At some point, some ambitious Republican is going to jump into the 2024 presidential race. (I'm not counting Never Trumpers or moderates with no conceivable path to the nomination.) This brave soul might even stay in, even if Donald Trump runs again.
Note that this does not describe most ambitious Republicans. If you are young enough to run for president again in 2028 or beyond, you may logically conclude that Trump driving up your negatives with the GOP base isn't worth it. Even if he wins the nomination and the general election, he's out in four years. He's 82 if he doesn't. A third Trump campaign will come close to clearing the field.
But fortune favors the bold. By the time another election cycle comes around, you could be old news. Recent Republican primaries have been littered with candidates, from Dan Quayle to Rudy Giuliani to Chris Christie, who by either necessity or choice ran at least four years past their prime. Some giant-killer in the midterm elections we're not even thinking about could leapfrog to the top of the 2024 conversation. Think how quickly such chatter started about Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Someone with more potential appeal to the national Republican primary electorate than Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan will decide to strike when the iron is hot. If Trump — bedeviled by age, legal problems, and perhaps even a disinterest in abandoning his comfortable life for a return to the Oval Office — doesn't run, that candidate could find themselves in a position similar to Bill Clinton in 1992. That year, multiple big Democratic names — Mario Cuomo, Richard Gephardt, Lloyd Bentsen — bowed out of what then looked like an unwinnable race. Back then, the fearsome deterrent to running wasn't an ex-president in their own party but the incumbent in the other one, fresh off a Persian Gulf War victory. That left Clinton the strongest candidate remaining.
That's if Trump resists the siren call of the campaign trail, with its raucous rallies and adoring crowds, though. If he indeed runs, the Republican answer to Clinton will have to get another thing right: that the obstacle to other candidates getting in isn't so invincible after all. By 2024, that could be true. But Trump is no George H.W. Bush.