This week, the members of the Post Pundit Power Ranking voted on the people they thought most likely to win the Republican nomination in a world without Trump. As with last week’s Democrats, I compiled a list of the Top 9, and our commentators commentated on them. These top dogs follow below.
Of course, there’s an excellent chance Trump ends up running. But even if he does, there’s an equally excellent chance he won’t be alone…
Gov. Ron DeSantis (Fla.)
The center of GOP voter opinion is “Trump lite”: someone who echoes Trump’s concerns and fighting style without the excess. No one has better adapted to that fact than the Florida governor. He’s easily the front-runner in a Trump-free contest, and it isn’t close. — Henry Olsen
Embracing the “Trumpism without Trump” model means giving voice to all the anti-elite venom, climate change denial, racial grievance and xenophobia that MAGA voters gobble up. DeSantis has done all that. And with a huge reserve of fundraising dollars, too, he is second only to Trump in popularity among right-wing voters. — Jennifer Rubin
The great news for DeSantis is that he’s already the clear alternative. That’s the bad news, too. There’s just way too much time left. — Matt Bai
If Trump doesn’t run again, the odds seem good that another Florida Man will secure the GOP nod. But it seems inevitable that Trump will seek to bring DeSantis down a peg if he continues to perceive DeSantis as a threat. Other Florida Men to keep an eye on for 2024 are Donald Trump Jr., who relocated to the Palm Beach area last year, and the state’s GOP senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. — James Hohmann
The genuine surprise from Pence has been his willingness to firmly defend his refusal to help Trump steal the 2020 election, and even — gasp! — to say that Trump was wrong about what happened. Yet Pence has managed this without coming across like a total, abject, unrepentant traitor like Rep. Liz Cheney. Yes, many Trump voters probably remain furious with Pence. But here and there, you can spot Republicans winning primaries despite having refused to assist Trump’s schemes. — Greg Sargent
Trump supporters who blame Pence for not going along with Trump’s scheme need to remind themselves that Pence had the courage to run with Trump in 2016 and demonstrated time and again — including in the 2020 debate with Kamala D. Harris — that no one, including Trump, better articulated or defended Trump’s policies. The backbone Pence demonstrated on Jan. 6, 2021, won admirers from across the aisle, making him a formidable general-election candidate. — Gary Abernathy
Yes, the MAGA base wanted to hang him last year. Yes, the MAGA base probably still wants to hang him. The only way he becomes the nominee is (a) if the Republican Party wakes up from its Trumpian nightmare and (b) if the evangelical Christian wing assumes leadership. Unlikely. But unlikely things happen all the time these days. — Eugene Robinson
Poor Mike Pence. He’s a true profile in courage because of what he did on Jan. 6, but his taciturn refusal to make that a defining feature means he’s getting all of the hate from Trump diehards and none of the potential upside. He’s still strong with establishment types, but he has been slow to adapt to the culture-warrior mind-set many in the GOP want. — Henry Olsen
Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.)
The African American senator from South Carolina is a happy warrior who can disarm critics. He comes across as reasonable but has not crossed the MAGA movement in any significant way. If Republicans win in 2022 by making inroads with Black men, Scott could appeal to Republicans who want to nominate a proven conservative with a softer and gentler side. — James Hohmann
After Trump, GOP voters will be looking to shed their Archie Bunker image. That benefits Scott, who also happens to be one of the party’s most dynamic politicians. — Matt Bai
Scott would be a consensus candidate — conservative enough for the base while still being acceptable to the establishment. I don’t think his race would be a barrier: Ben Carson made a serious run in 2016, as did Herman Cain in 2012. Republicans who want to reach independents and some Democrats without moderating on policy could do much worse than Scott. — David Byler
Trump’s former U.N. ambassador is a political machine, doing the hard grind of travel and incurring chits all across the country. She’s positioned to be a favorite of the establishment wing that was fine with Trump’s presidency largely because it enacted many of the establishment’s priorities. Her tenure with Trump also gives her the ability to move into other, Trumpier voter lanes. She’s still likelier to be a VP than the top dog herself, but she’s better positioned to win if DeSantis stumbles than any other competitor. — Henry Olsen
She has been teasing a run, saying she’ll do it “if there’s a place for me.” Well, who’s taking up all the space in the Republican Party right now? In a world where Trump is out of the race, there’s plenty of the room the former South Carolina governor is looking for. After that, it’ll be a matter of playing up her more moderate credentials to draw in the voters (a lot of them college-educated women like her) whom Trump lost — and playing those credentials down to draw in the voters he won. — Molly Roberts
Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.)
