May 2021 Republican Presidential Power Rankings

There is a chasm between the top of the field and everybody else

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: Ex-President Donald Trump (FL) (Previous: 9)
Had the events of January 6th not happened, the former President would be ranked much higher than this. Had he not been banned from every conceivable social media known to man, the former President would be ranked much higher than this. 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, at least in his own mind. Of course, Trump had a terrible showing at the CPAC straw poll when you consider that the entire event was basically a love letter to Trump.

I ultimately think that Trump will not run. But there is an outside chance that Trump runs and wins the nomination. 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.

#9: Sen. Tim Scott (SC) (Previous: NR)
No person helped himself more in April 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: NR)
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 Ambassador Nikki Haley (SC) (Previous: 3)
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.

#6: Sen. Rick Scott (FL) (Previous: 2)
Scott has the gift of time in a few ways. One, he doesn’t have to make a decision to run nearly as early as others on this list because he’s from a big state and has deep pockets. On the other end of the spectrum, he was running ads in Iowa a year ago ostensibly to attack Joe Biden. A businessman and a former Governor, Scott is well-positioned to make a competitive run for President. His problem is the fact he is not the only Floridian in the field (perhaps not even the only Senator from Florida if Marco Rubio runs again) and he is not the most likable guy in the world.

#5: Gov. Larry Hogan (MD) (Previous: 6)
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.

#4: Sen. Ben Sasse (NE) (Previous: 5)
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.

#3: Ex-Vice President Mike Pence (IN) (Previous: 2)
Pence’s profile in this race is similar to that of Joe Biden when he ran in 2016. 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.

#2: Nobody
This is how wide the chasm is between the #1 contender and everybody else right now

#1: Gov. Ron DeSantis (FL) (Previous: 1)
The distance between first place and everybody else on this list continues to grow. Yes, I know that DeSantis has publicly said he won’t run for President. I don’t buy that for a second. Especially when you consider that CPAC was a coming-out party for DeSantis. He got to host “conservative” activists from across the country in his own backyard and it worked out well for him. DeSantis was the real winner of the CPAC straw poll, once you eliminate Trump from the equation. 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.

Dropping Out: Tom Cotton (#9), Doug Ducey (#10)