The race for the GOP presidential nomination has a set of historic firsts: a criminally indicted former president seeking an Oval Office comeback, a vice president who refused to go along with a plot to steal the last election, the most politically accomplished woman ever to run as a Republican — and an already-popular governor waiting in the wings.
Who ultimately wins out will take on President Joe Biden in a likely reelection bid — and potentially secure the White House.
There are also other candidates and would-be candidates, too. We've put the entire field into three categories — based roughly on their chances to capture the nod — along with full scouting reports for everything that could go right or wrong along the road to the 2024 convention in Milwaukee.
The most likely nominee(s). The Favorites have established major campaign infrastructure — plenty of money, staff in key states, outside groups ready to bombard the airwaves with advertising — built broad coalitions in polling and garnered endorsements from party leaders.
Trump remains popular among the Republican base despite numerous scandals and the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol that punctuated his turbulent presidency. His false claim that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election has given his comeback bid a patina of grievance to add to his appeal to return to the policies of his administration. With only a few exceptions, Trump's likely rivals have refrained from criticizing his time in office or behavior outside of it.
Trump fatigue. Trump has dominated American politics — in both parties — since he first became a candidate in 2015. Unlike his first campaign, when the field against him was split, Trump could face a single competitor who serves as a counterweight in DeSantis. And legal jeopardy on multiple fronts — including criminal charges in New York — could convince enough GOP primary voters to turn the page and look to the future, even if they like Trump and his record as president.
DeSantis doesn’t want to be the anti-Trump, but rather a more effective (and less scandalous) continuation of the former president’s political movement. By the numbers, it could be a winning primary coalition to combine Trump fans with loyal Republicans who are skeptical about a third straight Trump nomination. But it requires DeSantis to go at Trump directly — without alienating too many of his supporters — and position himself as a more electable alternative.
By selling Trump Lite to an audience that still yearns for the full-calorie version, and at the same time too extreme and unserious for the party’s Trump skeptics. He's considered an awkward retail campaigner. DeSantis’ decision to align with Trump on the Russian invasion of Ukraine suggests he’s unlikely to make any significant breaks from the former president.
In the ballgame, but not top-tier candidates. The Contenders are running credible campaigns, with enough money and staff to be competitive, but haven’t gained as much traction. Still, a Contender has enough support in a key early state or among a segment of the GOP electorate to build upon as the primaries approach — or potentially play king- (or queen-) maker down the road.
As the alternative to a months-long Trump-DeSantis food fight. A win in South Carolina’s primary — third after Iowa and New Hampshire — would go a long way to vaulting Haley into the top tier. Already, Haley is the most politically accomplished woman — as a twice-elected governor and cabinet member — to enter a Republican presidential primary field. Despite the gender gap between the parties, women make up nearly half of the GOP primary electorate.
Like all of the candidates below the top tier, Haley risks getting drowned out in a primary where Trump and DeSantis suck up most of the oxygen. And Haley’s seemingly shifting views of Trump after the Jan. 6 riot threaten her credibility in taking on her former boss.
He probably doesn’t. But if he can survive the early caucuses and primaries as the candidate of choice of the GOP’s small but real “never-Trump” bloc, he could be a powerbroker in the heart of primary season to steer his voters toward an alternative.
The danger for Pence is being a non-factor in the race. Other candidates will hit Trump, too, though perhaps not with the solemnity of the former vice president. And those in that group — DeSantis, Haley, among others — won’t have Pence’s low ceiling.
Not a factor — at least not yet. The Long Shots barely register in polling, nationally and in the early states. There’s always the possibility of catching fire, especially in one of the early states, to propel you into the next tier. But there’s an even greater likelihood of an ignominious, early dropout.
Binkley's opening ad hit inspirational notes, promising to renew a country that is "strong, unified and reconciled to God and each other."
A first-time candidate with little national profile, Binkley is betting big on an Iowa-first strategy that could easily flame out.
Elder worked for decades as a talk-radio host, and he could be a strong communicator, including on a debate stage. Despite African Americans making up a very small slice of the Republican primary electorate, each of the past two contested primaries have seen Black candidates surge to the top tier (Herman Cain and Ben Carson, respectively), though subsequently decline before the voting began.
A lot of ink was spilled about Elder’s effort to topple Newsom mid-term, but the 2021 recall failed spectacularly, 62 percent to 38 percent. Elder was also accused by his ex-fiancee of abuse during their relationship last decade.
Hutchinson has expressed misgivings about the GOP’s direction during the Trump era, but selling a return to the conservativism of the 1990s and 2000s is an uphill climb. He says Trump should drop out of the race following his indictment in New York — far from a majority opinion in the party.
He could end up like two of Trump’s 2016 rivals — former New York Gov. George Pataki or another former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee — who barely register after their political moments have already passed them by.
Actually getting on the ballot would be a good start. Johnson was disqualified in 2022 due to signature fraud — he blamed a vendor — rendering the more than $7 million he loaned his campaign wasted. His early-state advertising could get him on a debate stage, however, if he starts to register in polls.
Like other self-funding long shots, there's a limit to how much of their own money someone would spend if they aren't going anywhere.
If his pet issue is vaulted to the fore, especially in primary debates, where it will compete with a more traditional GOP issue set of the economy, crime, foreign policy and immigration. But he also won’t be the only loud voice against “wokeness” if DeSantis is in the race. He’s wealthy and can afford to jump-start his campaign out of his own checkbook.
Self-funding candidates often tire of spending millions of dollars if they aren’t catching on among the electorate.
If there’s room in the Trump/MAGA lane for a third (and female) candidate. Also, unlike Haley, Noem has stayed in Trump’s good graces and is often mentioned as a possible replacement for Pence on the general-election ticket if Trump wins.
DeSantis was first elected the same year and has executed his version of conservative governance on a much larger scale. South Dakota is no Florida.
The Michigan Republican is a frequent cable-news guest, so he has a slightly higher profile than anyone else who hasn’t been on a ballot in more than a decade. In addition to being a former intel chair in Congress, he was an FBI agent before running for office — an interesting profile in today’s GOP.
As a TV pundit and all-around Republican wise man, Rogers has occasionally been critical of Trump, even though he served on Trump’s 2016 transition time and was briefly mentioned as a possible James Comey replacement as FBI director in 2017.
By selling primary voters on a sunnier vision for the country than Trump’s “retribution” tour or DeSantis’ war on liberalism. Scott won’t have to worry about money — he’s one of the Senate GOP’s strongest fundraisers and has connections to well-heeled conservatives like Oracle’s Larry Ellison and the Koch network. And showing strength in South Carolina could vault him into contention elsewhere.
If Republican voters are more attracted to the bellicose rhetoric from the current frontrunners. And if both Scott and Haley are still on the ballot in South Carolina, it could dilute their favorite-son and -daughter candidacies.
By becoming the main figure of the party’s moderate lane, amid a pileup on his right. He's won four gubneratorial elections, including two on the ballot the same time Trump lost the battleground state. And a victory in the New Hampshire primary would be a prerequisite, too.
If he’s too moderate (and anti-Trump) for today’s GOP primary voters. And if his “favorite son” status in New Hampshire diminishes the state’s weight — as then-Sen. Tom Harkin’s candidacy did in 1992, when the Iowan won his home state but struggled in major contests elsewhere.