The 2016 Field Part Two: The Republicans

The Republican field is much more wide open. One man everyone is talking about is Rand Paul. Paul generated a social media sensation with his filibuster of Barack Obama’s CIA nominee that earned him the respect of American’s youth and the disgust of the Republican neocons. Paul has most of his father’s passionate base under his wing and has been one of the few republicans to break the Democratic stranglehold on American’s youth. At 50, he is young by presidential candidate standards and is a relative newcomer to politics. However, his intense feud with Chris Christie alienated many republicans and could hurt his potential as a candidate.

Christie has done something that many thought was impossible: be a popular conservative governor of a blue state. And yet here Christie is, with a 70% approval rating and is sailing toward a victory over Barbara Buono. Christie is something of an iconoclast in the GOP; he is very independent and isn’t afraid to cross the party line on issues such as gay conversion therapy and Sandy relief. What he is not is a liberal: despite his compromises with democrats Christie has many conservative views and has an impressive conservative record. He can appeal to moderates but could alienate the conservative base.

Scott Brown has expressed interest in running but it is likely a lost cause. Massachusetts is unlikely to be a base for any Republican and Brown’s pro-choice views will alienate the social conservatives.

Jeb Bush is considered a contender, but the former Florida Governor would be a tough sell in the general election. Bush has a good record in Florida but the Bush name is toxic. Many Americans despise his brother and with good reason: George W. Bush started an unnecessary war in Iraq and did nothing to prevent the economic collapse of 2008 that we are still digging our way out of today. The Bush name may very well prevent any attempt at a Bush from seeking office. As Barbara Bush said, “We’ve had enough Bushes”.

Ted Cruz is a popular candidate among the conservative base. He has a compelling story: his father was an immigrant who left Cuba to pursue his dream in the US. Cruz rose from obscurity to be a rising star in politics. He (like Marco Rubio and Susanna Martinez) could do a lot to help the Republicans among Hispanics. But there is a concern that Cruz may be too right wing to be elected in the US. Very few of his proposals have been adopted in the senate. A lack of specific accomplishments rarely works well for a candidate (just as Dennis Kucinich; who’s only adapted legislation in his long career were renaming a post office, doling out honorary citizenship to a deceased man, and allowing a Ukrainian company access to an American program). Cruz will be a factor though, and the Texas Senator has a bright future.

Mike Huckabee has managed to stay in the spotlight due to his Fox News television show and could be mounting a return to politics. Huckabee has many positive points. He appeals to the crucial religious right (although Rick Santorum and perhaps Sam Brownback could challenge him for their support) and has a good personality for politics. He’s likable and often relatable. He may be too socially conservative to make a run.

Jon Huntsman’s 2012 had few highlights apart from a relatively strong showing in New Hampshire. However, the former Utah Governor has expressed interest in another run at the white house. Despite being called a RINO, Huntsman has a conservative record and a great history of job creation and economic success in Utah. His rhetoric about a “trust deficit” has the potential to resonate with voters who are increasingly disillusioned by the bickering of Washington. Huntsman is by no means the favorite but he remains one to watch.

Rand Paul is probably the frontrunner. His filibuster caused a social media revolution, and the Kentucky Senator has a huge following among young people. He brings the tea party and the libertarians led by his father. His bizarre comments on the Civil Rights Act and his Confederate sympathizing staffer make it easy to paint him as racist, which the mainstream media will likely do. But Paul remains popular nevertheless and he will be an early favorite for the nomination.

Rick Perry has done an excellent job as governor in Texas. The state has been a leader in job creation and his state has had balanced budgets for several consecutive years. He will long be associated with the abortion rights fiasco that made his newly minted nemesis Wendy Davis a Democratic Party superstar. The changes Perry proposed were not very far out of the mainstream, especially in Texas. The Democratic Party platform of abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy may appeal to the party’s base but not to the growing millennial demographic. Millennial are hesitant to associate opposition to abortion (particularly late term abortion) with misogyny, so Perry’s position is not as problematic as it seems. That said, Perry does have some major faults. He is somewhat similar to Joe Biden in that he is gaffe prone (although not to the extent that the vice president is). This could hurt him greatly. As good as the Texas economy is, the economies of Ohio, Indiana, and a number of other states are also flourishing, so his appeal is not unique.

If Rick Santorum is the party’s nominee in 2016, the Republican Party may be at the end of its relevance. It is no stretch to say that Santorum is both homophobic and (to a lesser extent) misogynist. He has said some cruel things about gay people. It is one thing to be only anti-gay marriage. It’s another thing entirely to be anti-gay, and Santorum is in the latter category. He would be a bad choice for 2016.

Donald Trump is the joker in the deck. Trump is a brilliant businessman and his economic savvy is without question. That said he has shown a great deal of ineptness in matters of government. He would not make a great president. That said, Trump would be a great advisor to the president on economic matters. He should stick to business.

Michele Bachmann appears to be leaving politics at the end of 2014. She is unlikely to run and isn’t really in the frame for the nomination. Yes, it would be great to have a female president, but Bachmann wouldn’t be a good fit for the job.

