Former Vice President Mike Pence and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are set to announce their candidacies next week.
Former Vice President Mike Pence could soon be the latest Republican to join a growing field of candidates challenging former President Donald Trump for the presidency in 2024.
After months of speculation, Pence is expected to formally launch his campaign June 7 in Iowa, home to many Christian right voters he’s hoping to court. His biggest challenge will be stepping out from the shadow of Trump, his one-time running mate from whom he has severed ties.
He previously told CNBC that the GOP is “going to have better choices” than the former president. And in an interview with NPR last November, he said he thought Trump was “wrong” in insisting that he won the 2020 election and that he was “reckless” with his words and actions on the day of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
That might not win him any favor among Trump loyalists. But as a prominent evangelical, Pence is hoping to appeal to religious conservatives’ views on abortion, religious liberty, and education. He already seems to be doing so, promoting his memoir, So Help Me God, at megachurches around the country.
Though the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade dampened GOP gains in the midterms, Pence hasn’t tempered his anti-abortion rhetoric. He has called for a national abortion ban and has thrown his weight behind a proposal by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and a ban on abortion pills.
Beyond abortion, Pence’s policy group, Advancing American Freedom, has laid out a platform that includes an expansion of 529 college savings plans so they can be used for K-12 schools, promoting the rights of health care providers to decline to perform certain services on the basis of moral or religious objections, and rolling back climate change-related regulations.
The question is whether that’s enough to distinguish him from Trump. His agenda touts many of the policies advanced by the Trump-Pence administration, including the still-incomplete construction of the border wall and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Pence’s entry would add to the competition against Trump, who some Republicans see as a liability in a general election. Not only is Trump the subject of several ongoing civil and criminal investigations, as well as an indictment in New York, but he’s broadly unpopular. He lost his reelection bid in 2020, and his chosen candidates broadly underperformed in the 2022 midterms.
Still, it’s likely to be a tough primary for anyone who’s not Trump. The former president, who announced his candidacy in November, has been increasingly dominant in polling. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is trailing him by about 30 percentage points on average as of late May.
No other candidate has received double-digit support in recent weeks. That includes former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and right-wing activist Vivek Ramaswamy, who kicked off their campaigns in February. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who announced in May, has polled near the bottom of the pack. But it’s early in the 2024 cycle, and those numbers could change as candidates consolidate donors, attract endorsements, and expand their campaigns.
A broad GOP field may in some ways strengthen Trump’s candidacy, however. The more candidates announce, the greater the competition in the alternative-to-Trump lane.
“Everybody sort of agrees we’re going to lose if we [run Trump] again,” said Patrick Hynes, a GOP strategist based in New Hampshire. “But with multiple candidates talking about getting into the race, it just fortifies Trump’s position. And so it’d be really nice if we could just have a united front.”
Here are the contenders — besides Trump — so far.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seen as the most viable challenger to Trump. He won reelection by nearly 20 points in 2022, helping usher a red wave into the once-swing state of Florida even though Republican candidates underperformed practically everywhere else in the midterms. But he’s running far behind Trump in the polls, and there are questions as to whether he can run a campaign that feels distinct from MAGA but still has enough general appeal to be successful.
DeSantis has been carefully cultivating a national profile for years by making Florida a locus of conservative policymaking that has inspired copycat legislation across the US. He’s promoted popular conservative stances on nearly every culture war issue, including attacking LGBTQ rights, minimizing Covid-19, curtailing abortion access, and eliminating parts of school curriculums deemed too liberal. He worked with the state legislature this session to enact that agenda in Florida, which he is touting as his “blueprint” for America.
Beyond just legislating to the right, DeSantis has ensured that Florida will likely stay red for the foreseeable future. In the 2022 redistricting cycle, he pushed for a new, gerrymandered congressional map that ultimately heavily benefited Republicans; the party flipped three House seats in the midterms. He expanded the base, winning counties like Miami-Dade that Republicans haven’t carried in decades, while appearing to make more headway with Latino voters. He raised more than $200 million last cycle, breaking the record for gubernatorial races.
Still, he has had a tough few months. He signed an ultra-restrictive six-week abortion ban in Florida that some GOP donors worry will be unpalatable to general election voters. He’s locked in a high-stakes fight with Disney in which he’s suffered loss after loss after loss, neutralizing his ability to claim victory over “woke” corporations. He has left Trump’s attacks largely unanswered for fear of alienating the base. He has already made a few gaffes on subjects from Ukraine to chocolate pudding (allegedly). And there are questions about his likability.
