The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The 2024 race begins for Republicans on Nov. 4

2016 Republican presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) listens during a primary debate at Fox Theatre in Detroit in March 2016. (Paul Sancya/AP)

On Nov. 4, whether or not President Trump is reelected, the campaign to become the GOP’s nominee in 2024 begins. In the past two weeks, I’ve kept a list of everyone mentioned to me as a possible candidate by individuals with experience and influence.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” said Police Chief Martin Brody to Captain Quint in 1975’s “Jaws.” Republicans are going to need bigger stages than even 2015’s massive debate venues.

Here, in alphabetical order, are “the mentioned.” I plan to maintain strictest neutrality in the coming contest — just as I did in my radio show in 2015 and 2016, which became “Switzerland on the radio.” I’ve interviewed all of these people, and they all have plausible “paths” to succeed President Trump as the GOP’s next nominee:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, former ambassador to Germany and former acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell, former ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.

Continuing on through the alphabet: White House chief of staff and former North Carolina representative Mark Meadows, South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem, national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.

Of course, should President Trump lose to former vice president Joe Biden, he could — and almost certainly would at least — consider a return to the ring in 2024. That would shorten the list by taking the other Trumps off it, but this is just a list of the already mentioned. Who thought Rep. Michele Bachmann would be on debate stages in 2011, or former New York governor George Pataki in 2015?

This is a movable feast for center-right media whatever result comes in November, and there won’t be much advantage to being shy about ambition. Money will have to be raised, beginning almost immediately. If the president is reelected he will have an outsized, but hardly dispositive, say as to his successor. Events will intervene, as they always do.

The dizzying speed of the news cycle requires, though, that anyone who harbors even the slightest hope of being the new president in January 2025 get into the blocks quickly. What would have been unseemly even six years ago — the never-ending campaign — is now the defining feature of U.S. politics. Who can make news, who can either expand or disband and remake the band — these are the questions a GOP completely remodeled by Trump will answer over the course of the next four years.

The narrowing of the appeal of the cable news channels to a shrinking fraction of the actual electorate means this crowd of candidates will have to find ways to stand up and stand out that have not been used before. The explosive growth of Joe Rogan’s podcast, the launch of Charlie Kirk’s nationally syndicated radio show and the acceleration of Parler as a platform — all this and more telegraph that new means of reaching the American public are erupting even as awareness dawns on everyone that competition with the Chinese Communist Party defines the next five decades as surely as the competition with the Soviet Union defined the post-World War II half-century. (Disclosure: Kirk’s new radio show is syndicated by the same company as mine.)

The means of building electoral coalitions and the reasons for doing so have shifted so dramatically that only as large and disruptive a personality as Trump could have kept this series of developments out of the awareness of most of the political class.

The aftershocks of Trump will have the Manhattan-Beltway media elites stunned for years, but the candidates who want to build upon, or tear down and replace, the Trump coalition, won’t have time for Kennedy School seminars on what happened from 2015 to 2020. They will have to move.

Turns out Americans love politics with an intensity and an attention span far greater and longer than the old conventional wisdom proclaimed. They have loved this fray. Overheated talk of civil war and the seething nuttery of Twitter aside, the divisions in American life are indeed deep and enduring (but, thank God, peaceful). Trump set off the demolition of the old system after it failed to account for the massive changes of the globalization of everything. Now the center-right has to settle on a successor through a process that will first manifest in the choosing of consultants and launching of super PACs. The winner after Nov. 3 is going to be in his 70s. Both parties have delayed a leadership change for four years. It can no longer be avoided.

On your marks. Get set.

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