The Official Republican Party Presidential Tier List
Sorting through Trump, Rob DeSanctimonious, and everyone else.
Once upon a time, the Republican Party was absolutely bursting at the seams with talent. If you looked across the state governments and federal representatives of any red state, swing state, and a surprising number of blue states in America in the mid-2010s, you’d be guaranteed to come across at least one intriguing new entry to the political scene. There were moderates, conservatives, Tea Partiers, technocrats, populists, libertarians, even relative liberals—if it was a strain of right-of-center thought, there’d almost certainly be an electorally successful, ambitious politician who represented it. The paths open forward for the party seemed infinite, with so many different philosophies, backgrounds and approaches represented that it would have been difficult to make any true 1:1 comparisons between two different figures.
All of that is gone now. Since the 2016 election, the Republican Party has been completely flattened ideologically by the uncompromising dictates of Trumpism and slowly drained of life by unceasing electoral failures. Led by a man who sees a strong party as a danger to his authority and looks upon primaries as mechanisms for him to install his own loyalists into power, the party has found itself suddenly incapable of recruiting the kind of talent capable of exerting a presence nationally. And that’s just how Donald Trump wants it. His ideal Republican Party is an institution that serves solely as an extension of his own power and is incapable of challenging him. And this, more or less, is the Republican Party he has made.
And because of this, Donald Trump is the Republican candidate for 2024. Following that, he is on track to be the Republican candidate in every election going forward until he wins a second term or dies. So, the purpose of this list is not to spark any intrigue about the possibilities of the 2024 Republican primary, which is an open race in name only. Rather, it is a recognition that the Republican Party will, one day, move beyond Donald Trump himself, if only for the sole reason that he cannot live forever.
So, in what remains of the hollowed-out husk of the modern GOP, who among the candidates with at least a feasible chance of winning a presidential nomination at some point stands out as a strong contender? Who doesn’t? And where does Trump stand relative to them? Once again, all of these questions will be answered here.
Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH)
Starting off at the rock bottom of the list, we have the poster boy of one of the most embarrassing ongoing attempts of an ideological “movement” in modern times. That poster boy is freshman Ohio Senator J.D. Vance. This supposed movement is right-wing populism. And there is perhaps nobody else in politics today who has done more to embarrass their faction in the way they won a race than this sad, fake, shell of a man.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to have figured it out. Right-wing “intellectuals” had spent years trying to find some sort of higher meaning and coherent purpose in Trumpism. Unable to accept the reality that they were wasting away their careers in the service of a nihilistic personality cult, they combined the sum of all of their collective knowledge of history, ideology, and political theory to articulate a program that they were supposedly working towards. This program was said to be rooted in the American tradition, all the way back to Andrew Jackson. It was anti-establishment, not like the old, globalist fronts they had shilled for in the past. And, most importantly of all, it was popular—the pure manifestation of the zeitgeist that Trump could only crudely grasp at, which they, with all of their skill, would harness and ride to dominance.
J.D. Vance was this wing’s chance to show the political world the power of their form of Trumpism-without-Trump. Vance didn’t just breathe their dogma: he practically invented it, personally embodying the transformation of his clique of pseudointellectuals from free market evangelists into the mix of performative isolationism, wannabe cultural chauvinism, and farcical lip service towards “economic interventionism” that defines the populist right. The state he ran in, Ohio, was the defining industrial Obama-Trump state where this sort of politics was supposed to have its prime appeal. And the year he was running in, 2022, could not have been set up more perfectly for his message, handing him the simultaneous foils of an unpopular Democratic President and an even more unpopular economy. And on top of all of that, he had the benefit of sharing the ticket with a highly popular Republican Governor set to win his own race in a rout.
By all means imaginable, Vance should have absolutely run up the score. A win in the solid double digits should have been his baseline given Ohio’s R+12 lean. If he was a competent politician, or if his ideology was anywhere nearly as appealing as it had been promised to be, he should have easily been able to go far beyond even that. But Vance wouldn’t run up the score. He wouldn’t even meet his baseline. He wouldn’t even come close to his baseline. He was somehow, someway, so utterly repugnant to the deeply pro-Trump, anti-Biden Ohio midterm electorate that he straight up TRAILED IN HIS RACE.
This should not have been possible. Even if you actively tried to be as bad of a candidate as you could possibly be, you still would expect at least one of the so many factors, from Ohio’s intensely Republican lean, to the Republican-leaning national environment, to the incompetence of Ohio Democrats, to keep you from doing as terribly as Vance did. But he somehow managed the impossible. It went far beyond your typical weird summertime poll results. Vance was legitimately at risk of losing his race, to the point where national Republicans were forced to go on an impromptu rescue mission that cost them tens of millions of dollars. This unexpected expenditure very plausibly cost the party control of the Senate, and while it ultimately did carry Vance over the line, he came nowhere even close to putting up a respectable performance. In a national environment where you would have expected a generic Republican in the state to win by 14 points, Vance only won by six. It was a Hershel Walker, Blake Masters, Mehmet Oz-level catastrophe. The only difference between them and Vance is that his state was red enough that it didn’t outright cost him the election.
There is no conclusion you can come to from this other than that Vance as a politician, and right-wing populism as an ideology, are both completely defective and utterly incapable of contending nationally. After all the posturing about the inevitability of its domination of American politics, all this form of Trumpism-without-Trump managed to do in its first outing was make Ohio look like a swing state again. Even those of us who considered it to be hilariously contrived from the beginning didn’t expect it to be that bad. So, for the time being, Vance and those like him (think Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton) stand as the one of the worst electoral jokes in a party full of them. I don’t know what their chances are of ever winning a primary, but I wouldn’t expect their mix of terminally online stances on social issues, unconvincing Trump-worship, anti-choice extremism, and incoherent economic policy to find much love among the public any time soon. If Democrats find themselves in a national matchup against them, they should consider themselves blessed.
Senator Rick Scott (R-FL)
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