He’s trying to carve out his own lane in the primary by running to the right of Trump on issues like Covid-19 and abortion and attempting to draw a contrast with Trump’s bombastic leadership style. But in many ways, his candidacy doesn’t mark a departure from Trumpism. The Florida governor was once a protégé of the former president and employs the same rhetoric to articulate culture war grievances. Their campaign platforms also share many of the same policies. Certainly, DeSantis would have to contort himself to look like a moderate in a general election against President Joe Biden or another Democrat.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott
Scott, the three-term South Carolina senator and only Black Republican in the chamber, has framed much of his candidacy around pushing back against Democrats’ views on systemic racism and other disparities in the US. Over the past few years, he’s repeatedly cited his own success as negating the idea that Black Americans are disadvantaged by systematic racism and as proof that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
In an April video launching a committee to explore a potential 2024 run, Scott describes how he grew up in poverty, was raised by a single mother in South Carolina, and became a member of the US Senate.
“They know the truth of my life disproves their lies,” Scott said of Democrats. “I know America is a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression. I know it because I’ve lived it.”
As a senator, Scott has struck a similar tone on race, simultaneously acknowledging its role in American life while arguing that racism is largely something that infects individuals rather than being something for society to grapple with. He has previously called out discrimination he’s faced by police, including being pulled over at traffic stops, for example, while calling law enforcement a “noble” profession. Scott touched on these themes during a recent listening tour in Iowa and South Carolina, as well, urging audiences to acknowledge the progress that the US has made.
As an evangelical, Scott is also making abortion restrictions a pillar of his campaign. He recently voiced support for a six-week abortion ban in his home state that has now been blocked in court. He has also said that he would enact a 15-week national ban on abortion or “the most conservative pro-life legislation Congress can pass” if elected president.
He’s also echoed standard Republican talking points criticizing “Biden liberals” and touting conservative positions on issues like immigration and crime. Legislatively, Scott is known for serving as the GOP’s lead negotiator on police reform and as the sponsor of bipartisan legislation to establish “opportunity zones”’ that intend to drive investment to low-income areas via tax incentives.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson
In early April, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a longtime Trump critic, joined the GOP field.
Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor who worked on former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, previously told ABC that he thought Trump should withdraw from the race in light of the criminal charges he’s facing in connection to hush money payments made to the porn star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 campaign. But Hutchinson also acknowledged that Trump probably won’t do that and there’s nothing stopping him from carrying on.
“I mean, first of all, the office is more important than any individual person. And so for the sake of the office of the presidency, I do think that’s too much of a sideshow and distraction, and he needs to be able to concentrate on his due process,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson served eight years as Arkansas governor before stepping down in January because he was term-limited. While in office, he pushed a conservative agenda centered on a near-total ban on abortion without exceptions for cases involving rape and incest, a law banning trans women from participating in school sports teams, and bans on Covid-19 vaccine mandates and state and local mask mandates.
He later expressed regret at the lack of exceptions to the abortion ban and that he wanted to reverse the ban on mask mandates amid an August 2021 surge in coronavirus cases.
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
Though she had previously dismissed the prospect of running against Trump if he sought reelection, Trump’s US ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley announced in mid-February that she’s running.
Haley framed herself as a moderate candidate relative to Trump who can win in a general election. “Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change,” Haley said in her announcement video. “It’s time for a new generation of leadership.”
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley is centering her pitch for the presidency on foreign policy. In particular, she’s suggested that she would take a hardline stance against America’s foes abroad. She had one of the highest approval ratings of anyone in the Trump administration and was well-respected by her peers on the UN Security Council even when espousing controversial policy decisions, such as Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accords, and the UN Human Rights Council.
In an environment where most Americans cite government and inflation as the top issues facing the US, it’s not clear whether that foreign policy experience will resonate with voters. But Haley has conservative credentials, too.
She won the South Carolina governorship in 2011 with the support of the conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican Party and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She went on to tighten voter ID laws, oppose Syrian refugee resettlement in the state, and earn bipartisan praise for signing a bill to take down the Confederate flag from the state capitol after a gunman killed nine Black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015. In her announcement video, she hit typical conservative priorities, railing against the “socialist left” while calling for securing the border and fiscal responsibility.
