GOP presidential primary: Who will drop out next?

Who will be next to drop out of the Republican presidential primaries following the departures of Mike Pence and Tim Scott; the departures of lesser candidates Francis Suarez, Will Hurd, Perry Johnson, and Larry Elder; and the departures of truly trivial candidates Steve Laffey and Corey Stapleton. 

Besides Donald Trump, we’re now down to four candidates who made the third debate stage (Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, and Vivek Ramaswamy), two who made the cut for earlier debates but no longer do (Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson), and a few other trivial candidates (Ryan Binkley, E. W. Jackson, and John Anthony Castro).

It was easier to get Pence and Scott out of the race because they were actually running in the hopes of being president, and Christie and Ramaswamy are not. But that’s not the end of the story. What are they running to do? 

Ramaswamy’s goals in running — to raise his own visibility for the future and to curry favor with Trump — are reasons to stay in the race at least as long as he’s getting press coverage and is more help than hindrance for Trump (for example, in a Trump race against Haley without DeSantis, it would probably be harmful to Trump for Ramaswamy to be drawing away populist voters who would be unlikely to support Haley).

But what about Christie? 

Christie believes somebody has to hit Trump with more bluntness than is possible from the people actually running to win. But much of that case has dissipated as it has become apparent that Christie will never get Trump on the same stage with him. Nor is Christie really positioning well for either a talk-show gig or a role in a future administration. 

This is where we find out if Christie has learned anything from 2016, when he stayed in through New Hampshire to block Marco Rubio, his endorsement of Trump aided Trump, and then he still did not get anything but a peripheral role in the Trump administration. 

Christie now says he wants to stop Trump. He is, per the RealClearPolitics poll average, still pulling 8.5 percent of the vote in New Hampshire — likely all of it away from the non-Trump candidates — and would get 25 percent to 33 percent of the screen time at the next debate (depending upon whether Ramaswamy makes the cut). If he’s serious about stopping Trump, this would be the time for him to get out. That’s what Hurd did. 

I’d say the same about Hutchinson, who is running for the same purpose, but there frankly is no justification for why he didn’t drop out once he stopped making the debate stage, given that he’s scarcely even registering in the polls by now. But by now, it matters very little what he does.

The other candidate besides Christie who has exhausted his rationale for running is Burgum. 

Burgum’s a fine governor who has been a useful voice on energy issues, but he clearly is not ready to be a national figure. His money, however, has kept him at (in the current polling) 2.7 percent in Iowa and 2 percent in New Hampshire. 

To all appearances, however delusional it may seem, Burgum has been running with the actual hope of winning. After all, he has nowhere else to go in North Dakota, no need to make money, and no particular opportunity to advance into the national conversation. And unlike Christie, Ramaswamy, and Hutchinson, he actually has a state government to run.

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