNC stage this week and polling which has him near the top of the pack but still underperforming bigger names in this nascent field.
The two-term Texas senator has been acting like someone running for president. He hosted a fundraising retreat with Republican candidates in Aspen, Colorado, as part of his "20 for 20" effort. His work fundraising for new House members and Republican candidates is viewed as a classic move of building institutional support before a White House bid.
And he has maintained perhaps the strongest political organization of any of the prospective 2024 candidates. He still has his core team from his last White House bid in 2016, led by strategists Jeff Roe, Jason Johnson, and David Polyansky. He's also retained goodwill among conservative activists in the early states he would run in again in 2024.
Back in 2016, Cruz's organization was so strong and tied so closely to the tea party that one operative noted it was the reason Trump waited so long to attack Cruz directly. Once they did engage, however, it was incredibly vicious. Trump insinuated Cruz had been cheating on his wife with a former staffer and spread a conspiracy theory that his father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Their rivalry reached a fever pitch when Cruz tried without success to swipe the nomination away from Trump's nose at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
A GOP strategist familiar with Cruz's thinking said the senator is "50/50" on whether he runs again in 2024. To his benefit, Cruz can run for reelection to his US Senate seat and for president at the same time. But the operative said Cruz could also opt to spend more time with his family and earn money by leaving politics entirely.
The 2024 campaign is also likely to be a very different beast than 2016, and Cruz would walk in without some of the clear advantages he enjoyed during the last presidential cycle. Back then, Cruz enjoyed unfettered spending from billionaire mega-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer and friendly media coverage from Breitbart, then under the helm of Steve Bannon and still ardently anti-Trump. Longtime conservative strategist Kellyanne Conway, who directed one of Cruz's super PACs in 2016, is also expected to side with the prohibitive front-runner for the 2024 field: Mike Pence.
2. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley (Previous rank: 3)
Haley gets a lot of buzz, and she has been actively courting attention since leaving the Trump administration almost two years ago. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump even considered pulling her in last summer to replace Vice President Mike Pence on the 2020 ticket to help with Trump's ailing numbers among women — a move the husband-wife White House duo fervently denied.)
Haley moves up a notch based on consistent exposure since June, a prime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention on Monday night, and a strong showing of 11 percent support in the most-recent 2024 poll.
The former South Carolina governor can stake claim to being popular among the world of Washington pundits and professional political types, many of whom were interviewed for this story and spoke very highly of her. But she has also been dinged by some operatives as more of a media creation than a serious contender for 2024.
Haley appeared to tie herself even closer to Trump when her memoir, "With All Due Respect", came out last November in the middle of the House Democrats' impeachment investigation. The Dallas County Republican Party dubbed her a "frontrunner" for 2024 when she headlined a fundraising dinner for them last December, but they quickly scrubbed the term "frontrunner" after complaints from Haley's team. She has also pushed back at questions about her ambitions when she left her post as the country's top diplomat at the United Nations by saying she wanted to help her son look at colleges and care for her aging parents.
"Leaving the job was hard, but putting family first was more important. And I think now it's about taking it a year at a time," she said earlier this year during a meeting of the Federalist Society.
Her chief political adviser is longtime Republican pollster Jon Lerner and she maintains the potential makings of a campaign staff at the 501(c)4 Stand For America, which promotes her appearances, raises money and touts her positions on issues like urging the Congress and Trump administration to condemn China for hiding important details about the coronavirus and its role in the spread of the pandemic. Haley also drew attention earlier this year when she hired former Heritage Action chief Tim Chapman to her non-profit group.
1. Vice President Mike Pence (Previous rank: 1)
Trump's vice president is the de facto front-runner if the Republicans hold the White House in November. He'd be the veritable George H.W. Bush to Trump's Reagan, ready to deliver a "third term" of Trump and ride his coattails to victory.
But Pence starts to look more like the last Hoosier vice president, Dan Quayle, if Trump loses.
Pence topped a recent poll of prospective 2024 candidates collecting almost one third of the support (31 percent) and handily beating his nearest competitor, Trump Jr. But Republican strategists have viewed Pence's strong performance in early polling as a function of name ID and exposure more than excitement.
