Welcome to the latest installment of The Duckpin Republican Presidential Power Rankings. These rankings will list, in my estimation, the contenders for the Republican nomination for President on a 1-10 scale. This list will be updated every month; maybe more once we get to late 2023.
The rankings are a combination of polls, data, political environment, and gut feelings. It is not necessarily a ranking in order of who I think should be the Republican, but who is best positioned to win the nomination at that time. Think of it as a snapshot in time. And we know what happens over time; one day you’re the flavor of the week, the next your yesterday’s news. Just ask Kristi Noem.
#10: Gov. Greg Abbott (TX) (Previous: 9)
Abbott returns to the countdown, primarily because he’s making the moves necessary behind the scenes to run. The office of Governor of Texas is relatively weak and he won’t be the only Texan seeking the nomination. He has made the most of his weak governorship, however, by reopening Texas with no adverse affects from a spike in CPVOD cases. He also recently signed legislation allowing for constitutional carry. And he does have a unique backstory. Abbott will be a very credible candidate if he indeed ultimately runs. But first, he has to get through a gaggle of primary challengers, including all-hat no-cattle former Congressman Allen West.
#9: Sen. Tim Scott (SC) (Previous: 10)
No person helped himself more this spring than Sen. Tim Scott did with his rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s address to Congress. The speech didn’t even help his much as the wild Democratic overreaction to it did, particularly with all of the disgusting racist comments Democrats directed at Scott. Scott raised his profile, both within the GOP and nationally writ-large, with his speech. It is uncertain if he plans to run in 2024, particularly with Nikki Haley thinking about it, but it bears watching. But let’s not overstate the impact here: the last time somebody who gave a response to a Presidential address won a Presidential nomination was Bob Dole in 1996. Scott is just lucky that he won’t be remembered for some of these more notorious flops.
#8: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (KS) (Previous: 7)
Pompeo had a bit of a moment at CPAC and there’s a bit of a buzz around Pompeo at the moment. Pompeo’s problem, other than the obvious connection to Trump, is his general lack of a political base. Being elected as a member of Congress from Kansas is hardly a wide political base from which to launch a presidential bid. Pompeo, of course, is boosted by his service as Director of the CIA and as Secretary of State. Pompeo may run, and originally it was hard to imagine him becoming the nominee. But Pompeo is already in Iowa and making a compelling case regarding protecting the Republican win in the Iowa 2nd District.
#7: Former Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)(Previous: 10)
Christie recently said “I’m also not going to be one of these people who’s going to say, ‘Well, I’ll wait to see what President Trump’s going to do.’ You know, I’m not going to defer to anyone if I decide that it’s what I want to do, and that I think I’m the best option for the party and for the country.” So it sounds like he is gearing up for a run and won’t be scared off by whatever Trump does. Christie missed his best shot to run in 2012, and the shine was gone by the time he actually ran in 2016. I struggle to see what constituency he appeals to if he runs in 2024, Trump or no Trump, no matter how much he tries to out-Trump Trump. However, he is coming out with a book this November called Republican Rescue: Saving the Party from Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden. A book indicates that he’s certainly laying the foundation the run, but perhaps as an anti-Trump, not Trump-like, candidate.
#6: Former Ambassador Nikki Haley (SC) (Previous: 7)
The only woman to crack this list, Haley remains extremely popular with Trump’s base. Her service as Ambassador to the U.N. gave Haley the foreign policy chops that she lacked from her time as Governor of South Carolina. Haley is in a great spot; she remains popular with the Trump wing of the party while still retaining ties to the rest of the party, she lives in a key early primary state, and she’s the only woman seriously considering a run. It would be surprising if Haley weren’t leading polls early. But Haley needs to decide exactly what she is. Is she the Trump critic ready to move on from Trump? Or is she going to try to get back in Trump’s good graces every time she criticizes him? It sounds like she is going to continue to defer to Trump if Trump runs, but is she sincere in this or is this just for show? Who knows.
#5: Sen. Ben Sasse (NE) (Previous: 4)
Sasse was the original #NeverTrump Senator back in 2016. His record since then has been interesting insofar as he has been extremely critical of Trump and his character but not necessarily his policies; he has supported Trump’s policies when they’ve been worth supporting and opposed them when they weren’t. Sasse has been extremely critical of Trump’s post-election antics and the QAnon-ification of the GOP. Like Hogan, Sasse has the challenge of not bending the knee enough for Trump. But Sasse, arguably, is one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate and one of the most conservative in the field. He has a lane, though he has not made a lot of moves in the direction of running as of yet.
