The way-too-early race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination has entered a new phase.
Though it’s still a long way off from anyone officially declaring their candidacy, former President Donald Trump has officially returned to the campaign trail and other would-be candidates are making more trips to early primary states to stump for Republicans there and speak with voters. Trump came in first in straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas Sunday with 70%, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 21%, and a host of other potential candidates at 1% or less.
Back in April, Deseret News looked at the early field of potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates. Since then, some have begun making moves that suggest they’re serious about preparing for a possible run, while others have kept a lower profile. The possible candidates in this list are based on who’s stayed in the news, traveled recently to Iowa or other early primary states, or finished high in a recent Western Conservative Summit straw poll.
Former President Donald Trump
Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he made up his mind about whether he’ll run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination again, but he didn’t say what the answer is, keeping the 2024 field open, for now.
The former president held his first post-White House rally in Ohio on June 26 — the first since his inflammatory Jan. 6 “Save America” rally that preceded the failed insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters. Trump called it the “first rally of the 2022 election,” but no cable news network carried it live, not even Fox News.
The rally came in the middle of a busy few days in June for Trump. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani had his law license suspended in the state of New York over his false and misleading claims about the 2020 election, and a week ago, The Trump Organization and its Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg were indicted on tax fraud charges and accused as part of a two-year investigation that began when Trump was still in office. Weisselberg and lawyers for the Trump Organization both pleaded not guilty.
The former president has reportedly told others that he won’t have to wait until 2024 to return to the White House. The New York Times and other news outlets have reported that Trump expects to be reinstated as president by August.
Trump also made his first appearance on C-SPAN’s Presidential Historians Survey, coming in fourth-to-last in the survey of 142 historians, professors and other professional presidential observers.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
DeSantis narrowly beat out Trump in a straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver last month, but his greatest strength could also prove to be his greatest weakness. Praised by Republicans as a next-generation Trump, it could put him on a collision course with Trump should both run.
DeSantis is up for reelection next year, and he’s purposely avoided Iowa to not drive 2024 speculation, according to Politico. Still, he’s building out a gubernatorial record sure to please primary voters. Name a top Republican issue today, chances are DeSantis has signed a bill and/or has run Facebook ads about it.
He’s signed bills banning “vaccine passports,” restricting ballot drop boxes and voting by mail, and setting mandates for civics curriculum in the state. Another bill prohibiting “deplatforming” was signed into law in May, but a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Wednesday, arguing it likely violates social media networks’ First Amendment freedom of speech rights. He’s run Facebook ads about critical race theory and transgender athletes in sports.
But DeSantis has backed away from partisanship when responding to the building collapse in Surfside, Florida. The first-term governor welcomed President Joe Biden to the state last week when he visited to meet with families and survivors. “You’ve recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one and you’ve been very supportive,” DeSantis said of Biden.
Former Vice President Mike Pence
If you’re curious how the former vice president might handle the fact that many of Trump’s supporters think he’s disloyal for certifying the 2020 election, his speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on June 24 laid out his argument.
Pence opened the speech with one of his favorite lines, in which he calls himself a “Christian, conservative and Republican, in that order” and then proceeded to spend the next 20 or so minutes praising Trump and the work of the “Trump-Pence” administration. “We made America great again in just four years,” he boasted. Then he finally touched on the attack. “Jan. 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol,” he said.
Pence said he would “always be proud” that elected officials reconvened to finish certifying the election after the riot, and he said he understood why many were disappointed in his ticket’s loss last year: “I can relate, I was on the ballot.” He also positioned his view on the election as one informed by Republican patriotism and love of the Constitution.
“The Republican Party will always keep our oath to the Constitution, even when it would be politically expedient to do otherwise,” he said. “There’s almost no idea more un-American that any one person can choose the American president. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone.”
He didn’t dwell on Jan. 6 for long, though. “We must not allow the Democrats and their allies in the media to use one tragic day to discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans,” Pence said. Though some might find Pence’s position unenviable, he’s building the case that he’s the best-suited Trump successor, with a hand in the administration’s conservative agenda but no part in his election denialism. Whether or not that will appeal to Republican primary voters down the road remains to be seen, but it definitely sets him apart in a field that so far seems defined by fealty to Trump.
Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
Haley has changed her tone when it comes to Trump. After saying he “let us down” and “lost any sort of political viability he was going to have” following Jan. 6, Haley is, at least publicly, a fan again. During her remarks at the Iowa Republican Party dinner on June 24, Haley praised Trump and told a story about him asking if he should call Kim Jong Un “little rocket man” during his speech at the U.N. Haley said she cautioned him to treat the audience like church instead of a rally, but he went ahead and used the term.
