GOP Sizes Up 2024 Hopefuls at RNC, Mike Pence and Nikki Haley 'Top Contenders'

Speakers at this year's Republican National Convention are quietly being sized up by party strategists as potential 2024 presidential candidates, but GOP pundits say they're not making any bets until the day after President Donald Trump wins or loses.

Attendees at this week's RNC say they expect the 2024 presidential primary contest to mimic that of 2016, with a wide array of incumbent congressional members, governors and business leaders. And while there may not be another reality TV star who runs again in four years, many in the Republican Party say who their 2024 candidates are hinges solely on Trump's re-election bid this year. GOP leaders at the RNC highlighted several "top contenders" as potential 2024 candidates from the speaker list alone: Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and even Donald Trump Jr.

But the chances of some 2024 prospects, particularly Pence and the president's oldest son, depend almost entirely on whether Trump is viewed as a one-time fluke or the face of the party's future.

"Mike Pence and Nikki Haley are, by far, the two greatest fan favorites out there," said Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin and a 2016 candidate, in a Tuesday interview with the Associated Press. "There's others out there, but nobody else is even close in that stratosphere."

"There's a lot happening behind the scenes already," Republican strategist Alex Conant, former communications director for Florida Senator Marco Rubio's 2016 campaign, told the AP.

Several GOP strategists say Pence's role as Trump's loyal vice president and consistent supporter of Christian conservative causes places him at the top of the pack—unless Trump loses. "All my focus is getting this president re-elected for four more years," Pence told reporters, repeatedly brushing aside any and all 2024 candidacy speculation.

Similarly, should the president fail to get re-elected on November 3, the family, including Trump Jr., may not have the political sway they currently enjoy. There are also a few rare critics of Trump within the party, such as Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who GOP strategists say may be vindicated and touted for criticizing Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hogan has joined several past and present Republicans in trying to unite Americans behind "bipartisan, common-sense solutions."

Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, gave a rousing speech Monday night in which she gave Trump her endorsement. But critics and newfound backers alike speculated on social media that her remarks, including about being "a brown girl in a black-and-white world," are a clear indication she may already be running ahead of 2024.

Trial lawyer and Trump backer Robert Barnes tweeted: "Haley was a mistake. Bringing up gun shootings by racists & banning flags isn't a winning strategy for the GOP. She also spent much of her time giving a 2024 self-nomination speech than a 2020 re-election speech. Thank God Donald J. Trump Jr. came up so quickly to quell media talk."

But cable news pundits from both parties have been quick to denounce any and all 2024 speculation, particularly from the Republican Party. Former GOP Chairman and Trump critic Michael Steele told MSNBC the president has a stranglehold around the GOP.

"They live in fear of this man," Steele said Tuesday. "The man is not a Republican, he's not a conservative. He's a man without an ideology" who has commandeered the party. Other high-profile RNC speakers this week being floated as potential 2024 candidates include Florida Senator Rick Scott, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Newsweek reached out to the Republican National Committee, Pence and Haley's Washington offices for additional remarks Tuesday morning.

mike pence nikki haley 2024
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence confers with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (U.N) Nikki Haley at a Security Council meeting during the 72nd U.N. General Assembly at U.N. headquarters on September 20, 2017 in New York City. The meeting focused on reform of U.N. peacekeeping operations. SPENCER PLATT / Staff/Getty Images