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The GOP 2024 field is already overcrowded

There are now 13 Republicans vying for the presidential nomination — and there aren't many lanes still up for grabs.

Pop quiz: How many people are running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024? I’ll give you a second to count on your fingers. Hint: You’ll have to count some fingers twice.

Time’s up: With Thursday’s announcement from former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas there are now 13 — yes, a baker's dozen — candidates who have officially announced that they want to represent the GOP on the ballot against President Joe Biden next year. (For the record, I only got to 10, including Hurd.)

All of them have to hope that those groups’ votes aren’t so diluted among them as to leave them all too weak to affect the race.

It’s a well-worn cliché that in America, anybody can grow up to be president. It’s never quite been true: The vast majority of men who’ve ascended to the presidency either came from wealth or had other structural advantages to boost their chances. But in the last several campaign cycles, we’ve seen the field of candidates expand as more and more would-be nominees shoot their shots. Seventeen Republicans vied for the White House in 2016; an incredible 29 tried to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.

As of now, two candidates tower over the rest of the 2024 field: former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But with the number of hopefuls who have declared their bids in recent weeks, from more obvious options such as former Vice President Mike Pence to surprises such as Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, it doesn’t seem like Hurd will be the last to try to cram his name onto what’s already an overcrowded list.

That’s not to say Hurd is somehow less qualified than other candidates who’ve already entered the contest. He’s a former CIA officer, he served in Congress for two terms, he hails from a border state, and he is the third Black Republican to join the race. (Don't worry, I forgot conservative talk show host Larry Elder is running, too.) But though his résumé makes him an attractive prospect on paper, he’s running as a moderate when the energy in the GOP base is skewed heavily to the right. He also told CBS News on Thursday, for example, that he wouldn’t pardon Trump if elected, potentially lowering his ceiling for support.

Anti-Trump Republicans need a candidate, of course — but that’s also a lane former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hopes to occupy. Hurd will also have to face comparisons to Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and questions about who can better entice the Black community’s vote for those voters who want to see a more inclusive Republican Party. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will vie with him for moderate Republicans’ support. And all of them have to hope that those groups’ votes aren’t so diluted among them as to leave them all too weak to affect the race.

That these slices of the electorate are set to be so intensely fought over showcases the grueling battle many of the announced candidates face. While Hurd is more moderate than most of his fellow candidates, there’s little room for nuance as far as policy goes within the GOP these days. (I somehow doubt his calls for immigration reform will play well with the party of “build the wall.”) And though Trump already faces numerous criminal charges, he still maintains a solid lead in early polls. He and DeSantis are likewise sitting on top of giant campaign war chests that will be hard to match. And their positions would be hard to surmount for any candidate without many other rivals scrambling to close the gap.

I can’t say for certain whether every new entry can envision a world in which they actually win. As my colleague Zeeshan Aleem noted, it’s entirely possible that at least some of them are in the race to audition for Cabinet positions, maybe even the vice presidency, or at least to raise their national profiles for later runs. It’s likely, though, that many of them see themselves swooping in like Barack Obama to topple the presumptive nominee in 2008. Or some, like Vivek Ramaswamy, are hoping to capitalize on the outsider status Obama and Trump shared in their unlikely runs to the Oval Office. At minimum, someone has whispered in each of these candidates’ ears that the time to strike is now.

The plethora of politicians declaring themselves viable options for the highest office doesn’t speak well to the prestige of the position and the challenges its occupants face.

The problem is that this isn’t an endeavor that comes without heavy costs for those so confident, or deluded, to undertake it. Every aspect of a candidate’s life will be put under a microscope, as DeSantis is swiftly realizing. Financially, millions upon millions of dollars will be raised and burned and wasted over the next year on candidates who may or may not have ever had real chances at winning. All but 11 of the 29 Democratic candidates in 2020 dropped out before the first votes were cast in the Iowa caucuses; those also-rans spent almost $200 million combined, according to Federal Election Commission data. It seems extremely likely that many of the Republicans vying for the nomination now will face a similar fate, having spent similarly exorbitant amounts of money in the process.

I know that under the Constitution, the bar to become president is set extraordinarily low. Likewise, I understand that it is a precious thing that Americans are graced with the ability to choose who will lead the country. That further hurdles should be erected to weed out the unworthy before they can even launch campaigns can feel like a betrayal of democratic ideals.

And yet, the plethora of politicians declaring themselves viable options for the highest office doesn’t speak well to the prestige of the position and the challenges its occupants face. Not everyone is cut out to be president, as Trump’s years in office so banefully illustrated. That every single person who runs for the office thinks themselves fit to do so seems like a critical lack of self-analysis. Then again, having seen Trump in action, maybe they’ve convinced themselves that there’s no way they could be worse.

The field of GOP candidates may still grow over the summer. And who knows, maybe a member of the current crop finds their support surging as their campaign reaches into the actual primary season. But for now, it seems all too likely that the more candidates who tell themselves “this is my moment,” the more those candidates will find themselves choking one another in a crowded field, starved for attention and money.