Potential rivals to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination will this week be reading the runes of political fortune with their families ahead of the New Year – typically the time that nomination contenders begin to make themselves formally apparent.
Amid a lackluster start to Trump’s own campaign and a string of scandals and setbacks to hit the former US president due to his links to far-right extremists and his own legal problems, a field of potential rivals is starting to emerge for a contest that only a few months ago many thought was Trump’s alone for the taking.
They include multiple ex-members of Trump’s own cabinet, including his own former vice-president, his former UN ambassador and his former spy chief. Adding to that are a raft of rivals with their own political power bases, such as Florida’s increasingly formidable rightwing governor, Ron DeSantis.
Now the hints of ambitions to taking on Trump are coming thick and fast, especially in the wake of the defeat of a host of Trump-backed candidates in November’s midterm elections which have triggered a reckoning with Trump’s grip on the Republican party.
“I can tell you that my wife and I will take some time when our kids are home this Christmas – we’re going to give prayerful consideration about what role we might play,” former vice-president Mike Pence, 63, told CBS’s Face the Nation last month.
Maryland’s term-limited Republican governor, Larry Hogan, and Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s former governor and US ambassador to the UN, have said the holidays would also be a time for deliberation.
“We are taking the holidays to kind of look at what the situation is,” Haley said in November. Hogan, a fierce critic of Trump, told CBS last week “it won’t be shocking if I were to bring the subject up” with his family during the break. Come January, he said, he would begin taking advice to “try to figure out what the future is”.
“I don’t feel any pressure or any rush to make a decision ... things are gonna look completely different three months from now or six months from now than they did today,” Hogan, 66, added.
Others in the running are also readily apparent. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s team has reached out to potential campaign staff in early primary states, the Washington Post reported over the weekend. “We figured by the first quarter next year, we need to be hard at it if we’re going to do it,” Pompeo, 58, said in an interview with Fox News.
The Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, is reportedly talking to donors to determine his ability to fund the 18-month “endurance race” of a nomination process. Hutchinson has said that Trump’s early declaration, on 15 November, had “accelerated everyone’s time frame”.
“So the first quarter of next year, you either need to be in or out,” the outgoing, 72-year-old governor told NBC News earlier this month.
New Hampshire’s governor, Chris Sununu, 48, said this week he did not believe Trump could win in 2024. He has voiced concerns that the Republican party could repeat the nomination experience of 2016, when he was a contender, when a large, divided field allowed Trump’s “ drain the swamp” insurgent candidacy to triumph.
“We just have to find another candidate at this point,” Sununu told CBS News. While Trump could be the Republican nominee, he added, he was “not going to be able to close the deal”.
The Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin, 56, has said he is “humbled” to be part of the 2024 discussions but in the convention of most candidates, he says he is focused on his day job.
Youngkin telegraphed his fiscal conservative credentials to wider Republican big-money interests by pushing $4bn in tax cuts through the Virginia legislature and meeting with party mega-donors in Manhattan in June.
“2024 is a long way away,” he recently told Fox News. “We’ll see what happens.”
Helping to break the gender-lock on potential candidates is also the South Dakota governor, Kristi Noem. Her name has emerged as a potential Trump running mate, but she recently said he did not present “the best chance” for Republicans in 2024.
“Our job is not just to talk to people who love Trump or hate Trump,” Noem, 51, told the New York Times in November. “Our job is to talk to every single American.”
The biggest dog in the potential race – aside from Trump himself – is by far Florida’s DeSantis, who recently won re-election in his state by a landslide. Some of the Republican party’s biggest donors have already transferred their favors from Trump, 78, toward the 44-year-old governor.
The Republican mega-donor and billionaire Ken Griffin, who moved his hedge fund Citadel from Chicago to Miami last year, described Trump as a “three-time loser” to Bloomberg a day after the former president’s declaration.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do. It’s a huge personal decision,” Griffin said of DeSantis. “He has a tremendous record as governor of Florida, and our country would be well-served by him as president.”
Similarly, Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the private-equity giant Blackstone, told Axios he was withdrawing his support from Trump for 2024 but stopped short of backing DeSantis. “America does better when its leaders are rooted in today and tomorrow, not today and yesterday,” he said. “It is time for the Republican party to turn to a new generation of leaders.”
DeSantis has yet to rule a run in or out, but has signaled his interest by beginning to plant ads on Google and Facebook that target an audience beyond Florida.
But in the post-midterm political environment, with Trump-backed candidates performing poorly in most contests, and the former president besieged by investigations and questions about his associations, the running is open.
Maryland’s Hogan has described Trump as vulnerable, and “he seems to be dropping every day”. Hutchinson has said “you never know when that early frontrunner is going to stumble”. Polls suggest Trump trails DeSantis in a nomination head-to-head, but leads over Pence and Haley.
Other potential names in the pot include the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, 65; Florida senator Rick Scott, also 65; former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, 60; and Texas senator Ted Cruz, 52, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2016.
In a provocatively titled “OK Boomers, Let Go of the Presidency” column last week, former George W Bush adviser Karl Rove warned that 2024 may resemble 1960 when voters were ready for a generational shift. In that year, they went for the youngest in the field, John F Kennedy, aged 43.
“Americans want leaders who focus on the future,” Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The country would be better off if each party’s standard bearer came from a new generation … It’s time for the baby boomers and their elders to depart the presidential stage. The party that grasps this has the advantage come 2024”.