The Far Right media has pre-emptively declared that the field of candidates who will vie for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is the strongest in history.
Writing for the Far Right news outlet Newsmax, Todd Beamon and Bill Hoffmann have offered a survey of those candidates with the catchy title “16 for ’16: The Most Talked-About GOP Presidential Contenders” [http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/16-for-16-GOP-Presidential-Contenders/2014/12/30/id/615641/]. Beamon and Hoffmann provide fairly insightful snapshot profiles of those candidates’ most salient strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, it should be clear to almost everyone, regardless of political affiliation or ideology, that there are not 16 truly viable candidates for the GOP nomination.
So, I am first going to break the candidates into two groups: those who appeal to the Tea Party wing of the party and those who appeal to the corporate and Neocon wings of the party and will almost surely style themselves as “moderates.”
The first group includes: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker
The second group includes: John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, George Patacki, Mitt Romney, and Marco Rubio.
Out of the nine possibilities with Tea-Party appeal, only two actually have any realistic chances of securing the nomination: Rand Paul and Scott Walker.
Ben Carson is an unelectable synthesis of Clarence Thomas’ ideology and Herman Cain’s penchant for grandstanding. Although he has to be taken more seriously than Carson, Ted Cruz has demonstrated more ability to provoke controversy than to build consensus; by the end of the primary season, he will almost certainly have alienated many of the other contenders and their supporters. Mike Huckabee has a very narrow political base among those on the Religious Right. Bobby Jindal is a fairly obvious political opportunist who does not provide anyone with any reason to take him seriously. Although Rick Perry has taken to wearing Clark-Kent glasses in an apparent attempt to give himself a more intellectual appearance, he still makes even someone like George W. Bush sound like an intellectual in comparison to him. Paul Ryan is an economic dilettante whose main ideas have zero mainstream appeal because it turns out that it is very hard to convince even the most stupid American voters that gutting Social Security and Medicare is the only way to “save” those programs. And Rick Santorum’s campaign for the 2012 nomination cemented the perception that he is not just an extremist but also an oddball.
Out of the seven possibilities who will appeal to the corporate and Neocon wings of the party, only three have any realistic chances of securing the nomination: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.
John Bolton and George Patacki seem to be on this list largely to bring the count to 16. Mitt Romney now has the extra baggage that he accumulated in losing the 2012 election; if he somehow manages to secure the GOP nomination, it is very hard to conceive of how his might re-make himself enough to win the general election. And Marco Rubio is still a lightweight—Mitt Romney without the graying hair at his temples; Rubio’s major advantage, his Cuban heritage, may even turn out to be a liability among many Hispanic voters from other nations of origin.
So that leaves Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.
Rand Paul has demonstrated that he has a broader base of support than his father was ever able to attract, but it is still an open question of whether that base constitutes enough core support to win a national general election. Scott Walker can probably be re-packaged to a national electorate, but his public persona as a deeply divisive figure will need to be significantly, if not radically, transformed with oodles of Koch funding. If Jeb Bush had run instead of his brother in 2000 and 2004, and if he had managed to avoid the worst foreign-policy and economic disasters that defined the second half of his brother’s presidency, “Dubya” would now be an attractive candidate for the nomination. But, it is very hard for the “smart one” to follow the “dumb one.” Jeb will have to run simultaneously both on and away from the family name and legacy. Beyond real concerns about Chris Christie’s ability to be garner support from the Tea-Party wing of the party, he seems to be figuratively wearing thin on his own state’s voters almost in proportion to his ongoing loss of physical weight. At the risk of reducing his conundrum to a trite equation, blunt fat guys are often perceived as “larger than life” and “blustery,” if unhealthy, whereas acerbic skinny guys come across simply as unlikable pricks, no matter how healthy they may look.
All of this brings us to John Kasich who, despite having the personal charisma of a cinder block, may have a lot more going for him than most of the other possible candidates. Alone among the GOP governors elected in 2010, he has won re-election in a landslide (albeit largely due to the historic weakness of his Democratic opponent) and he has managed to improve his favorability ratings (albeit very gradually and perhaps somewhat superficially). Although his first term began with the very publicly divisive fight over Senate Bill 5, he has since managed to pursue a Far Right agenda without providing any sort of easy target for his political opponents. Moreover, he has managed not to completely alienate the Tea-Party wing in Ohio while also establishing himself as someone with “independent” views. He has the sort of long history in the party leadership that the GOP has always valued; in that sense, he is Newt Gingrich without the tendency to bloviate and to reduce himself to self-caricature. And, lastly, the GOP convention will be held in Cleveland, providing the perfect setting for the ascendancy of a “native son” nominee. In the general election, Kasich would have some of the appeal of a Calvin Coolidge–a self-effacing promoter of a corporate culture in which privatization and speculation are treated as fundamental operating principles. The main differences between Kasich and Coolidge might be that Coolidge was probably somewhat wittier and Kasich has a somewhat more pronounced mean streak.