Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, senior elections analyst): It’s not too early to think about which candidates might drop out of the 2024 Republican presidential primary soon. In 2020, the first major Democratic candidate to drop out of the race (Rep. Eric Swalwell) did so on July 8, 2019. In 2012, the first major Republican to drop out (former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty) did so on Aug. 14, 2011. This year, who might that (un)lucky first (ex-)candidate be?
Today, we’re holding FiveThirtyEight’s first 2024 Dropout Draft to answer that question! Each player will pick who they think will be the first candidate to drop out and make the case for him or her. The rules are simple:
- You must choose from among the 11 Republican candidates that FiveThirtyEight considers “major.” No fair predicting that former Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton — who, yes, is running for president — is going to drop out.
- You will have two picks each, and we’ll do a 🐍 draft, so the person who picks last in the first round will pick first in the second round. The first-round order, as determined by random.org, will be Monica, then Geoffrey, then Nathaniel and finally Elliott.
- The person who correctly picks the first candidate to drop out, whenever that may happen, shall be declared the winner.
Everyone ready to play?
geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, senior elections analyst): No doubt we’ll nail this exactly. No mistakes. Play like a champion.
gelliottmorris (G. Elliott Morris, editorial director of data analytics): I get the coveted double pick. You don’t stand a chance.
Monica Potts (Monica Potts, senior politics reporter): I don’t have any trash talk in me, sorry. I think we’re all going to do great!
nrakich: Easy for you to say, Monica — you’ve got the first pick! Who ya got?
Monica Potts: Sorry to my fellow Arkansan, but I think former Gov. Asa Hutchinson is the most likely to drop out first. He’s barely registering in the polls, has raised only $583,000 since announcing he was running in April and might not qualify for the first debate. He’s based his candidacy on being critical of former President Donald Trump and was booed for that at the Turning Point Action Conference this month. I don’t think he has the grassroots or donor support to stay in, but he’s also a career politician and doesn’t want this to become embarrassing. I think he’ll drop out soon.
geoffrey.skelley: Hutchinson might end up with enough polling support to meet the Republican National Committee’s debate qualification requirement — he was one national poll short as of Sunday, and a couple other national polls may count that could give him that. But earlier this month, he said he had only 5,000 donors, far short of the 40,000 he’ll need to get on stage.
nrakich: Yeah, without giving too much away about my strategy, I think there are two big considerations here: whether a candidate has the money to continue waging a campaign and whether they make the August debate. (If you can’t even make the first debate, what are you even doing in the race?) And Hutchinson scores poorly on both metrics.
gelliottmorris: Good points all around. I’m motivated to also chime in, but I’ll hold my cards close to my chest with the hope that you don’t pick all the good options by the time I get a turn.
geoffrey.skelley: All right, I guess I’m up then.
I’m torn, really, because we don’t know that much about the financial strength of some candidates who announced right before June 30, the end of the second fundraising quarter. But I’m inclined to think former Texas Rep. Will Hurd might be the next likeliest to drop out after Hutchinson. Hurd has said he won’t sign the RNC’s pledge to support the GOP nominee, which is a prerequisite to make the debates that will be important for a low-level candidate like him. And even if he does, he may struggle to amass the polls and donors necessary to even be in the debate conversation: As of Sunday, he had only one qualifying poll to his name and said last week that he was about one-fifth of the way to 40,000 contributors.
Monica Potts: Not that this is the most important metric by any means, but don’t forget about Hurd’s boring campaign announcement, Geoffrey.
geoffrey.skelley: To be sure, Monica, that didn’t help! Plus, with it already being tough to be an anti-Trump candidate in this field (see Hutchinson, too), I’m not sure there’s really much space for more than one or two of them to carry on for very long. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems to have made the strongest case for carrying that mantle, at least at this point.
gelliottmorris: Yeah, I also don’t really see a path forward for Hutchinson or Hurd — it will be very hard for them to gain positive name recognition if they don’t make the debates, and doubly hard if they can’t get favorable media attention.
nrakich: I agree about Christie, Geoffrey. But then again, I’m just not sure what Hurd is up to. If Christie’s presence was enough, why jump into the race two weeks after him? And by jumping in so late, Hurd made it pretty hard to get onto the debate stage. He has seemed at peace with the idea of not making it, so I’m not convinced that he will drop out just because he misses the cut.
geoffrey.skelley: Fair, Nathaniel. The lack of concern about actually, you know, competing might make Hurd stick around for a while, even if he’s a nonentity.
gelliottmorris: Nathaniel, I think the generous answer is that these people all have above-average levels of dopamine in their brains.