I mean, he always runs for president, doesn’t he? And he always does better than a lot of people expect, thanks to his willingness to shapeshift into anything he thinks Republican voters might want at any given moment. He can be the New Trump, he can be the Anti-Trump, he can be whatever the GOP base is hungry for. He’s like if Loki from the Marvel Cinematic Universe stopped working out … — Eugene Robinson
The GOP traditionally awards the nomination to the candidate who finished second in the last competitive race. Trump may have crushed all the rules, but if the party reverts to the bent-but-not-broken norm, Cruz gets the nod. — Hugh Hewitt
Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Va.)
Youngkin has shown a talent for getting the media to cover him as a moderate suburbanite while simultaneously pumping unadulterated culture-war signaling straight to the Trump base. It’s partly because of his shrewd use of right-wing media to send a different message than the one he telegraphs to moderate voters via the mainstream press. But he also genuinely seems to straddle these categories as a matter of his values. — Greg Sargent
I think it’s possible that a Republican wins the nomination who stands out a bit from what is likely to be a large field of Trump imitators. Perhaps it’s a person who is clearly very conservative but not full Trump. — Perry Bacon Jr.
Youngkin successfully kept Trump at arm’s length to win Virginia after Joe Biden carried it by 10 points. Just as Gov. Roy Cooper can say he could win North Carolina for Democrats in 2024, Youngkin can credibly argue that he’d pick up Virginia for the GOP for the first time since 2004. He’s a true believer on social issues, and his business success could appeal to fiscal conservatives. — James Hohmann
Sen. Tom Cotton* (Ark.)
He’s smart, has a great résumé (served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Harvard Law grad) and is very conservative. — Perry Bacon Jr.
*I am ranking Cotton tied with another old soldier and good friend of his: Mike Pompeo. They are both running serious campaigns anchored in national security realism and old-school Reaganism. The one who successfully prevails can be counted on to ask the other to serve as his secretary of defense. — Hugh Hewitt
Gov. Kristi L. Noem (S.D.)
There are two wings of the GOP: Trump ride-or-die loyalists and traditional Republicans who care more about conservative policies. Noem could appeal to both wings. She built a conservative-but-not-extreme voting record in Congress and proved to be one of Trump’s strongest allies as South Dakota governor. Her strategy might resemble DeSantis’s: running as a Trumpian conservative while trying to unite the whole GOP. — David Byler
What — you think the Republicans wouldn’t nominate a rabidly racist TV personality? He epitomizes the GOP’s descent into authoritarianism, bigotry and endemic lying. — Jennifer Rubin
Before Trump ran for the GOP nomination, he introduced himself to Republican voters with frequent Fox News appearances. The host of Fox’s second-most-watched show does the same thing every weeknight at 8. Carlson isn’t as wealthy or famous as Trump, but after watching Trump’s rise, you cannot rule out another nominee from the party’s entertainment wing. — David Byler
Gov. Greg Abbott (Tex.): He’s the head of a huge state with big fundraising base. Both as attorney general and governor, he’s been very aggressive in taking conservative stands, particularly on immigration issues. — Perry Bacon Jr.
Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio): A longshot suggestion, but my former boss brings a pro-Trump voting record (88.3 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight) with expertise on multiple issues foreign and domestic, and enough independence to make the lifelong Ohioan an across-the-aisle dealmaker. Portman did not seek reelection to the Senate this year, but he’ll likely stay politically engaged. He’s a young 66 and would still be a kid in 2024 compared with Trump or Biden. If Republicans suddenly developed an appetite for politics for grown-ups, Portman would be an ideal choice. — Gary Abernathy
... Plus a few other names clanking around: Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Donald Trump Jr. (!!), Gov. Asa Hutchinson (Ark.), Gov. Brian Kemp (Ga.), Gov. Kim Reynolds (Iowa)
So there you have it: Counting the former president, 10 Republicans. Counting the current president, 10 Democrats. Things are shaping up for either the world’s least athletic game of slow-pitch softball, or an awfully exciting primary season.
Either way, the Power Ranking will be around to cover it. Batters up!