Haley even sounded kind of Trumpian during her speech, telling Republicans they were too nice. “We have to be tough about how we fight,” she said. “We keep getting steamrolled and then whine and complain about it. The days of being nice should be over.”
She also didn’t shy away from her gender, opening the speech by saying, “America needs more strong conservative women leaders and less of Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris,” and praising female Iowa Republicans like U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds. “I wear heels,” Haley said. “It’s not for a fashion statement. I use it for kicking. But I always kick with a smile.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas
During his remarks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Road to Majority conference in Florida last month, Cruz said that a conservative “revival is coming” and hearkened back to the Reagan revolution. “It took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan,” he said. “Joe Biden is Jimmy Carter 2.0.” Left unsaid, but implied, is that Cruz sees himself as the Reagan 2.0 who will ensure Biden is a one-term president.
Cruz said at that conference that having social conservative or patriotic views can get you canceled, and it’s time to fight back. He also recited a favorite quote from the late Andrew Breitbart who said “politics is downstream from culture,” and said the phrase was now outdated. “Today, politics is culture,” Cruz said, which might help explain why he signaled his support to free Britney Spears from her conservatorship the day after her court testimony.
Cruz has begun making endorsements in other races, including Susan Wright in the runoff for Texas’ 6th Congressional District later this month, as well as former Rep. Matt Salmon in Arizona’s gubernatorial race next year. While Republicans are undoubtedly happy to have Cruz’s support, Democrats like it, too, at least in Virginia, where fundraising emails from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe that mention Cruz’s endorsement of his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin bring in big bucks, per the Dallas Morning News.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
In the month of June, Pompeo tweeted the word “pipehitter” 18 times, and his political action committee CAVPAC — short for Champion American Values PAC — tweeted “pipehitter” another 16 times. “Be a pipehitter,” read one. “All of us need to be Pipehitters.” “If you’re a Pipehitter like us, join the team.” What the heck is a pipehitter, though?
The word refers to members of special forces, though it has other slang definitions not suitable for a family news website, which inspired mockery online and from Stephen Colbert. According to Pompeo, though, a “pipehitter” is basically a Pompeo super fan. Facebook ads run by CAVPAC in Pompeo’s home state of Kansas and the four early primary/caucus states define “pipehitter” as “someone who is unapologetically American, someone who fights for our future, someone who never gives an inch, someone who is dedicated to stand against the radical Left’s agenda.”
In non-pipehitter news, a recent joint investigation by The New York Times and ProPublica found Pompeo has been the subject of Chinese propaganda campaign that included coordinated videos of Uyghurs calling Pompeo’s accusations of Chinese human rights abuses false. In January, the State Department declared that the Chinese Communist Party was committing genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, and Pompeo called it “the stain of the century.”
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina
One thing Scott has going for him that other potential 2024 contenders do not is a bunch of their endorsements. Scott’s up for reelection next year, and in an ad kicking off his campaign released last week, Republicans including Cruz, Pompeo, Haley and Pence all backed his candidacy. Scott is positioning himself as a Trump-friendly conservative. In his ad, he included a clip of Trump calling him “a friend of mine,” and at a rally for his reelection, Scott said he “wanted to make sure this wasn’t a centrist crowd” after asking them to boo Biden louder, according to The State.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas
Cotton needs to work on his pushups. The 44-year-old senator did 22 pushups onstage at a Republican fundraiser in Iowa alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and he barely had any depth. Grassley’s weren’t any better, but he gets a pass for being 87 years old, and he runs four days a week. The contest was for a good cause: to raise awareness of the average 22 veterans a day who take their life.
Cotton’s remarks at the fundraiser were an early preview of what could become a campaign stump speech. He attacked Biden, critical race theory and China, according to KCCI in Des Moines. He also offered his full throated endorsement of the Iowa caucus, which is something candidates who want to win the Iowa caucus do.
“Why should there be any change to the Republicans’ first in the nation status just because the Democrats can’t run a caucus?” Cotton said, referencing Democrats’ delayed caucus results in 2020. “Iowa has had this status now going back decades and that develops more than just a custom or habit, it develops a tradition of civic engagement unlike you see almost anywhere else in the country.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem
Noem is among the potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates who’ve been overshadowed recently by other top contenders, but she’s back in the news over the border. Though Noem’s not a border state governor, she announced last week that she’s sending up to 50 South Dakota National Guard members to Texas to “secure the border” at the request of Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The tab is being picked up by an out-of-state megadonor who’s also given to Trump and the NRA, according to The Washington Post. It’s unclear if the arrangement is legal, experts who spoke to The New York Times said, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., said the move sets a “bad precedent.”