ONLY IN WASHINGTON would an election three years away generate the kind of interest that Republicans have produced — with at least a dozen serious candidates already planning to run for the presidency if Donald Trump doesn’t.
IT’S TOO EARLY to handicap the potential GOP candidates, largely because Trump will freeze the field until he decides whether to run. Insiders think he won’t, instead preferring to hand-pick a candidate and weigh in on issues.
BUT TRUMP HAS PLENTY OF MONEY and still has an adoring base. He proved in 2016 that he doesn’t need a majority of votes in primaries; a plurality could be enough. Trump downsides: he turns 75 later this spring, he will spend much of the next three years bogged down by legal disputes, and voters may never forget or forgive Jan. 6.
A DOZEN REPUBLICANS ARE PREPARING TO RUN IF TRUMP DOESN’T —
ENJOYING A VERY EARLY BUZZ: Ron DeSantis, the controversial Florida governor, Kristi Noem, the mask-hating South Dakota governor, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (already in New Hampshire and Iowa), and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a favorite with the Trump base. All four of these relative newcomers would be acceptable with the base.
OTHERS WHO COULD JUMP IN QUICKLY are Sens. Marco Rubio, John Thune, Rick Scott, and two extremely ambitious conservatives, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, both unpopular with their colleagues and tainted by the Jan. 6 riot.
THERE’S MORE: Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley almost certainly would run if Trump doesn’t, but she’s not popular with his base. The biggest wild card is Mike Pence, who’s organizing and is likely to run despite Trump’s scathing criticism.
ARE THERE ANY MODERATES? A few, headed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a media favorite on the Sunday talk shows. Moderates other than Hogan and Thune could include Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Ben Sasse (Nebraska), but there’s no appetite for anyone like Mitt Romney or John Kasich in this party.
WHAT ABOUT THE DEMOCRATS? Joe Biden will be 82 on the next Inauguration Day, and we continue to believe he won’t run again. The early favorite to replace him at the top of the ticket obviously would be Kamala Harris, but the Democrats also have lots of potential candidates who are itching to run if Biden doesn’t.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ on the far left and Pete Buttigieg near the center aren’t shy about their presidential ambitions; they would be just two of a dozen Democrats who might challenge Harris if Biden decides not to run.
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