OK, I’m going to go bold for my first pick, but I feel pretty good about it. I think low-polling candidates like Hutchinson, Hurd and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez are the obvious picks. But I think they’re probably running a shoestring campaign understanding that they are going to need to preserve their limited resources. I think the real danger zone is being a more prominent candidate with higher expectations that aren’t being met. Think Pawlenty or former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who dropped out of the 2016 race in September 2015.
geoffrey.skelley: *ears perk up*
gelliottmorris: Say Trump, I dare you.
nrakich: Haha, I was wondering if anyone would go bold and pick Trump because of the indictments. But I’m not that bold.
gelliottmorris: Hmmmm … Go on.
Monica Potts: I’m on the edge of my seat!
geoffrey.skelley: I bet it starts with an M.
nrakich: My pick is former Vice President Mike Pence. As we discussed in this space last week, his fundraising was terrible last quarter: only $1.2 million. When you prorate that number for the number of days each candidate has been in the campaign, that ranks ninth among the 11 major candidates.
|Candidate||Actual Q2 Receipts||Q2 Campaign Days||Prorated Receipts|
I don’t think Pence is the type to run a campaign with just a couple staffers in Iowa; I think he’s going to have real trouble affording the kind of campaign he feels he should be running.
To make matters worse, his campaign won’t say how close they are to 40,000 donors. If the former vice president of the United States can’t even qualify for the first debate, that would be incredibly embarrassing — I’m not sure he could survive that.
geoffrey.skelley: I think Pence will qualify for the first debate, but I can definitely see that being a pyrrhic victory of sorts.
In fact, there’s a potential parallel between Pence and former Vice President Dan Quayle, who ran for president in the 2000 cycle (and, like Pence, also hailed from Indiana). Quayle’s campaign never got going, and he ended up dropping out in September 1999.
gelliottmorris: Yeah, this is going to sound simple, but I just think there are a lot of costs associated with being the most outspoken critic of Trump in a primary where he’s winning more than 50 percent of the vote nationally. And Pence is also well known among GOP voters for breaking with Trump on Jan. 6, which is still a very salient litmus test among the base.
Good pick, Nathaniel!
Monica Potts: Also, I would say Pence occupies the weirdest spot of any candidate in that he’s challenging his former boss. His highest qualification for office is serving as vice president under the man he’s running against. How do you make that case to voters?
geoffrey.skelley: It’s extremely challenging. Pence’s favorable rating among Republicans is not much better than his unfavorable rating, which in some ways is better than you’d expect considering the damage Jan. 6 did to him within the party. But he’s also so well known and associated with Trump’s defeat that it’s hard to imagine him changing many primary voters’ minds.
nrakich: OK, Elliott, you’re up!
gelliottmorris: The suspense has been killing me.
For my first pick, I’m selecting North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. Something of an obvious choice, I think, but my rationale is straightforward: He’s polling at just 0.2 percent in our average of national polls, and while he did raise $11.8 million last quarter, $10.2 million of that came from his own pocket. He may not make the first debate, and with that lack of financial staying power, it’s doubtful he’d make the second if something big doesn’t change, and soon.
nrakich: Bad pick!
gelliottmorris: All the easy ones are gone!
nrakich: I think precisely because he’s a billionaire who’s self-funding, he can stay in the race as long as he wants.
Ambition is a powerful drug!
