Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Washington Wednesday - The GOP’s 2024 short list

WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday - The GOP’s 2024 short list

Depending on one potential candidate’s decision, it could be a very short list

Former president Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Sunday, July 11, 2021, in Dallas LM Otero/Associated Press Photo

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 14th of July, 2021.

You’re listening to World Radio and we’re so glad to have you along today. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

First up on The World and Everything in It, an early look at the race for the White House from the perspective of the Republican party.

Following a brief break from the spotlight, former President Donald Trump is once again raising his public profile.

He campaigned for former White House aide turned congressional candidate Max Miller in Ohio. Then Trump paid a very public visit two weeks ago to the southern border in Texas.

EICHER: And this past Sunday, he headlined the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas—C-PAC.

TRUMP: We will secure our borders. We will stop left-wing cancel culture. We will restore free speech and fair elections, and we will make America great again.

All of that fueling speculation that Trump is gearing up for a rematch with President Biden. But he’s not the only one who may be laying the groundwork for a 2024 White House campaign.

Numerous Republicans are, if there’s anything to the rumors.

Running for president these days is a process that begins years in advance. So today, we thought we’d give you an early rundown of the candidates to keep an eye on the months ahead.

Here to help us do that is Mark Caleb Smith. He’s a political science professor at Cedarville University, a Christian college in Cedarville, Ohio. Good morning, professor!

MARK CALEB SMITH, GUEST: Good morning. It's good to be with you.

REICHARD: Very good, thanks for coming on.

We obviously don’t know yet if Trump will run again. There’re probably some candidates who will only run if Trump does not. Others will still run for the nomination, but will be careful not to attack Trump. How do you see this playing out if Trump does run again?

SMITH: I think if President Trump decides to run again, he'll be the hands down favorite to secure the nomination. He still enjoys a really strong level of approval amongst Republican voters. And it's just a really unusual situation compared to anything else that we've seen historically. So, if you think of the last two presidents who ran for re-election and failed—so that'd be George Herbert Walker Bush and Jimmy Carter—neither one of them were in this position to really credibly say they're going to run for reelection in four years time. They weren't popular. They weren't seen as sort of kingmakers within the party. And really, the party was trying to get as far away from them as possible at that point. President Trump is just in a different position—still has a great deal of approval, still, obviously, has an ability to raise significant amounts of money, has tremendous name recognition within the party. For all those reasons, I think he should be considered the front runner, if he does decide to run.

REICHARD: Hypothetically, if Trump were to declare tomorrow that he won’t run, the early frontrunner for the nomination would be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He grabbed some headlines last month, edging out Donald Trump in a straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver.

Trump did run away with the CPAC straw poll over the weekend. But DeSantis came in second, and no one else was even close.
Straw polls most definitely have to be taken with a grain of salt. But it’s clear DeSantis has put himself on the map, politically. So, how strong of a candidate is the Florida governor?

SMITH: I think he'd be very strong if he decides to run. One of the challenges that any candidate is going to get into if they decide to run for this nomination, and President Trump is not there, they're gonna have to appeal to the different parts of the Republican Party. So you have the part of the party that's still very strongly attached to President Trump and his populism, if you want to call it that. You also have the smaller part of the party that really never liked President Trump and maybe even has some revulsion toward President Trump. Can a candidate step forward to unite those two parts? I think Governor DeSantis could credibly claim to do that. The corona pandemic, obviously, just sort of vaulted him into the national conversation. How Florida handled this, compared to a place like New York with Governor Cuomo, for example, was really a stark contrast. And so I think Governor DeSantis would be in a relatively good place, if he decides to run. Is that going to be enough? Is he going to be able to unite the party? Does he have enough star power to move forward in the party? You know, I think to some extent, that just remains to be seen. But the polls tell us right now that about half of Republican voters are interested in another candidate. Ron DeSantis is probably the front runner in that group of people. So I think if he decides to run, I think he'd be a very strong candidate.

REICHARD: What about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott? He’s been in the headlines quite a bit of late with his state’s push for a border wall and a battle with Democrats over voting laws. Do you think he’s gearing up for a run and how would you evaluate his chances?

SMITH: Yeah, it's very possible that Governor Abbott is thinking about running for the presidency. I think the challenge for Governor Abbott or really any other governor is going to be distinguishing themselves from their fellow candidates. So, you know, Abbott is very conservative. Well, DeSantis is also conservative Abbott can say he really cares about immigration. All the governors and senators are going to say they care about immigration. So can he do something that distinguishes himself and that really vaults him in front of his competition? Right now, I think it's just hard for me to say that he really deserves to be in that conversation compared to other people. He has experience. He has credentials, but I think he would struggle in some ways.

REICHARD: Talking about the national stage, what about former Vice President Mike Pence? He has made a couple of speeches recently, but he’s been on the outs with Trump ever since he presided over the electoral vote. Could he win the GOP nomination without Trump’s backing or perhaps even in a head to head contest against Trump?

SMITH: I think on paper Vice President Pence is really maybe the most credible candidate, right? Just purely on paper.