His greatest strength is that he has been actively running for president since the end of 2008 by putting all the pieces in place on the board and lining up as much support as possible. Kellyane Conway, for one, regularly calls Pence a "full-spectrum" conservative because he hits all the different factions on the right, including the Christian right and conservative evangelical voters. A GOP strategist said Pence could lock up three respective lanes from the outset of the 2024 field as the Trump standard-bearer who connects with the conservative base and a proven record as an electable candidate.
As I reported in my biography of Pence, "Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House" the vice president has been playing the inside game for almost three decades from his first two runs for Congress in 1988 and 1990 to his run for Indiana governor in 2012. And he is a master at checking the boxes needed for support. But he's never faced a strong primary battle of his own and several strategists also noted Pence is just not that exciting. Pence, in fact, is known precisely for not making noise, which is why his close friends have sometimes said they wish that he'd pick up some more of Trump's dynamism and spontaneity.
He has one of the most tight-knit teams in politics and his close aides are fiercely loyal to him. Marc Short and Conway have been with him more than a decade. His chief political operative, Marty Obst, goes back with Pence to 2009. He also brought Trump loyalist Corey Lewandowski into the fold two years ago, winning the support of an important Trump ally. And senior campaign operative Nick Ayers remains an important figure in Pence's small circle. Rumors have persisted that Trump wanted to oust Pence from the ticket, but the time to do that would have been before last December, when the campaign started placing their names together on ballot access requests in the states.
Several Republicans say Pence's chances for 2024 are inextricably linked to what happens in November. If the president loses, Pence loses too. He's tied himself so closely to Trump, one strategist said, that it would be impossible for the vice president to shed that reputation in a crowded 2024 field.
Pence himself has regularly brushed off questions of his own plans for 2024, saying he is singularly focused on getting Trump (and himself) re-elected in November. Strategists noted that's probably a good move, because he has the most to lose if Trump loses in five months.
On final feather in Pence's cap: On Monday, at the Republican National Convention, he successfully vanquished a longstanding and rampant rumor that Trump would replace him on the ticket when his name was formally nominated to be on the ballot this November.
Wild Card: Donald Trump
Don't forget the Grover Cleveland scenario.
Should Trump lose in November he'd likely dominate the political spotlight until he lets it go. And that has Republicans contemplating the fallout as an ex-president Trump gets peppered with questions about trying to join Cleveland in the history books by running again in 2024 with an aim of serving non-consecutive terms as president.
"At the very least, he'll threaten to and f— with the field to get attention," said one Republican strategist.
A former senior Trump White House aide predicted Trump — if booted from office — would taunt Biden daily while toying with the notion of getting back into politics, especially if the 2020 race ended with controversy. "It'd be day by day," the person said. "It's not in his DNA to lose. He'd want to be vindicated."
Other people close to the president doubt he'd run again. "I think he walks away from it and that's kind of that," said Paul Winfree, a former White House deputy chief of staff on policy.
Trump's desires to return to the White House could also be complicated by his own legal troubles. As a former president, he'd no longer have protection from federal and state prosecution, including claims he obstructed the Mueller probe and later tried to withhold funding to the Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of Biden's son. There's also a New York state probe into hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential election — Trump's lawyers have fought a subpoena for his financial records in a dispute that's now before the Supreme Court. During the Democratic 2020 primaries, Sen. Kamala Harris said the Justice Department under her administration would have "no choice" but to prosecute Trump. She's not the nominee, but Harris remains a serious candidate for vice president or attorney general in a Biden administration. Biden also said last month that he wouldn't pardon Trump if he won the presidential election.
Wild Card: Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson, one of the most popular talk-show hosts on TV and one of Trump's favorite TV hosts, insists he wants nothing to do with running for president – or any other office.
"No, I'm not running," Carlson told Mediaite last week.
Of course, he wouldn't be answering that question if there weren't plenty of other people talking him up for a 2024 bid, as first reported by Insider. And a recent poll showed Carlson winning the support of 7 percent of Republicans should he run.
So why is Carlson a "wild card" and not in the formal rankings above? He hasn't been making the same moves that other 2024 would-be candidates have. He doesn't control a super PAC (or similar non-profit group.) He hasn't been hiring political staff. He hasn't been taking trips to early primary states.
Still, he remains a powerful force on the right — whether Trump wins or loses — and his name is likely to stay a part of the conversation until the GOP presidential field settles into place somewhere around late 2022 or early 2023.
Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.
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