Considering the GOP’s stubborn gender gap (a gulf Trump has not exactly improved), many Republicans are especially enthusiastic about talented women rising through the ranks. House members Mia Love and Elise Stefanik are among those most often mentioned. Elected in 2014 at the tender age of 30, New York’s Stefanik is a co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group. She keeps a low profile, but is spoken of by many in the party with a mix of hope and awe. Utah’s Love, the first black Republican woman ever elected to the House, is a tough, politically savvy conservative who’s proved willing to smack her own teammates now and again. Last month, she said Texas Representative Blake Farenthold should resign over reports that he’d settled a sexual-harassment claim with taxpayer money. More impressively, last week Love called on Trump to apologize for his “unkind, divisive, elitist” remarks about “shithole countries.” (Love’s family is from Haiti, one of the nations Trump was talking smack about.) Said Madden of Stefanik and Love, “They are part of a youth movement in the party, while still substance-focused and with an inclusive message/approach.”
Multiple Republicans voiced optimism that Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn, now running for Senate, will turn out to be a force in the upper chamber. She is “a genuine star,” gushed strategist Ralph Reed. “We’re very high on her.” Similarly, many GOP women are rooting for Arizona Representative Martha McSally in the race to replace retiring Senator Jeff Flake. (McSally is the establishment’s pick to beat Sheriff Joe and Kelli Ward, who, until Arpaio popped up, was the choice of the party’s right flank.)
Nikki Haley, who for years was talked about as a GOP rising star, is impressing people anew with her ability to serve as UN ambassador without getting sucked into any Trumpland controversies. Her assertion that the women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct “should be heard” put her out in front of many in her party on the issue.
Over in the Senate, Nebraskan Ben Sasse has made a name for himself by being an early and consistent conservative critic of Trump. He also occupies the tricky-yet-potentially-fertile territory of being an Ivy-League-educated brainiac who nonetheless delights anti-elitist Tea Party types. Plus, he’s got that dorky-dad thing down cold, right down to the bad tracksuits.
Another name being talked about: Adam Putnam, the Florida congressman-turned-state agriculture commissioner now running for governor. Long regarded as a relative moderate, Putnam is under attack from the right and, in December, hit an unexpected speed bump when Trump threw his support behind Putnam’s primary opponent, Representative Ron DeSantis.
Then there’s Josh Hawley, the freshly scrubbed attorney general of Missouri, who is gunning for Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s seat. The 38-year-old Hawley won office just last November as a drain-the-swamp outsider, but he has been embraced by party leaders and rebels alike. Mitch McConnell and Steve Bannon dig him. He’s seen as conservative but not angry—or unhinged. One odd twist: As AG, Hawley is investigating whether Republican Governor Eric Greitens violated state record-retention laws. With Greitens’s star rising even faster than Hawley’s, the inquiry already called for a delicate touch. But then last week, Greitens landed neck-deep in a sex scandal, after allegations surfaced that he’d taken naked photos of a woman to blackmail her into keeping quiet about their affair. Greitens is under pressure to resign—and a group of state senators has asked Hawley to formally probe the matter. In a word: awkward.