In 2024, an army of Republicans will seek the party’s nomination – assuming former president Donald Trump doesn’t – in an effort to topple the country’s oldest president. Here are six of the likeliest candidates as of November 2021.
Governor of New Jersey, 2010-2018
One would be forgiven for thinking that the two-term New Jersey governor who spent much of the Trump administration being called obese by Donald Trump of all people might not be interested in mounting a bid for the White House. One would be wrong, though, for some reason.
Christie helmed Trump’s White House transition back in 2016 for about a week. In 2019, Christie said it was Jared Kushner who intervened to kick him off the transition team and lock him out of Trump’s inner circle. Back when he was a federal prosecutor, Christie had investigated Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, who eventually went to prison for a host of crimes including tax evasion and witness tampering. Christie’s successful conviction of Charles Kushner – who was later pardoned by Trump – should be a bright spot on his record as a federal prosecutor. Instead, it made him an enemy of Kushner, who exerted significant influence in his father-in-law’s administration.
Despite Christie’s efforts – which included calling on Republicans to “face the realities of the 2020 election” – Trump is still the master of the GOP. So why on New Jersey’s brown earth would he want to run for the presidency?
Well, first off, it’s his best choice. Term-limited out of office in 2018, Christie could mount a bid for the senate, but New Jersey’s two Democratic senators are popular and its not likely that he’d prevail there. To give you some idea of his other career options, Christie currently works for the New York Mets. So.
"Chris Christie" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
Matt Gaetz is an alleged pedophile sex offender, which is the kind of sentence that used to mean, at the very least, we wouldn’t hear from him until either the investigation ended or a jury returned a not guilty verdict. Given that the feds are very interested in Gaetz’s supposed social partners and also think Gaetz may have obstructed justice in the investigation, Gaetz seems very unlikely to mount a – oh, he’s already basically announced his presidential bid.
Gaetz is young – just 39 – and only won his seat in the U.S. House back in 2016, when he rode the Trump Train to victory in one of the most conservative districts in Florida. Choo choo. He’s actually capitalized on this a lot, as well as generally capitalized on his ideological similarities to Donald Trump. In May, he was found to be, uh, not super well-known, which at least means he’s not unpopular. With Republicans, its pretty easy to waive off constant federal investigations as proof of the Deep State, but this doesn’t work as well with less dedicated partisans.
"Matt Gaetz" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
United States Senator
Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz came the closest to beating Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries and his loss at the hands of a man who once called his wife ugly and then doubled down on it probably stings, though not as much as knowing that this photo of Ted Cruz eating shit straight out of a telephone a few months later exists. Sorry, there was a point here and I lost it. Oh, right, Ted Cruz has the spine of a worm.
Cruz is widely expected to give the president thing another go, because he both (a) came quite close to winning the nomination last time and (b) gently rubbed the tummy of the man who did win the nomination and gave him gentle kisses on his forehead and told him how brave he was. Surely all that groveling was worth something besides almost losing his 2018 re-election bid.
Yes, it turns out Ted Cruz is super unpopular, even less popular now in Texas than he was when he nearly lost re-election. Maybe it’s because he tried to flee the state during the power crisis last winter. Who can say for sure? But if you’re not popular in your home state, you might as well try another run for the White House. Maybe you’re more popular in other states.
"Ted Cruz" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Governor-elect of Virginia
The media loves new blood. No sooner had political novice Glenn Youngkin won a narrow victory in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election than speculation cropped up that he might seek the presidency in 2024. But he’s a businessman and a Republican and he won in Virginia, a state that seemed to have turned permanently blue just a few years earlier. Does Youngkin have what it takes?
That’s not necessarily a dig at Youngkin. He’s got a big motivator to run for president: Virginia governors are limited to non-consecutive terms, so he can’t run for re-election in 2025. Sure, he wouldn’t quite serve a full term as governor, but that’s not a lot different than Barack Obama’s single incomplete senate term. Okay, sure, Obama previously served seven years in the Illinois Senate, but Youngkin ran a global investment firm. On paper, Youngkin seems sufficiently qualified. Plus, the last guy had only ever inherited a business empire from his father and run it into the ground.
Youngkin’s roadmap for victory was to highlight his business experience and to never explicitly repudiate conspiracy theories. Critical race theory? Youngkin wasn’t going to say it wasn’t really happening, and he talked a lot about “local control for education” and other things that felt like dog-whistles for hardcore conservative voters. Who won the 2020 presidential election? Joe Biden, of course, but if only we had more election integrity then voters would feel more secure, wouldn’t they? Do you like Ted Cruz? Of course, who doesn’t?
On a national scale, though, the path to victory isn’t what Youngkin did, even though that seems to be what a lot of media outlets think. Youngkin’s mere willingness to play along with conspiracy theories and white nationalist rhetoric isn’t enough; he’ll need to be complicit in it to secure the primary. That might still be a bridge too far for someone who is unquestionably a member of the billionaire globe-hopping elite.
"China Economic Outlook" by World Economic Forum is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Governor of New Hampshire
Riddle me this. You are a popular governor of a politically moderate state. Your state has an all-Democratic congressional delegation but its state legislature is dominated by Republicans. Polls indicate that you would be likely to defeat one of the incumbent senators in the 2022 election. Donald Trump is behind you. And you, on the eve of what should be the start of the campaign season, announce that you are not running. Why not? What possible reason do you have?
Chris Sununu would start the Republican primaries with two very big advantages. One: a foregone conclusion that he’ll win the coveted New Hampshire Primary; and two: the near-certainty that he won’t win the Iowa caucuses. That’s a lot of freedom to focus on states that come further down the primary calendar, putting resources into those places while letting the others duke it out in Iowa. Come in third – or even fourth – in Iowa and demolish your rivals in New Hampshire and you probably stand a good chance of looking like a contender. As Ted Cruz tries to make a second-place finish in New Hampshire sound like an advantage and people pick on Matt Gaetz for earning under 18% of the vote, Sununu could be in Nevada, South Carolina, and Alabama, making the case that he’s the guy.
What’s Sununu’s case? He’s very popular in a state with a lot of Democrats, mostly because he supports transgender rights and says employers should be allowed to mandate vaccinations. Which aren’t, uh, super-popular with conservative voters nationwide. Of course, the last time a popular moderate New England Republican ran for president he changed a lot of his political views to make himself seem more like a national-type conservative. It didn’t work, because the Republican primary voter isn’t really the general election voter, so while Romney won the 2012 nomination he couldn’t carry the general election.
Sununu is an establishment guy. His father was George H. W. Bush’s chief of staff, his brother was a U.S. Senator. With the support of Trump, Sununu could be the devil’s bargain that unites the Trump-skeptic and Trump-fanatic wings of the GOP. Or he could be Jeb.
Donald Trump, Jr.
Not only is Donald Trump, Jr., not the best candidate the Republican Party has, he’s arguably not even the best candidate the Trump family has. He’s penned a couple books with awful and not always grammatically correct titles. The Chicago Tribune called him “as dumb as a post.” His cousin, Mary Trump, called him her “stupidest” relative. And, uh, his father said he wasn’t the “sharpest knife in the drawer.”
Trump’s whole presidency was defined by his craven quest for absolute power. Unsurprisingly, his most ardent supporters have embraced this monarchial approach, supporting the idea of a Trump dynasty in which his children each take turns at the helm. Who needs elections when you have a family of flunkies to take over after each term limit?
Trump Jr. has flirted with a run several times since his father’s certain defeat last fall. Exactly how much favor he curries outside Trump loyalists, though, is unclear. Certainly, many of those who would fear a run against the former president have no such fear when it comes to little Don Jr.