Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Sunday that he won’t be joining the growing field challenging former President Donald Trump for the GOP nomination for president in 2024.
“To once again be a successful governing party, we must move on from Donald Trump,” he said in a statement. “But the stakes are too high for me to risk being part of another multicar pileup that could potentially help Mr. Trump recapture the nomination.”
Hogan is a self-proclaimed centrist and had bipartisan popularity during his tenure as Maryland’s governor, when he was forced to work with a Democrat-controlled legislature for all eight years he was in office. He couldn’t seek reelection in 2022 because he was term-limited, and after his chosen successor lost the GOP primary to a Trump endorsee, Democrat Wes Moore ultimately won the governorship.
Hogan attracted Trump’s ire as one of only a few Republicans who have for years openly criticized the former president, notably for his pandemic response and attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump has shot back with his own attacks, calling Hogan a “shutdown RINO” (“Republican in name only”) for implementing pandemic-related lockdowns in 2020.
Hogan has been similarly critical of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has yet to announce his candidacy. In an interview with CNN in January, Hogan said that while DeSantis may be popular with the GOP base, he has done a “terrible job” of speaking to swing voters.
Hogan’s decision not to enter the race might come as a disappointment to party elites who are looking for an alternative to Trump. However, as Hogan noted, several candidates are already in the race. The former president is increasingly seen as a liability after losing his reelection bid in 2020, after his chosen candidates broadly underperformed in the 2022 midterms, and because he remains under multiple civil and criminal investigations.
It’s likely to be a tough primary. Trump, who announced his candidacy in November, and DeSantis both consistently rank as the top two choices among Republican primary voters in a series of recent polls. Trump is leading DeSantis by an average of 15 points in national primary polls as of early March, with about 44 percent of voters supporting him.
Former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and right-wing activist Vivek Ramaswamy, who kicked off their campaigns in February, haven’t been able to compete on the same level so far. But it’s early in the 2024 cycle, and those numbers could change as candidates consolidate donors, attract endorsements, and actively campaign.
A broad GOP field may in some ways strengthen Trump’s candidacy, and Hogan acknowledged as much on Sunday. Indeed, 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 major contenders — besides Trump — so far.
Already announced: 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.
The February Monmouth poll found that “other” candidates only attracted 4 percent of those polled, suggesting a difficult battle ahead for Ramaswamy or any other candidate not already a household name.
Already announced: 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.
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.
Yet to announce: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Buzz has been building over DeSantis’s candidacy for months, as many party leaders see him as the ideal alternative to Trump.
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 battling “woke” corporations like Disney, minimizing Covid-19, limiting abortion access, and eliminating parts of school curriculums deemed too liberal.
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, and ultimately secured reelection by 20 points.
His midterms performance was a bright spot for the GOP, especially because Republican candidates underperformed practically everywhere else in the midterms, and cemented DeSantis’s reputation as a national star in the party.
If Republicans choose DeSantis, it wouldn’t really mark a departure from Trumpism. The Florida governor was once a protégé of the former president and employs the same rhetorical style to articulate culture war grievances. Before the midterms, he made his name through attention-grabbing stunts and ultra-right-wing policies on issues ranging from race and gender to immigration that have become templates for other states. Certainly, DeSantis would have to contort himself to look like a moderate in a general election against President Joe Biden or another Democrat.
Yet to announce: US Sen. Tim Scott
The junior US senator from South Carolina and the only Black Republican in the chamber is weighing his candidacy during a listening tour. Education and police reform will likely be centerpieces of his pitch should he choose to do so.
Like many other GOP presidential hopefuls, Scott is a proponent of “school choice” — allowing parents to choose alternatives to traditional public schools, such as charter schools or private schools, and allowing public funds to follow students to those schools. The co-founder of the Congressional School Choice Caucus, Scott led the charge against a controversial Biden administration rule last year that imposed new requirements on charter school funding, including providing proof of need and community support and that the school is not managed by a for-profit company.
While charter schools have delivered massive achievement gains for some low-income minority students, Democrats have soured on them in recent years on the basis that they reduce funding for neighborhood public schools and evidence that they can increase racial and socioeconomic segregation. Biden himself has said he’s “not a charter-school fan.”
“This administration wants to shut down charter schools and starve them of the resources necessary to have parents given the choice and the kids given that very important chance,” Scott said in a February interview on the Students Over Systems podcast.
Scott may also lean on his experience as the GOP’s point person on police reform, calling for a solution to “ensure only the best wear the badge through more funding and training for law enforcement” in his response to Biden’s State of the Union address in February.
He unsuccessfully led Senate negotiations on the subject in 2021 alongside his Democratic counterpart, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. In the wake of the recent release of footage of Memphis police beating Tyre Nichols, a Black man who later died from his injuries, Scott has expressed interest in revisiting those negotiations.
Scott doesn’t have national name recognition to rival that of Trump or DeSantis. And Haley, who originally appointed him as US senator while serving as South Carolina governor, may siphon away some of his support in the state. But he’s a strong fundraiser and has been recognized as a leader in the party, tapped to deliver the official GOP response to Biden’s State of the Union address in 2021.
Yet to announce: Former Vice President Mike Pence
Pence has made clear that he’s severed ties with Trump, telling CNBC that the GOP is “going to have better choices” than the former president. And 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 in an interview with NPR last November.
That might not earn him any favor among Trump loyalists. But as a prominent evangelical, Pence could make a play for the Christian right by appealing to their conservative 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’s called for a national abortion ban, throwing 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 for K-12 programs, promoting the rights of health care providers to decline to perform certain services on the basis of moral or religious objections, rolling back climate change-related regulations, and more.
That agenda also highlights Pence’s biggest challenge: differentiating himself from Trump. It 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. Given that many of Pence’s achievements are inextricable from Trump’s, it’s not clear whether the former vice president will be able to step out from his onetime running mate’s shadow.
Update, March 6, 1 pm: This story was originally published on February 23 and has been updated to include former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that he won’t run for president.