But she’s also waded into culture war battles. At a campaign event in May, she went on a rant against a trans influencer who partnered with Bud Light, resulting in a widespread conservative boycott of the brand. She also declared herself to be “unapologetically pro-life” while avoiding questions about whether she would enact a national abortion ban.
If Haley prevails, she would be the first woman and first Asian American to win the GOP nomination for president, adding to the list of firsts she has already achieved: South Carolina’s first woman governor and the first Indian American to serve in a statewide office there.
Right-wing activist Vivek Ramaswamy
The son of Indian immigrants, a former biotech founder, and author of the New York Times bestseller Woke, Inc., Ramaswamy made his name railing against socially responsible investing on cable news shows. Over the past few years, he’s been dubbed “the CEO of Anti-Woke, Inc.” by the New Yorker and has come out with a second book, Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit and the Path Back to Excellence. Recently, he’s been on a listening tour that included stops in New Hampshire, the second state to cast votes in the presidential primaries.
All that led to his announcement for president in February. In his announcement video, he staked his candidacy on combating the “woke left” and what he referred to as “new secular religions like Covidism, climatism, and gender ideology.”
“This is psychological slavery, and that has created a new culture of fear in our country that has completely replaced our culture of free speech in America,” he said in the video.
His campaign appears as if it will center culture wars: He told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson after jumping into the race that his top priorities include ending affirmative action, “complete decoupling” from China, reenvisioning US immigration policy based on “merit,” and using the American military to combat drug cartels in Central America.
While well-known in conservative circles, Ramaswamy would need to find a way to pivot his message to make it more appealing to independents and moderates in a general election.
First, though, he will face rivals with far greater platforms, name recognition, donor networks, and war chests — many of whom have spent years developing their own brand of his politics. He’s making some headway in putting himself on the radar with a packed schedule of media appearances that has forced some heavy hitters in the field to take him seriously.
Radio host Larry Elder
Conservative radio host Larry Elder, a frequent talking head on Fox News, announced his long-shot candidacy in May. He has never held political office but led the race to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, in an unsuccessful recall campaign in 2021.
“America is in decline, but this decline is not inevitable. We can enter a new American Golden Age, but we must choose a leader who can bring us there,” he tweeted of his decision to run for president.
Elder, a vocal Trump supporter, has espoused conservative stances on issues from abortion rights to pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates. And as a Black man, he has critiqued the Black Lives Matter movement and called the idea of systemic racism a “lie,” even though he had framed his policies in the recall election as benefiting Black people.
He also attributed rising crime in 2021 to a policing pullback spurred by Democratic policies. “When you reduce the possibility of a bad guy getting caught, getting convicted and getting incarcerated, guess what? Crime goes up,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
He’s been polling below potential candidates that haven’t yet entered the presidential race, however, so it’s hard to see a path forward for his candidacy.
Soon to announce: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, once a Trump defender who turned against the former president, is expected to announce his candidacy on Tuesday in New Hampshire. He has already proved willing to go head to head with Trump, offering criticism of his reluctance to debate, his unwillingness to accept the results of the 2020 election, and calling him a “coward” and “puppet of Putin.” He’s said that he wouldn’t support Trump even if Trump wins the Republican nomination in 2024.
It’s a remarkable 180-degree turn for someone who was previously a close ally of Trump, briefly headed his White House transition team, and helped him prepare for debates in 2020. But it’s not clear how that turn will win him support among the many Republican voters who still approve of Trump’s performance in office and have rallied behind him since his indictment in New York, which they perceive as a politically motivated attack.
If anything, his attacks on Trump might spare other GOP candidates from having to go on offense against the former president, who has been known to eviscerate his opponents with mud-slinging and name-calling. That’s what he did to Christie in the 2016 presidential primary, where Christie finished sixth before ultimately endorsing Trump for the nomination.
His tenure as governor was marred by what was called the “Bridgegate” scandal, in which his aides allegedly orchestrated a plot to close lanes at a bridge that serves as a main artery to New York City in retaliation against a local mayor who did not back his reelection campaign. He continues to deny any knowledge of the plot, despite the fact that witnesses in the criminal trial of his aides testified to the contrary. By the end of his second term, his approval rating had fallen to 15 percent.
Update, June 1, 4 pm ET: This story was originally published on February 23 and has been updated several times, most recently to include Pence’s and Christie’s expected entries into the race and the candidacies of DeSantis, Elder, and Scott.