The same cannot be said for Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte is smart and could bring in New Englanders and women to the GOP fold. She was considered a possibility for Romney’s VP in 2012. It was to her benefit that she remains unassociated with that disastrous campaign.

Marco Rubio is another leading contender. The Cuban-American Senator from Florida is a good speaker and a passionate politician on the causes he champions. He could make significant inroads toward Hispanics due to his heritage and his support of immigration reform. Rubio should be considered a top contender in 2016.

Paul Ryan is also considered to be a prominent candidate but he is too strongly associated with Mitt Romney’s campaign. Romney was a terrible candidate for 2012. He ran a clumsy campaign and came across as a heartless plutocrat who would serve only the ultra rich. This notion, while not entirely true, was not completely fictional either. His 47% comments ruined his career and his reputation, and hopefully the former Massachusetts Governor is out of politics for good. Ryan will always have to deal with being a part of that legacy. He is very smart, and is a true policy wonk. But although Ryan nomination is possible, don’t bet on it. Lawrence O’Donnell had a point when he taunted him as “a man who will never be president”. That said O’Donnell also said that Tim Pawlenty was going to be the 2012 nominee for the Republicans and took Mitt Romney’s son at his word when he jokingly stated he wanted to punch Barack Obama in the face. O’Donnell also said some very nasty things about Mormons, but that is a conversation for another day.

Sam Brownback has been making waves as one of the most conservative governors in the US. Back when he was in the senate he was dubbed in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine as “God’s Senator”, a nickname that he demonstrated as Kansas Governor with a day of public prayer in Topeka called the “Day of Restoration”. He’s cut taxes, cut spending, restricted late term abortion, and achieved a variety of other conservative goals. Like Ted Cruz, Brownback lacks appeal to middle of the road voters and moderate liberals and the party must do that in 2016. Other Governors also have a chance at the nomination. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma has been occasionally mentioned but is a long shot at best. Nikki Hayley has been reasonably good in South Carolina but hasn’t done enough to make herself known. Bobby Jindahl should be considered a strong contender. The Indian-American Louisiana Governor has a good record and has some excellent policies on education reform. Unfortunately, these have been opposed by Eric Holder’s justice department. Bob McDonnell has been tainted by scandals and is far more likely to spend eight years (or many more) in the big house than the White House. Susana Martinez would be a great contender and not just in demographic terms. She’s smart and has a good record in New Mexico. She could turn that state red. Sarah Palin could mount a run, but her ill-fated vice presidential nomination in 2008 left a bad taste in many people mouth and she will need to have a much better argument for her candidacy this time around to have a chance. Both Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels, the current and former governors of Indiana, have a good case for both of them. Their record is stellar.

Scott Walker is probably the leading non-Christie governor in the 2016 race. He had a difficult fight with the Unions in Wisconsin prompting rage from the likes of Ed Schultz of MSNBC and the labor unions that financially back liberal candidates. He won a recall election (which is a rarity for an incumbent) and won his fight against organized labor. He became the target of much rage from both labor organizations and the far left. But Walker is far too much in the pocket of his contributors, most famously the Koch brothers.

Which brings me to the best candidate, if not the most likely, for the Republican nomination. He is a governor of a Midwestern state with a good approval rating and a growing following.

I am speaking of John Kasich, the governor of Ohio. In 2010, when Kasich took office, the state was in trouble financially. Its unemployment rate was high (Peaking at 10.6% in the first half of 2010) and the state had a paltry 89 cents in the bank. Today, unemployment is just above 7%, slightly below the national average. Kasich balanced the budget while reducing the overall income tax. There are many other Republican governors with similar accomplishments. What makes Kasich stand out is his unique brand of conservatism. Kasich genuinely desires to help the poor. Part of this derives from his life story: He was the son of a mailman in Pennsylvania and grew up in a working class neighborhood. In 2013, he announced his support for Medicaid expansion and used religion to justify it. “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you about what you did about keeping government small, but he’s going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer”, Kasich said to a Republican legislator. But he is no RINO; he recently announced a plan to help get people off of food stamps. Populism is a big part of his approach. A mild increase in the severance tax on gas and oil wells funded an income tax decrease in his budget (the severance tax part has so far not been implemented). He’s built a strong relationship with Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (both democrats) for a variety of urban initiatives. The latter relationship, dubbed the “Kasich-Jackson bromance” by the Plain Dealer has led to a very strong step on education reform.

So if Kasich is the best presidential pick who should be his running mate? Rand Paul is the answer. Not only because Paul comes very close to Kasich in terms of appeal as a candidate, but also because having Paul as a vice president could send a clear message that libertarianism is an important part of the Republican Party platform. A reversed ticket (Paul for president, Kasich for VP) would also be an excellent choice.

 

There is a strong field in the GOP for 2016. Rand Paul, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Kelly Ayotte would all make great presidents. Any one of them (as well as several others) could be a winner. But the essential question is can any of them beat Hillary Clinton? That cannot be determined so early. There’s a long way to go and a lot could happen. This article is simply an early look at the field.