That may be true. In fact, it’s probably true.
But remember when pundits were talking about the inevitability of Joe Biden losing the Democratic primary in 2020? Remember when the 2016 GOP nomination was Jeb Bush’s to lose (but that Scott Walker might give him a run for his money)? Remember when every 2007 poll showed Hillary Clinton vs. Rudy Giuliani would be the inevitable general election contest for 2008?
And there are earlier examples. The point is circumstances change.
If another Republican can take Trump down in a Republican primary, not named DeSantis, who could it be? Presidential campaign history is full of surprises and here are five Republicans acting as if they will run in 2024.
Not included are also-rans, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie. That’s not to say they have less of a chance than these other five, but it’s worth looking at a fresh crop of presidential hopefuls.
Mike Pence’s new memoir, “So Help Me God” is likely to be the biggest bestselling book of a vice president ever. That’s largely because of the tumultuous relationship he had in the closing days of the administration – and since – with Trump.
If we carved out a ‘there was a non-Trump or DeSantis’ category of candidates, Pence would be the undisputed frontrunner.
Pence is almost the antithesis of Trump, even though he was his loyal vice president for four years. Pence is truly conservative in almost every sense of the word and you see this through his lifestyle and mannerisms. He also happens to hold conservative public policy views.
Trump, on a policy level, was vastly more conservative than almost anyone anticipated, but with his mannerisms, and past lifestyle, certainly wouldn’t meet the classic definition.
Seeing these two on a debate stage together, even if sharing it with a dozen other candidates, could be interesting.
Pence, a former U.S. congressman, where he was House Republican Conference chairman before being elected as Indiana governor on the way to the vice presidency, is certainly qualified to be president. Though he faces the most awkward challenge.
Pence frequently talks about the accomplishments of the “Trump-Pence administration,” and should. He was part of a great record of sweeping tax reform, a strong economy, three Supreme Court confirmations, accountability reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Abraham Accords, criminal justice reform, and a revamped trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, among other victories.
But at some point, Pence – and any other Republicans – have to make the case why they are a better choice than Trump. That could be tough for Pence to do if he is tying himself to the administration’s record. That’s particularly true if Trump is attacking him as disloyal during the debates.
On the other hand, Pence could make the case that he is the guy to carry out Trump policies without the Trump baggage. That was basically the argument Democrat Vice President Al Gore made in 2000 as he tried to distance himself from the scandal-plagued presidency of Bill Clinton.
Gore did win the popular vote, a pretty mixed result, but a consideration. Like Pence, Gore couldn’t electrify a crowd. But some voters were OK with boring after eight years of Clinton fatigue.
In accepting the Republican vice presidential nomination in Cleveland in 2016, Pence said, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”
It became an oft-repeated line, but he put it into action on Jan. 6, 2021, as one could easily tie a classic definition of conservatism to defending the Constitution and country above the demands of his party leader. He later used the same phrase, responding to hecklers chanting “traitor,” because they thought he should have been a Republican first.
Importantly, Pence contributed greatly to Trump’s 2016 win, providing assurance to those squeamish voters in the conservative movement as well as the GOP establishment.
Former Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo said ahead of Trump’s near-certain announcement for president in November, “What happens today or tomorrow, what some other person decides won’t have any impact on” what he decides on 2024.
If Pompeo runs, he would enter the race similar to George H.W. Bush in the 1980 GOP presidential primary, as the guy with the most splendid resume. Pompeo actually surpasses Bush, who was an impressive former congressman and CIA director when running for president. But Bush was never the secretary of state.
Still, Pompeo faces a similarly awkward situation to the other Mike, in taking credit for (in this case the foreign policy) accomplishments of the Trump administration while arguing why he should replace Trump.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., already has one nominal advantage, that is of hailing from one of the early primary states. That won’t likely be enough, which is maybe why he bothered to spend time in Iowa earlier this year.
Scott could attempt to be the nation’s second Black president and first Black Republican president. Scott was first elected in the tea party wave of 2010 to the House, first defeating Paul Thurmond, the son of legendary segregationist politician Strom Thurmond, in a GOP primary.
He was first appointed to the Senate, then elected in his own right. Easily winning re-election this November, Scott said it would be his last six-year term as speculation increases about a presidential run.
Scott seemed to take a veiled shot at Trump (and perhaps DeSantis) during a Fox News interview in November, asserting that being a strategic warrior is smarter than being a fighter.
“If everything is a fight, that might just mean you are a bully. If nothing is a fight, it means you are not in the game,” Scott said. “From my perspective, the delineation we need to have been knowing the difference between a fighter, someone who’s fighting all the time, and a warrior, someone who’s willing to lay down their life for a greater cause.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., seems to have carved out a niche for himself in the populist right more than any other Republican. Most recently, he took the unusual move of siding with the rail union over companies.
“Didn’t Mayor Pete take 45 days off during a supply chain crisis, but railroad workers can’t get more than one sick day?” Hawley tweeted in a reference to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a former South Bend mayor.
He followed with another tweet: “GOP wants to be a working-class party, or should want to. We’re about to have our first test vote – with the workers or with Biden,” and concluding, “Joe Biden and the suits on one side, railroad workers on the other side. Easy call.”
Recall that Hawley, a former Missouri attorney general, wanted to go after Big Tech before it was cool among Republicans.
What might be his biggest liability is his challenge to the certification of the 2020 Electoral College votes. Democrats will call him an “election denier.” Alone, that vote wouldn’t be so costly if not accompanied by the unfortunate photo of him pumping his fist in front of a Jan. 6 crowd outside the Capitol – hours before the riot.
To dissect this, Hawley’s primary opposition was to the certification of Pennsylvania votes. That was because Gov. Tom Wolf unilaterally changed election procedures without the state’s Legislative approval. As for the photo, there was no way for Hawley or anyone else to know that the crowd would riot that day. Though in a media and social media world with little patience for nuance, that’s tough to explain.
Nevertheless, challenging the certification was likely a political move he hoped would attract Trump voters to his camp for a 2024 run. That seems less likely now that Trump is running.
Under other circumstances, outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan might seem like a strong presidential contender.
He won two elections in a very blue state, held the line on spending about as well as could be expected, and is a pro-lifer who didn’t try to change the state’s abortion laws but vetoed legislation to expand abortion. He also has an inspiring personal story as a cancer survivor, a battle he won while serving as governor.
Still, in a GOP presidential field for 2024, he might come across as an annoying scold.
He has been most aggressive in going after Trump directly. After the disappointing midterm for Republicans, Hogan said, “It’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race, and it’s like, you know — three strikes, you’re out,”
Days later, speaking at a GOP gathering, he said what should have been a “huge red wave” in 2022 was “barely a ripple” and blamed both Trump and the Republican leadership.
“Excuses, lies and toxic politics will not win elections or restore America,” Hogan said. “Only real leadership will do that.”
Hogan didn’t vote for Trump in choosing instead to write in Ronald Reagan’s name in 2020 and write in his father’s name, former Rep. Lawrence Hogan in 2016.
His chances of winning the nomination seem slim. But he could take up the mantle of the anti-Trump heckler. That would take the heat off the other candidates on the stage, be it DeSantis, Pence, to not risk losing Trump supporters should they emerge as the nominee.
Fred Lucas, the author of The Myth of Voter Suppression, is the manager of the Investigative Reporting Project at The Daily Signal.