Former Vice President of the United States, former governor, former member of the U.S. House, has very strong connections to the evangelical community, which is an important base of support for the Republican Party, all those things we would say would be playing in Vice President Pence’s favor. So in any sort of a normal election cycle, you would say Mike Pence would really be maybe even at the front of the pack.

However, I think January 6 really does hurt Vice President Pence amongst President Trump's strongest supporters. His decision to go through with his constitutional duty and declare Joe Biden as the winning candidate in 2020, really has elicited charges of being a traitor from the Trump camp. We even have in some of his recent speeches, him being interrupted by people with chants of traitor.

So I think that puts Pence in a really difficult position.

REICHARD: Two other former Trump administration officials have also been talked about as possible contenders: former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Do you see either of them running and if so, how would they fare?

SMITH: I think there's a very good chance that both of them actually run for the presidency. They both seem to be positioning themselves to do that. Of those two, I think Nikki Haley actually would emerge as the stronger candidate for a variety of reasons. Nikki Haley has a really interesting background. She's governor of South Carolina, so she can claim executive experience. She was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, so she can claim foreign policy experience. That distinguishes her from a lot of other governors and former governors. She also emerged from the Trump administration relatively unscathed. She wasn't connected to any ethical problems. She really didn't get dragged into the culture war discussions. She managed to kind of float above all of that during the administration itself, which I think benefited her tremendously, at least for her political future.

Still, you know, it seems like we're gonna bring up January 6th a lot in this discussion. I think January 6th is something she's gonna have to deal with. On that date and the following days, she was very critical of President Trump. She said she was disgusted by President Trump's actions on January 6th. That's going to be remembered. And so she's tried to walk that back. She's gone down to Mar A Lago to try to repair the relationship with President Trump. She may be able to do that. She may not. She's a very skilled politician. I think she'd be a very strong candidate, if she indeed does decide to run.

Mike Pompeo, I think certainly is laying the groundwork for a run. He has good credentials. Secretary of State, former CIA director, U.S. House member as well, a graduate of West Point Military Academy. So a good position, but I'm just not sure his tenure as Secretary of State was really strong enough to say that this is the reason he should be President of the United States. I also don't know if he has the kind of star power the Republican Party is really looking for in a candidate.

REICHARD: Let’s talk about a few fresh faces in the U.S. Senate. Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and even Mitt Romney have been rumored to be mulling another run. Of course they are familiar faces to us.

But there is also some speculation around a few new names: Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Do any of those names stand out to you as strong contenders?

SMITH: I think of all of those names, probably Josh Hawley is in the best position. As you said, Senator from Missouri, Yale Law School, great credentials in his own way. He's really tried to position himself as sort of the strongest Trump supporter in the Senate in some ways. He's been developing his own kind of political philosophy, saying that he's populist and sort of re-envisioning what a conservative might mean in today's Republican party. He's made a name for himself  by going after Big Tech. So he's arguing for the breakup of Google and Facebook and for similar kinds of entities. And I think that might position him very well within the sort of new GOP if we want to think of it in those ways. At the same time, you know, we go back to January 6th. He's seen as one of—if not the—ringleader of the movement to decertify the electoral college votes on January 6th. There's that famous picture of him sort of, you know, with his fist in the air defiantly encouraging the crowd. You know, this is before the violence so it wasn't like he was asking for the storming of the capitol at that point. But there's that famous image. I don't think it's going to really be forgotten. I can see opponents using that in campaign advertising.

There's also this sense that he maybe isn't really all that well-liked within the Senate, and really not all that effective as a senator. And so does he have the kind of political network, the kind of relationships where he could really rise above his fellow competitors for the Republican nomination. You know, I'm just not necessarily sure that's the case. But I think a credible candidate, you know, strong, ambitious, thoughtful, and certainly a quality candidate if he decides to run.

REICHARD: Professor Mark Caleb Smith with Cedarville University has been our guest. Professor, thanks very much!

SMITH: Thank you. It's always a pleasure.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...


Please register or subscribe to comment on this article.


It is fascinating how the political process changes, or let's say, *evolves*, over time. For the first couple of centuries, the presidential election was primarily about the party, and the national convention was when the candidate was truly selected. Sometimes there was a clear front-runner and other times not. Several candidates in the 1800s (winners and losers) were not even considered potential candidates until the party ran into trouble getting the majority needed from the known person, so a compromise candidate was lifted from the ranks. One day he's a quiet senator and the next day he the party's candidate for president! Now, candidates put themselves forward, and they lock up their delegates months before the convention, so the convention no longer plays a role in *selecting* the candidate. They merely affirm what has been known for weeks.

The downside of declaring early (years early, now) is that it takes a lot of money and energy to sustain a campaign. It's one thing to campaign for 10 weeks and another to do it for 100+ weeks. Declare too early and you run the gauntlet a long time; declare too late and you cannot get enough momentum.

I'm not saying it's better or worse than before... just different. It takes a different skillset to run for president in this generation!

The good news, of course, is that God remains sovereign throughout.