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The top 10 GOP presidential candidates for 2024, ranked

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) speaks with President Donald Trump at an event in July 2020. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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The 2021 election is over, which means it’s time to talk about 2024.

Okay, well, at least a little bit.

The 2021 election reinforced the difficult path that lies ahead for Democrats in their efforts to keep unified control of Washington, particularly with President Biden’s numbers having declined. And the jockeying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination began long ago.

Below are our extremely early rankings of who could be in the running for it — with the important caveat that most or all of the first nine probably don’t run if No. 1 does. As usual, this is in order of how likely their nomination would seem to be.

Also mentioned: Rick Scott, Kristi L. Noem, Josh Hawley, Glenn Youngkin, Liz Cheney, Larry Hogan, Tom Cotton

10. Mike Pompeo: Few have made their designs on potentially running for president as obvious as Trump’s former secretary of state and CIA director. Pompeo’s closing days as the nation’s top diplomat were extensively devoted to arguing that his tenure was a success, often using official resources in a patently political way (a federal investigation found just this week that Pompeo violated the Hatch Act for similar conduct). Pompeo’s office insisted recently that Pompeo was just joking when he suggested he would run regardless of former president Donald Trump’s plans. But we should probably take that as evidence that he’s quite anxious to do it. The big question with Pompeo is just how compelling he actually is as a candidate.

9. Greg Abbott: The Texas governor is one of two big-state governors, along with Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who have gone to great lengths to establish their Trump-era-conservative bona fides — as opposed to more traditionally conservative ones. This has involved going further than Republicans usually do while wielding governmental power to fight coronavirus restrictions and combat Big Tech. For now, though, DeSantis is the non-Trump darling of that movement.

8. Chris Christie: There is precious little evidence that the GOP will turn against Trumpism anytime soon; anybody betting on that taking place by 2024 had better get some extremely favorable odds. But if there’s one national player who could drive that message, it might be former New Jersey governor Christie, who has spoken out more and more against the president he so helped in 2016. While Christie ran in his own right in 2016 when his stock was particularly low in the party — and it panned out accordingly — he’s also demonstrated how good he can be politically when things align for him.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie told a crowd in Las Vegas on Nov. 6 to seek leaders with “a plan for tomorrow, not a grievance about yesterday.” (Video: The Washington Post)

7. Donald Trump Jr.: If the elder Trump doesn’t run and the GOP base continues to place such a high premium on owning the libs over governing chops, virtually nobody else on this list has shown such an ability to give it what it wants. Trump Jr. is also completely untested as an actual candidate, but so was a certain family member.

6. Ted Cruz Speaking of making owning-the-libs and trolling your organizing principle, Cruz has taken quite the turn this year. The Texas senator has tried ridiculously hard to try to fill the void left by the former president’s absence from Twitter — often with the same disregard for facts. The question as ever with Cruz is whether anyone really likes him enough, and whether the Trump base would ever trust him after what he pulled at the 2016 convention.

5. Mike Pence: Pence’s chances to be a post-Trump favorite for the nomination took a serious shot in January, when he declined to go along with Trump and lawyer John Eastman’s plot to try to overturn the election on Jan. 6. And Pence seemed to recognize the fateful decision he was embarking upon, reportedly telling fellow Indianan and former vice president Dan Quayle, “You don’t know the position I’m in.” That position was one of a guy who loyally and often sycophantically stood by Trump for four years, while not necessarily aligning with Trump on more controversial matters. And it seemed to work for him — until it utterly fell apart in the closing days and Trump supporters began chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” He’s still a former vice president, but one who could sure use the type of party-wide turning of the page that Christie needs.

4. Tim Scott: Almost nobody has flown beneath the radar, while also earning plaudits for memorable moments, as well as the senator from South Carolina. His 2020 convention speech was one of the most well-received, without talking much about Trump or delving too much into the divisive issues of the day. While others have navigated this era in decidedly uneven ways, Scott would enter the 2024 race with more of a chance to craft his own message rather than having to relive old battles. The drawback here is that the spotlight can be harsh, and Scott doesn’t have as much experience with it.

3. Nikki Haley: Haley is the biggest enigma on this list. She has both demonstrated a striking ability to navigate tough political waters — think the Confederate flag controversy in South Carolina when she was governor — while also seeming to have no idea how she truly intends to proceed. This year has been chock full of her providing mixed signals on what she really thinks of Trump and whether the party should hew to Trump’s vision for it. There’s something to be said for trying to be all things to all people, sure; but it’s been gobsmacking. Setting that aside, as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, she was among the most popular officials in the administration and that obviously has a huge upside.

2. Ron DeSantis: If there’s no Trump, and there’s a desire for a Trumpism-without-Trump (and without another Trump) candidate, DeSantis is that guy right now — and it’s not very close. His record as Florida’s governor gives that movement pretty much everything it wants: A guy with big-state executive experience who loves to joust with the left and has found himself (justifiably) scrutinized by the media. While he’s clearly in a tier of his own right now, though, sometimes it’s not that hard to tell from his public appearances that he’s just a couple years removed from being a backbencher in the U.S. House.

1. Donald Trump: If he runs, he’s the overwhelming favorite, and most or all of the above don’t run against him, because what’s the point? A strong majority of Republicans want him to run again, and about half say they would support him from the start. You’d likely see what you saw in 2020, which was a couple semi-reputable folks tossing their name in the hat in hopes of making a point or that maybe he implodes.