Monica Potts: I’m with Nathaniel. I always think the self-funders tend to stay in the race longer. Maybe they suffer from the sunk-cost fallacy: “I’ve spent so much on my campaign, I need to make it worth it.”
gelliottmorris: I mean, sure, maybe he’s on track to spend his way to 1 percent by the convention, but that’s a lot of wasted time and money! But equally, he is also the likeliest remaining pick to just flounder in obscurity outside the debate thresholds.
geoffrey.skelley: Much about Burgum’s campaign screams “I do what I want.” His intro video could’ve been a minute shorter if they’d cut the many long drone shots or close-ups of Burgum just looking at the camera.
gelliottmorris: The drone shots were the best part! Don’t sleep on the mountain plains, Geoffrey!
geoffrey.skelley: Oh, they’re beautiful. But I’m not sure how many people (much less political reporters) made it through the whole thing.
nrakich: I do think there’s a limit to what Burgum’s cash can accomplish. For instance, if the RNC raises the threshold for the next debate to, say, 5 percent in national polls, that could be hard for Burgum if voters just aren’t buying what he’s selling. But I think he’s in the race until at least September.
gelliottmorris: It’s a question of relative probability now. And I don’t buy that a debate this early has a high chance of knocking out anybody else that we haven’t mentioned … except for my second pick …
geoffrey.skelley: I will say, it will somewhat surprise me if one of these 11 candidates drops out before the Aug. 23 debate. Remember, Democrats had a lot more candidates in the 2020 cycle, so it was even harder to grab a foothold. The Democrats had also had two rounds of debates by the start of August, so that cycle started earlier, in a sense.
nrakich: Even a candidate who doesn’t make the debate, Geoffrey?
geoffrey.skelley: Well, that’s about the point they’d maybe withdraw, right? I’m just saying, six of the 27 major Democratic candidates in 2020 — 27! — had dropped out by the end of August 2019. But with only 11 major candidates this time around, I don’t think we should expect more than maybe one or two to drop out in the near-ish future. Granted, maybe one of the non-major candidates out there this cycle will become major by our standards and grow the field.
nrakich: OK, Elliott, you teased your second pick — who’s it gonna be?
gelliottmorris: My second pick is former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley! Of the remaining candidates with a national profile, she has the lowest second-quarter campaign donations (if you use the prorated calculations in the table above) and second-lowest poll numbers. She also has relatively poor favorability numbers and ranks highly among GOP party chairs when you ask them who they don’t want to be the Republican nominee.
I was going to pick Christie, but he has shown he has enough media power and #NeverTrump determination that I think he’s going to take his run into the new year regardless of how he does at the debates. By contrast, I think Haley may actually react if she performs negatively.
geoffrey.skelley: I guess I wouldn’t be too shocked if Haley withdrew, although I do wonder if the fact that her home state of South Carolina votes fourth will keep her in until the voting starts in January.
However, there is a case that it’s better to drop out before you get to the voting if you don’t think you have much of a chance. That way you avoid some potential embarrassment from winning only a small share of the vote. See: now-Vice President Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the 2020 Democratic primary in December 2019.
gelliottmorris: Yes, Geoffrey, but that would require one to be a pragmatist.
geoffrey.skelley: Haley has been pragmatic before, such as when she opposed Trump but then became his ambassador to the U.N., which also gave her some foreign-policy gravitas she didn’t have previously as a governor. So maybe she’ll opt for a pragmatic route if things aren’t working out in the primary.
Monica Potts: Haley has also been spending a lot of time in early primary states. She might want to see if that investment pays off before dropping out.
nrakich: Haley’s not a terrible pick, but I do think she’ll be able to wait until December or so before deciding whether to pull the plug. Her fundraising has been perfectly respectable.
gelliottmorris: Sounds like you’re about to pick Christie, Nathaniel.
nrakich: No, I think you’re right about Christie actually! As Geoffrey mentioned, he seems to be winning the anti-Trump lane right now, and there does seem to be money there (he raised $1.7 million in less than a month). And he seems pretty stubborn: He won’t drop out unless he absolutely has to.
gelliottmorris: Finally I have secured Nathaniel’s approval.
Instead, my second pick is the only candidate who hasn’t been picked yet who hasn’t made the August debate: the aforementioned Suarez. My reasoning is pretty straightforward this time: As I mentioned earlier, I think one of the big reasons to drop out this early is if you fail to make the debates, and Suarez seems unlikely to do so. He has just one qualifying state poll to his name, and we don’t know how close he is to 40,000 donors.
gelliottmorris: Oh, I thought he was picked already! D’oh!
geoffrey.skelley: That is … understandable.
nrakich: You gotta watch the ball, Elliott!
gelliottmorris: It will come as no surprise then that I think this is a good pick. He is literally polling at 0 percent in our national polling average.
