The incredible shrinking GOP presidential field

Some potential candidates will have difficulty finding a lane

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen last year on a video screen at a Turning Point Action rally in Youngstown, Ohio, is widely expected to seek the GOP presidential nomination.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen last year on a video screen at a Turning Point Action rally in Youngstown, Ohio, is widely expected to seek the GOP presidential nomination. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 13, 2023 at 1:35pm

There has been plenty of chatter over the past year about the size of the GOP presidential field for 2024. Some expect a crowd, while others think the eventual field will be relatively small.

Right now, there are two announced hopefuls: former President Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor. (I wrote about Haley in a previous column.)

If you are already yelling at me to add Vivek Ramaswamy to my list, you can stop right now. He has no chance to be nominated, which means that he isn’t a serious contender. He might be this cycle’s Andrew Yang, but that’s about all. At this point, he doesn’t merit being included.

We know that former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is out of the race. But, like Ramaswamy, Hogan never had a chance, and it is a waste of column inches to spend any time on his liabilities as a candidate in the Republican contest. 

That leaves a miles-long list of “potential” candidates, including contenders in the anti-Trump wing of the party, such as former Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger and former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney.

Neither has a chance of being nominated by a party that is now controlled by the likes of Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry. Nor does former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who, like Haley, is trying to have it both ways on Trump. Christie is simply not where his party is right now.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to enter the race, is generally seen as Trump’s main opponent. It’s hard to argue with that. (An illustration of this comes from Davenport, Iowa, where DeSantis visited on Friday and Trump was scheduled to drop by on Monday.) We’ll see what kind of a candidate DeSantis is, but he starts off with lots of assets.

He is Trump without all the baggage, a successful governor from what was a swing state. Donors seem to like him and think he can win, and his “anti-woke” schtick resonates with grassroots Republicans.

He’s arrogant and smug, but these days that may not be disqualifying.

The GOP list also includes South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Vice President Mike Pence — though I don’t see why Pence is generally characterized as a formidable contender.

Pence spent four years as Trump’s obsequious companion, complimenting the president on everything he did and said. Now, Pence is a critic of Trump. That doesn’t get him much credit among the anti-Trump crowd or the pro-Trump wing of the GOP — a wing that accounts for at least a third of the party.

Because he is a former VP, Pence receives some attention. That’s fair. But it is difficult to see him as the Republican nominee next year.

Scott is a more interesting name. A former House member who has won three Senate races in an important presidential primary state, he is also Black, and Republicans are always looking to dispel the “Republicans are racists” argument. 

He is a good speaker and a conservative who has worked with Democratic lawmakers from time to time. He is currently the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. But again, is he ready for the Oval Office? He needs to stand out from the crowd, and a presidential race would be quite a reach for him.

Pompeo is Trumpy and ambitious. I never found him at all likable, but we’ll see whether he connects with voters looking for a conservative bomb thrower not named Trump or DeSantis. 

Sununu is positioned oddly in the GOP. He’s a conservative but is pragmatic on issues that energize the Republican right wing, including abortion and LGBT+ issues. 

Does he have a “lane” to himself in an early primary state? Is he angry enough to win the Republican nomination now? I’m skeptical, in part because his straight shooter style increasingly sounds like an act to me, though admittedly a good one. 

More names? Sure.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is considering a run. He has a chance, but only if aliens take over planet Earth and install him as the GOP nominee. A down-the-line conservative, Hutchinson tries to be reasonable and doesn’t yell much. That eliminates him.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is often mentioned as a possible model for Republicans to follow — a pragmatic conservative who can appeal to swing voters in a general election. But it’s not at all clear that he can break out given the other contenders.

Finally, there is Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, but so far has not come close to entering the race.

That sounds like a big field. But many potential candidates won’t ultimately run, and some of those who do won’t get out of the starting gate. 

Assuming they both run, Trump and DeSantis could well take up most of the oxygen in the race, leaving only a few long shots hoping for a miracle — or at least a remaking of the GOP contest.