#4: Gov. Larry Hogan (MD) (Previous: 5)
No potential candidate was hurt more by the fall of Donald Trump than Hogan. If Trump remained a viable 2024 contender, this race may very well have down to a mano-a-mano showdown between Trump and Hogan, one of the loudest Trump critics in the Republican Party. Hogan has shown great political instincts in being elected Governor of Maryland. His challenge is going to be to convince Republican primary voters that he is conservative enough; he’s more conservative than most (even many Maryland Republicans) give him credit for, but when the primary voters make the (laughable) decision that conservatism means fealty to Trump, that creates complications for a run. However, Trump’s re-emergence makes things just a little easier, especially if other Trumpier candidates take a pass at the race. He’s getting a lot of press regardless of what he decides to do.
#3: Ex-Vice President Mike Pence (IN) (Previous: 3)
Pence’s profile in this race is similar to that of Joe Biden when he ran in 2020. Arguable, Pence is the most qualified candidate in the field: he’s been a small business owner, a Congressman, a Governor, and of course Vice-President. That last part of course is what will trip him up. In a primary election, Pence will be hampered by the Trumpiest part of the Republican base that is mad because Pence didn’t violate the law, the Constitution, and common sense and unilaterally throw out the results of the 2020 Presidential Election. Pence has moved on up the charts, however, because he’s making moves to position himself for 2024, including heading to South Carolina later this month to give a speech before the Palmetto Family Council.
One thing, though, that does show the problems that Pence has with the pro-Trump elements if the party is his perceived “disloyalty” to Trump for not going allow with the attempted Trump coup of January 6th, for which he was booed at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference.
#2: Ex-President Donald Trump (FL) (Previous: 10)
The reality of the situation is getting too hard to ignore: too many Republicans are still bending the knee to this leftist pretender. Had the events of January 6th not happened, the former President would have been ranked this high all along. Had he not been banned from every conceivable social media known to man, this would have been a reality earlier. In a logical world, Donald Trump wouldn’t be on this list at all as a disgraced former President who led his party to ruin. Except the world is not logical and the Republican party is overrun with conspiracy theorists who still believe that Trump is the second coming. Trump himself spoke at CPAC and declared himself still the undisputed ruler of the GOP, and the defenestration of Liz Cheney lends heavy credence to that. I ultimately think that Trump will not run, but he is certainly making a lot of noise about it and starting up rallies again shows that he is gearing up to do it all again. Going bonkers about Biden at a wedding won’t help and if decides that he wants to be the angry man yelling at a cloud as some sort of Mar-o-Lago lounge act, it probably won’t get him very far. The fact that the Army was legitimately concerned about a Trump-led coup should be disqualifying, but isn’t with the Republican base anymore. He can still draw a crowd, as his recent rally in Ohio shows us, even if he still can’t get over the fact that he lost the 2020 Election.
#1: Gov. Ron DeSantis (FL) (Previous: 1)
The biggest story of the last month in the Presidential space? DeSantis winning the Faith and Freedom Conference Straw Poll. Yes, he finished ahead of Trump, a bigger deal than when Trump “won” the CPAC straw poll. Yes, I know that DeSantis has publicly said he won’t run for President. I don’t buy that for a second. DeSantis is a very shrewd politician. Just look at how he leaned into Trump to get elected Governor in 2018 and then started deviating from Trump as soon as he could. As a former Congressman, he has Washington experience; as a Governor of a swing-state, he has executive experience. DeSantis’s response to COVID has been much better than the media wants to tell you; it’s arguably been better than the response of Democratic media darling Andrew Cuomo in New York. And this exchange where DeSantis held his own with a CNN reporter is going to win him a lot of plaudits from Republican voters. He may say that he isn’t running now (perhaps as he prepares to run for re-election next year), but I won’t believe he isn’t in until we get past mid-2023 without an announcement. His only problem may be that he is peaking too soon. Let’s just say it’s not a coincidence that he is hiring top staff. The problem DeSantis is going to have? Trump’s going to turn his fire on him at some point; it’s only a matter of when.