(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

It’s said that a week is a lifetime in politics, so it’s surely a bit premature to handicap the 2024 Republican field. But with Joe Biden increasing his lead by the day and Democrats looking to be the heavy favorites for another blue-wave election, that’s exactly what your Post pundits are going to do! I’m Henry Olsen, and this is Round 65.

The Commentary

The list below contains some surprises, but what’s not shocking is that even at this early date, candidates fall into some recognizable lanes. Experience tells us that candidates rise or fall in the GOP based on how they catch the mood and excitement of a particular faction.

The most obvious lane is that of the Imperial Successors. These candidates will likely run as the person best situated to carry on President Trump’s legacy without the controversial elements. Miller Lite became famous in my youth for a set of commercials that all ended with the tagline “Tastes great, less filling”. These candidates will argue “Trump’s great, less tweeting.” Vice President Pence, presidential scion Donald Trump Jr., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fit neatly into this lane.

The second lane could be called the Restoration Crew. These candidates will essentially run as people who represent pre-Trump party factions seeking to gloss over the interregnum with claims of fealty to the departed overlord while carrying on pretty much as they would have in 2015. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley are obvious fits here, with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.) other possible entrants.

The third lane is the most interesting, the Young Reformers. These candidates all argue that something about the old GOP, even the Trump-era party, needs to change. They are a quartet of young senators — Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) — and while each sounds a different note, all sing from similar hymnals. The big question is whether Republican voters want a different type of music or if they prefer the old standbys.

The final lane holds the Moderate Wildcards. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker could be appealing to moderates and business conservatives, while Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) combines gender novelty and middle-of-the-road politics with a memorable defense of Trump during impeachment and a history of representing a blue-collar, Obama-Trump seat in upstate New York. Each profiles better as a VP candidate, but primaries always feature someone who breaks the mold and breaks from the pack.

These names will surely change over the next few years — but the lanes won’t, so keep an eye on who races in which. In the meantime, start your engines!

— Henry Olsen

The Ranking

Don’t forget to click on the chart’s yellow highlighted text to see the rest of the Ranking Committee’s annotations.

Position Potential Candidate
1. Josh Hawley
2. (TIE) Tom Cotton
2. (TIE) Nikki Haley
4. Mike Pence
5. Donald Trump Jr.
6. Marco Rubio
7. Mike Pompeo
8. Ted Cruz
9. Tim Scott
10. (TIE) Rick Scott
10. (TIE) Elise Stefanik

Also receiving votes: Tucker Carlson, Charlie Baker, Ron DeSantis, Pete Ricketts

Previous round: Round 64 | These are the 9 Senate seats most likely to flip. Things don’t look good for Republicans.

From the Annotations

He was getting high marks from Republicans and Democrats early in the pandemic but has squandered his credibility. This is likely to haunt him for a long time.

Karen Tumulty, on Mike Pence

Nikki Haley is an alternative path for the Republican Party; Stefanik is a way for the GOP to keep walking in the same direction but look a little less out of step doing it.

Molly Roberts, on Elise Stefanik

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you for the next ranking. Until then, we’ll consider whether to adopt “Tastes great, less filling” as our tagline, too.

Watch the latest Opinions video:

Read more on 2020:

Henry Olsen: Madison Cawthorn is the face of young Republicans. He has his work cut out for him.

David Byler: Flashy primary fights aren’t what get parties to change. Churn is.

Eugene Robinson: Trump is leading the Republican party down a sewer of unabashed racism

Greg Sargent: Joe Biden and the empathy gap

Jennifer Rubin: Tell me again, which side is in disarray?