Less than 24 hours after Donald Trump cleared the Republican field and became the presumptive nominee, anti-Trump Republicans have started looking past the 2016 election entirely.
"My working assumption is that [Trump] won't only lose, but that he'll lose badly and will take down the ticket, and will lose lots of seats all over the country" said Rick Tyler, Cruz's former communications director. "Reporters are going to stick microphones in people's faces on a daily basis asking 'what do you think Mr. Trump meant by this today and do you agree with it.' You can't get away from it. You can't distance yourself from it."
Initial chatter has centered around two names, the two who finished Place and Show behind Trump: Cruz and Marco Rubio, the latter of which finished ahead of John Kasich in delegates despite dropping out nearly two months before him. While both have their redeeming qualities, they both have drawbacks.
"I think you'd have to give the advantage to Cruz, unless someone emerges that I'm not thinking about. I don't know who that would be," Tyler told the Examiner Tuesday before Cruz quit the race later that night, arguing that his campaign was exactly what the doctor ordered for victory in a non-Trump year.
"You have to have a campaign that's well organized and run well, and I think the Cruz campaign exemplified how to run a professional campaign with a real strategy, with a real message, and real grassroots and a real ground game," Tyler said. Even the delegate hunt, they've just excelled — they've mastered almost every aspect of the race."
Meanwhile, as Cruz is set to return to the Senate, rumors continue to swirl about Rubio's future, which will become murky after January when he departs after his one term in the upper chamber. While he will not head to Wall Street or become a lobbyist, it's unclear how Rubio remains in the conversation since he ruled out a run for governor in 2018.
"He needs to stay in the public dialogue and he needs to maintain a presence in conservative circles, with conservative activists and keep his name out there," said Rick Wilson, a GOP strategist who backed his presidential bid. "One of the strongest arguments for Marco in 2020 is going to be the disaster that befalls us this year."
"I think you're going to see a reset on electability again because that's one of the arguments that got lost in the shuffle this year, and we're about to learn a very hard lesson about trying to elect the unelectable," Wilson added.
That may be harder to do in reality, however, according to Tyler, who notes that it's rare for a politician to remain relevant in the time after leaving their position. Excluding past presidents and secretaries of state and defense, Tyler rattled off three politicos who have done so against the odds: Newt Gingrich, Joe Scarborough, and Rudy Giuliani, all for very different reasons.
"I think he would be a strong and formidable candidate," Tyler said. "I just don't know how he's going to stay relevant ... He would have a difficult time because he won't have a platform by which to run by."
According to reports, Rubio plans to finish out his term by helping elect Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera to his open Senate seat.
Outside of the pair, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (who ruled out joining the Trump ticket as vice president Wednesday), Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse are fresh faces that have been mentioned in Republican circles as potential 2020 bidders who have potential to gain traction in the coming years.
However, outside of Cruz and Rubio, only a few 2016 veterans are mentioned as potential candidates in four years time. Specifically, Carly Fiorina, who Cruz named as her vice presidential selection, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who ended his campaign back in September.
But if the 2016 campaign taught us anything, it's that you can expect the unexpected.