Monica Potts: Suarez also has history working against him. I read your 2019 article, Nathaniel, in which you analyzed every election and found the U.S. has never elected a candidate whose highest office was mayor before running for president. In fact, they’ve never even secured a major party’s nomination.
gelliottmorris: Deep cut, Monica!
geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, I see Suarez’s run as a fairly obvious ploy to grow his name recognition within the party.
Mayor isn’t a good steppingstone to the presidency. But this might help set him up to become a Cabinet official (see: former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor and current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg) or maybe run for something statewide in Florida in 2026.
OK, I guess I’m up next. We’ve reached the point where we have five major candidates left, all of whom seem unlikely to drop out anytime soon. But of the remaining group, I could see businessman Vivek Ramaswamy deciding he’s had a good run and that it’ll play to his long-term advantage to endorse Trump sometime in the fall or winter, before Iowa. Remember, Ramaswamy said he’d pardon Trump, so he could be trying to stay on the ex-president’s good side.
Again, I’m grasping at straws here, in part because I think Christie is sort of a hell-or-high-water candidate. Otherwise, I’d pick him. I mean, hell, maybe I should’ve picked DeSantis. But oh well, made my bed.
nrakich: Yeah, Geoffrey, I could see that too. I don’t think Ramaswamy will be the first candidate to drop out, since he’s actually experiencing a mini-boomlet in the polls right now (he’s third in our national average with 6.8 percent). But I could definitely see him dropping out a little earlier than he maybe should on paper in order to get in Trump’s good graces and maybe snag a Cabinet post.
Otherwise, though, because he’s also a wealthy self-funder, I think he’ll be able to survive through the first few early states at least.
gelliottmorris: Yes, but I think Ramaswamy could also react very negatively to people souring on him after the debate — conditional, of course, on that happening. He has low name recognition, so August will be a critical test of whether he can convert people to his side or if he will repel them.
nrakich: OK, Monica, take us home with the last pick!
gelliottmorris: Trump! Trump! Trump!
Monica Potts: OK, I’ll be honest. All of my true second-round choices — Hurd, Suarez — have already been chosen. I’m going to go with … Trump. I have no real conviction behind this; obviously, he’s leading in the polls and is the current front-runner. I’m just making room for a wild card: that something happens with all of Trump’s legal problems that convinces him that he stands a better shot of surviving them by dropping out than continuing to run. It won’t be because he thinks he can’t win, but because he thinks he will be better served by ending his campaign. Go big or go home.
geoffrey.skelley: Someone had to do it, so thank you, Monica.
gelliottmorris: The chaos choice! Yes!
Monica Potts: If it really happens, I’ll be surprised!
nrakich: Yeah … I mean, look. I actually do think there is a small chance that Trump’s legal troubles will reach a tipping point and the GOP will decide he’s more trouble than he’s worth. But even in that scenario, I just don’t see Trump dropping out. He is not the type to go gently into that good night. He will fight and claim he’s being persecuted and try to convince as many voters to vote for him as possible anyway. I think if Trump is going to be defeated in this primary, someone’s gonna have to go through him.
gelliottmorris: I think you’re right, Nathaniel. And if we did a draft on the likeliest independent bids, Trump would be my top pick.
nrakich: OK, we’re done! To recap, Monica picked Hutchinson and Trump, Geoffrey picked Hurd and Ramaswamy, I picked Pence and Suarez, and Elliott picked Burgum and Haley. Readers, email or tweet at us about who you think is going to win!
And don’t worry, guys, even if you don’t win this round, maybe we’ll do another one of these in the fall.
geoffrey.skelley: I don’t remember how many dropout drafts we did in 2019-20, but with a smaller field this year, I guess we won’t get to do as many. ☹️
gelliottmorris: Next time we should weight the scores by our average pre-chat prior probability of each candidate dropping out. (#NotSorry to be extremely On Brand here.)