Who’s next? Republicans who might go up against Trump in 2024

The former president is running again but the GOP midterm meltdown has changed the primary landscape

Donald Trump’s announcement of a third White House run does not only pose serious questions for the country he divided against itself during his defeat of Hillary Clinton, his four chaotic years in power, his rancorous defeat by Joe Biden and his incitement of the January 6 insurrection.

Trump’s entrance into the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 poses existential questions for the Republican party itself. Since last week’s midterm elections failed to produce an expected “red wave”, leaving the Senate in Democratic hands and the House barely under GOP control, the primary landscape has shifted.

Here are seven Republicans who may fancy their chances of beating Trump to set up a White House run – and one who might try to stop him winning again.

Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis.
Ron DeSantis. Photograph: Reuters

The Florida governor is the only Republican who has placed even remotely close to Trump in polls regarding the next nomination, even leading him in a post-midterms survey. DeSantis has also enjoyed considerable success deploying Trumpian policies and avowedly cruel theatrics in his own state, leading to a landslide re-election victory. Reports that suggested DeSantis knew he couldn’t win a straight fight with Trump and would decline to enter the ring now seem like artefacts of a distant political age, before a host of Trump-backed candidates were defeated in the midterms. Time is also on DeSantis’s side. By 2028, when Trump would be constitutionally barred from running even if he won this time, and 82 years old either way, DeSantis will only be 50.

Mike Pence

Mike Pence.
Mike Pence. Photograph: AP

Trump’s vice-president has made his ambition clear, visiting key states, speaking to conservative groups and writing a memoir. All the while, he has attempted to pass the proverbial camel through the eye of the metaphorical needle, sticking up for democracy while trying to ingratiate himself with supporters of the man who tried to upend it, his followers chanting “hang Mike Pence” as they stormed Congress. Pence emerged from the January 6 hearings painted as some sort of a hero, for refusing to block election results. His book, So Help Me God, is more critical of Trump than might have been expected and comes out in a changed political world. Still, it is hard to see so subservient a VP mounting a strong primary challenge.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz.
Ted Cruz. Photograph: AP

The Texas senator who pushed Trump closest in 2016 maintained a modicum of self-respect by refusing to immediately kowtow, and though he subsequently accepted his place in a party in Trump’s grip he has maintained his profile as a leading provocateur on the hard right of the party. Cruz is the only politician even close to Trump and DeSantis in polling regarding 2024 – though he often loses out to Donald Trump Jr too. It’s hard to see the Texan mounting a strong challenge, though, in part because of what the ex-Democratic senator Al Franken once said: “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz.”

Josh Hawley

Josh Hawley.
Josh Hawley. Photograph: Reuters

The Missouri senator famously raised a fist to demonstrators outside the Capitol on January 6, was equally famously filmed running away when rioters broke in, then infamously voted to object to results in key states anyway. Like Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator who may be regretting his decision not to run in 2024, Hawley is tall, clever and a hardliner who delights in “owning the libs” and urging confrontation with China. Unlike Cotton, he is fond of designer suits or tight T-shirts and jeans. At 42, Hawley’s time may come when Trump can no longer run.

Glenn Youngkin

Glenn Youngkin.
Glenn Youngkin. Photograph: AP

The governor of Virginia won a nominally Democratic-leaning state by avoiding contact with Trump but pursuing distinctively Trumpian tactics, including claiming progressives were running amok in schools, teaching critical race theory to children. To warning cries from Democrats, he has attempted to maintain his relatively cuddly, fleece-vested image. He has also attracted a racist attack from Trump, a sign of stature these days. But if Youngkin represents what passes for moderate Republicanism, there doesn’t seem much room for him in a party dominated by Trump and DeSantis.

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley.
Nikki Haley. Photograph: EPA

The former South Carolina governor served under Trump as ambassador to the United Nations and quit after just under two years – a relatively dignified exit from an administration which chewed up reputations as relentlessly as Trump masticates pink and red Starbursts. Like Tim Scott, the only Black Senate Republican (who inadvertently released a book which said he was running), Haley, of Indian heritage, would bring rare diversity to the primary contest. Also like Scott, to many observers Haley seems more likely to become a running mate for Trump or even DeSantis.

Mike Pompeo

Mike Pompeo.
Mike Pompeo. Photograph: Getty Images

Mike Pompeo was first in his class at West Point, an army officer at the time of – but not actually in – the Gulf war, a businessman, a Tea Party congressman from Kansas, CIA director, then secretary of state in Trump’s administration. He is now a very long shot for president, despite admitting he’s preparing the ground. “We’ve got a team in Iowa, a team in New Hampshire and South Carolina,” Pompeo said. “And that’s not random. We are doing the things one would do to get ready. We are trying to figure out if that [the White House] is the next place for us to serve.” Chances are, it isn’t.

… and Liz Cheney

Liz Cheney.
Liz Cheney. Photograph: Reuters

The congresswoman from Wyoming is Republican royalty, as daughter of Dick Cheney, vice-president to George W Bush. She is also a stringent conservative. But she decided during the Capitol attack that enough was enough. Standing against Trump made her vice-chair of the January 6 committee, an unlikely hero to liberals and, soon, an ex-congresswoman, having lost her primary. Cheney has not said she’ll run but some think that while she could not win the primary, getting on the ballot in all 50 states as a constitutional conservative might split the right and achieve her goal: to stop Trump at all costs.


Martin Pengelly in New York

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