A year out from the first contest of the 2024 Republican Party presidential primary campaign, the field of candidates continues to grow. The shadow of former President Donald Trump continues to loom over the race. At this point, it is hard to discern a path to victory for anyone but Donald Trump or perhaps Florida governor Ron Desantis.
The Contenders: Donald Trump
Mr. Trump must be considered the favorite to win the 2024 GOP nomination.
While ardor for him among some of his former supporters has cooled, he still commands the support of at least a plurality of the GOP electorate.
Even after three relatively unsuccessful campaign cycles under Trump’s leadership, few GOP elites seem interested in challenging the former President.
What makes Trump particularly dangerous is that he has enough independent support to pursue a third-party bid if he’s somehow defeated during the primary process. Early polling has offered strong but not unqualified support for Trump’s comeback bid, and thus far, only Trump, of all the major candidates, has announced his run.
He very much remains the favorite, even as Republican donors and elites have shied away from the former President.
Desantis positioned himself early in the pandemic to take advantage of one of Trump’s greatest weaknesses among Republican primary voters, the development of the anti-COVID vaccines that have become the brightest dividing line in American politics.
Desantis is the only alternative to Trump who has led the former President in any surveys. However, his lead has not remained steady and many studies have placed Trump ahead.
The Florida primary, where Desantis might presume to have an advantage, isn’t until March and thus won’t give him a decisive early advantage.
Desantis might also do well in neighboring Georgia, especially given Trump’s conflicts with that state’s Republican elites.
However, this doesn’t seem like enough to give Desantis enough momentum to break away from Donald Trump.
The Geographics: Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, and Glenn Youngkin
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has yet to announce his candidacy, but he has made trips to Iowa, and there seem to be indications that he is at least exploring a run. The extent of Scott’s constituency in the nationwide GOP is uncertain. Unlike the Democratic Party, there are simply no substantial Black constituencies of any geographic importance in the GOP, and it is not apparent that Black conservatives would prefer Scott over Trump or Desantis in any case.
Scott’s candidacy is no doubt complicated by the fact that former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is expected to run. Haley has a higher national profile than Scott due to her diplomatic work during the Trump administration. In the unlikely event that both Scott and Haley make it to the South Carolina primary, any split would benefit Trump or Desantis. A victory by either would keep their candidacy alive, but likely wouldn’t have strong legs beyond the Palmetto state.
Glenn Youngkin burst onto the political scene with a major victory in blue Virginia, campaigning primarily on culture war themes. While he benefits from proximity to the DC media market, it’s unclear that he has much appeal outside of the state, even in neighboring North Carolina and Maryland.
The Apostates: Mike Pence, Larry Hogan, and Liz Cheney
It’s not obvious why Mike Pence has expressed an interest in running for President. Despite the fact that President Trump decided to inspire a riot to attack the capitol that would have seriously endangered the Vice-President, GOP primary voters seem much angrier at Pence than Trump, and it’s hard to see the former gaining much of a constituency.
Liz Cheney is even more hated than Pence due to her stinging criticism of Trump’s role in the January 6 attacks and is not a credible threat to win many votes even in the Mountain West. Larry Hogan would offer a different and more moderate direction for the party, but there’s little reason to believe that GOP primary voters want or believe that they need a different direction.
Trump: A Lock or Vulnerable?
Trump may be the front-runner, but in many ways, he’s also the most vulnerable candidate. While a multitude of investigations into his business and personal dealings have yet to unveil anything that GOP primary voters regard as lethal, the fact that these investigations will continue across the next eighteen months of campaigning means that something could still turn up. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is currently seventy-six years old, and while President Biden is even older, catastrophic health outcomes are always a risk for elderly persons.
Consequently, even as Trump continues to control the table, it makes sense for the other candidates to remain active.
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and most recently Waging War with Gold: National Security and the Finance Domain Across the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.