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Ranking Trump and the top seven GOP White House contenders

The Hill logo The Hill 10/1/2022 Amie Parnes
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Former President Trump is the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, despite facing mounting legal trouble and the recent FBI raid of his Florida home. 

But that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t considering their options in the event that Trump’s political prospects wane in the coming years. 

Trump has been a political force within the GOP since his rise began in 2015, and he’s been open about running for the White House again in 2024.

He’s likely to face competition, however, especially with polls coming out that suggest Republicans want other contenders in the mix.

A New York Times-Siena poll from July showed nearly half of all Republicans surveyed said they wanted someone other than Trump to be their party’s nominee in 2024. 

Trump’s role in the GOP and likely participation in a GOP primary will set up challenges for anyone hoping to displace him.

“The successful candidate will have to be able to thread the Trump needle, able to take on Trump without alienating the Trump voter,” said John Feehery, a longtime GOP strategist and former congressional aide. “Trump still is the elephant in the race. No candidate can win without successfully dispatching that elephant.” 

Here are The Hill’s rankings on the top GOP prospects for the 2024 race.

Former President Trump

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File – Former President Donald Trump speaks at a Save America rally Friday, July 22, 2022, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Anyone who thought the raid at Mar-a-lago, Jan. 6 attack hearings or the pending lawsuits against him would change the hearts and minds of Trump supporters was mistaken.

While polls show the former president has lost the support of independent voters, his loyalists have doubled-down. That will make him the favorite to win the GOP primary assuming he enters the race.

One caveat is whether enough Republicans doubt Trump’s ability to win a general election against President Biden or another Democratic nominee. If enough GOP primary voters think making Trump their nominee will cost them the White House, it could cost the former president.

But for now, Trump remains the favorite if he runs — despite the legal battles.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Largo, Fla. DeSantis was updating residents of the path of Hurricane Ian. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Whether Trump does or doesn’t run, all eyes will be on DeSantis, who many Republicans see as their strongest candidate in 2024.

The Florida governor, now on the national stage as he deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, has had a meteoric rise in national politics.

Trump helped DeSantis win the governor’s race in Florida in 2018, and the two are now rivals when it comes to leading the party in 2024.

DeSantis has created media opportunities for himself and as a result has been able to raise a lot of money, strategists point out. And some Democrats say he’s a scarier prospect in 2024 than Trump.

“He’s a smarter version of Trump,” one strategist told The Hill in August. “He’s way more strategic and he doesn’t have a hundred lawsuits at his feet.”

DeSantis has made a name for himself by placing himself at the epicenter of the culture wars.

Recently, he made headlines for the controversial decision to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, a move many say was made with a presidential bid in mind.

DeSantis is up for reelection this year. If he wins, expect the presidential talk to only rise.

Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.)

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Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks during an Iowa GOP reception, June 9, 2022, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo)

The South Carolina senator made headlines late in the summer for an appearance in Iowa — hardly ever a coincidental trip for a politician with bigger political aspirations.

He traveled to the state to headline a fundraiser for Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa). But Scott, the only Black Republican in the upper chamber, downplayed his political ambitions at the event.

When a supporter in the crowd shouted, “Tim Scott for President,” the senator quickly retorted, “Of my homeowners association, yes,” according to the Des Moines Register. 

It wasn’t the senator’s only trip to the Hawkeye State: He’s been nearly half a dozen times in the past few years and he’s caught the eyes of GOP strategists who say he’s a prolific fundraiser, topping most Republican candidates.

The South Carolina newspaper The Post and Courier reported that Scott brought in more than $46 million for his reelection campaign this year. 

Former Vice President Mike Pence

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks © Provided by The Hill Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a fundraiser for Carolina Pregnancy Center on May 5, 2022, in Spartanburg, S.C. (AP Photo)

The former vice president has kept his distance from Trump, his former boss.

Strategists say he’s clearly building his own brand ahead of a White House bid.

Still, it will be tough for Pence to get very far without appealing to Trump voters, and he’s more likely to alienate them, particularly if he continues to make statements separating himself from his former boss. 

“The Republican Party is the party of law and order,” he said, on the heels of the Mar-a-Lago raid in August. “And these attacks on the FBI must stop. Calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police.”  

If and when he testifies before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, it could also cost him some support among Trump’s loyalists if he speaks negatively of the former president. 

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks with reporters after touring a Loudoun County elections facility at the County Office of Elections, in Leesburg, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Youngkin inspected ballot scanning machines undergoing logic and accuracy testing. (AP Photo)

The Virginia governor caught the eye of Republicans last year after he defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and turned the state red.

And while he keeps dodging questions on a potential run — “There is a long way between here and there,” he said this week — it seems as though he’s been laying the groundwork.

He has formed a couple of political committees and has tried to build his name recognition by hitting the trail for candidates running for governor across the country.

On Thursday and Friday, he also hosted a two-day retreat for top Republican donors, The Washington Post reported. 

Former Gov. Nikki Haley

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Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has spurred talk of a 2024 presidential bid during various events this year. (Getty)

Trump’s former top diplomat and the former governor of South Carolina hasn’t shied away from talk of a presidential run. Recently, while appearing on Fox News, she dropped a hint that “sometimes it takes a woman.”

“Margaret Thatcher said, ‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman,’” she continued.  

Earlier this year during an appearance in Iowa, she said she would run, “if there’s a place for me.” 

Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) © Provided by The Hill Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) arrives to the Capitol for two votes, including the final vote on the Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government, on Thursday, September 29, 2022. (Greg Nash)

Almost no one is watching what Trump does more than the Texas senator, who lost to the former president in the 2016 Republican primary.

It’s easy to forget that Cruz finished second to Trump in the contest, and there were moments where he seemed like a possible nominee himself.

Since then, Cruz has continued to build a household name for himself, becoming a vocal critic of the Biden administration while also helping fellow Republicans in the midterm elections — including in key primary states. 

But like everyone else, he is playing the waiting game, as he acknowledged to the Washington Examiner last month: “The whole world will change depending on what Donald Trump decides,” he said.

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