DES MOINES, Iowa — Possible GOP presidential candidates are already hitting the would-be campaign trail in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire nearly three years before the first caucus-goers and primary voters will make their decisions on who should represent the Republican Party in the upcoming 2024 presidential race.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem will all speak here in Iowa’s capital at the Family Leadership Summit on Friday—an annual gathering of Christian conservatives that helped propel now former President Donald Trump to the front of the pack at the beginning of the 2016 primaries with his summer 2015 speech here. Trump will not be at this year’s event, but two of his closest confidantes in his administration—Pence, his vice president, and Pompeo, his CIA director-turned-Secretary of State—will be. Noem has also been close with Trump, appearing at a number of his rallies and employing Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as one of her top advisers.
Pompeo and Pence both have busy schedules outside their planned appearances at the Family Leadership Summit, with Pompeo giving a series of speeches in the morning and an evening fundraiser for Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and Pence holding a morning fundraiser for Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA). Noem, meanwhile, has been active in Iowa, already holding regular events with the tristate area of Iowa and Nebraska—including a recent joint press conference with Iowa’s GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds and Nebraska’s GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Meanwhile, over in New Hampshire, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) will hold a series of events over the next two days—including a gun rally hyping the Second Amendment as the U.S. Senate considers the nomination of David Chipman, Democrat President Joe Biden’s controversial pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
All four—Pence, Pompeo, Noem, and Cotton—are potential 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls in a possible field that is ever-expanding and would likely develop should Trump himself decide against running again in 2024. Trump, if he does run, is far and away the most likely to win the GOP nomination for president again—polling more than everyone else combined right now. But if Trump doesn’t end up running, the GOP field in 2024 could be the biggest the party has ever had—including many of the above names and more.
Other Republicans who could make runs for the White House in 2024 include Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Rick Scott (R-FL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Rand Paul (R-KY), or former Trump cabinet officials like former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Dr. Ben Carson or former acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell. Other governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis—who currently leads a Trump-less pack in polling—but also Texas’s Greg Abbott could and likely would get in too. Ricketts, who leads Iowa-neighboring Nebraska, is worth millions, and hails from the wealthy Ricketts family as his father Joe Ricketts is the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, is also a possible contender. Former United Nations Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is also likely to make a run, and others like her from the more establishment lane, like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan or Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, could get in too.
Assuming all of them run, that list—just governors, senators, and former cabinet secretaries and not including any possible businessmen, U.S. House members, former governors or senators or other possible contenders—would put a potential field already at the highest number of Republicans who would have run for the presidency ever. That doesn’t even include the possibility of one of Trump’s family members like Donald Trump Jr. potentially running himself. It also doesn’t include possible candidates from the 2022 GOP crop of U.S. Senate and gubernatorial hopefuls, filled with possible rising stars like Pennsylvania’s Sean Parnell, Ohio’s J.D. Vance, Arizona’s Blake Masters, or Missouri’s Eric Greitens—all of whom are still duking out competitive primaries right now—or perhaps even someone not registering yet on the national radar running for governor or Senate in a battleground state.
In 2016, a total of 17 Republicans ran for president—a race that came after eight years of now former President Barack Obama’s Democrat policies and general economic malaise—and a shot to take on Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. That field produced Trump, who went on to defeat Clinton in the general election and skyrocket to right wing superstardom in his four years as president and in the months after he left office.
Biden’s lack of serious domestic accomplishments—he has not passed any big picture bills through the Democrat-controlled Congress except a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan in March—have his approval rating under 50 percent at 49 percent in the latest Economist/YouGov survey. Currently, his so-called “infrastructure” proposals are languishing, which has sparked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to attempt hardball tactics to jumpstart a bipartisan infrastructure framework in the Senate—moves that may backfire given that Republicans are uneasy ramming through votes on big spending for which there still is no bill text.
A series of crises—rising inflation, the ever-present migration and border crises, gas prices hiking, a slowed economic recovery from the pandemic, mishandling of dealings with the Chinese Communist Party, and more—threaten to further erode Biden’s already lagging public approval ratings, possibly making him vulnerable to challenge in 2024. Rumor mills are filled, too, with speculation that Biden may be gone by 2024 and replaced on the ticket by his Vice President Kamala Harris, viewed as a much weaker Democrat than Biden politically and someone who would invite even more of a GOP challenge.
Regardless of what happens on the Democrat ticket, the increasingly aggressive early 2024 posturing among possible hopefuls on the GOP side suggests a growing view among Republicans that they can take the White House right back in 2024 after a disappointing November 2020 at the top of the ticket for the party.
If Trump runs again, most agree he will have no problem securing the nomination and would plow through the caucuses and primaries. But if he stays out of the race—instead choosing to influence everything from the outside, as many observers expect he might do—then there could be a similar situation to the 2016 arms race to the right that saw Cruz and Trump duke it out in the early and middle to later caucuses and primaries, ending with Trump’s victory in Indiana in early May 2016, which sealed the deal for him.
But Trump was not always a sure thing in 2016, and Cruz bested him in the Iowa caucuses back then. Trump went on to win the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but Cruz and Trump traded blows for months thereafter with Cruz winning Wisconsin and several other states while Trump won places like Florida and Alabama. Now former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, meanwhile, despite being nearly universally hated by Republicans for his sharp criticisms of Trump that continue to this day, even won his home state of Ohio in the GOP primaries—hanging in there alongside Cruz all the way to the end of the line in Indiana that year.
In other words, there is a lot of time between now and 2024, anything can happen inside the GOP, and while a ton depends on what Trump decides to do. Assuming he does not run this upcoming race could become the biggest and most exciting GOP field ever—even more than 2016. The likely and possible candidates are also a lot more like Trump—back in 2016, there were establishment stalwarts like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kasich and others like them who ran. Rubio had just gotten done with his 2013 flirtation with open borders by pushing the Gang of Eight amnesty back then. But this time around, the candidates and the party seem to have forever changed thanks to Trump and whatever he decides to do—whether he runs or not—his imprint will be on whoever does run.
Nominally speaking, both Iowa and New Hampshire offer easy opportunities for those pondering a future White House bid as Republicans can travel to both states between now and November 2022 to help down-ticket GOP candidates. In New Hampshire, Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) faces a tough reelection bid, and both Democrat U.S. Reps. Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Annie Kuster (D-NH)—but especially Pappas—could fall to GOP challengers. Since the Granite State elects its governors every two years, too, the highly popular incumbent GOP Gov. Chris Sununu—who could still run for U.S. Senate against Hassan as many national Republicans hope he will—faces a reelection battle too.
In Iowa, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) is the sole remaining Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation—so all GOP firepower is currently trained on her. But given the closeness of the wins last cycle of both Reps. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) and Miller-Meeks—but especially Miller-Meeks, whose victory national Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to overturn but then backed down from—those House seats present opportunities for 2024 hopefuls, as do both the governor’s race, where Reynolds faces reelection and the U.S. Senate race here where the future plans of longtime Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) remain uncertain. Grassley is expected to announce whether he will stand for reelection next year or retire sometime in the fall. Either way, the race presents campaigning opportunities and a chance for possible future presidential hopefuls to build good will with the base on the ground in Iowa.