Earlier this week, I discussed my thoughts on the upcoming presidential election for the Democrat side, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Republican field this time around.
With Ted Cruz officially launching his campaign for the White House last week, Rand Paul annoucing just this week, and Marco Rubio set to announce “something” on April 13th, it’s safe to say that the green flag has flown on the Republican side, while the Democrats are all stuck waiting on Hillary Clinton. While I do not intend to attack or endorse any of the potential Republican candidates in this piece, I do want to offer my honest opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of some of these top candidates and how far I think they can go.
1) Senator Ted Cruz – Texas
Pros: Senator Cruz has shown his abilities as a speaker on several occasions, not the least of which was his announcement at Liberty University, and he is a darling of social conservatives and Tea Party activists. In addition, his campaign doubled their fundraising goal of raising $1 million in the first week after announcing his candidacy, as they hauled in $2 million within three days. Every dollar Cruz can come up with from small donors will be important as he runs against the likes of Jeb Bush and others who will easily have more at their disposal out of the gate.
Cons: A potential big problem for Cruz is that he will be one of many conservative favorites who might be in the race. Those who could be competing for a similar pool of voters include Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum. Iowa will almost certainly thin this herd practically overnight, as someone on the right will inevitably underperform because of the votes among conservative caucus-goers being split up among so many candidates. A good example of this would be Michele Bachmann in 2012. In addition, he will definitely be asked about his relative lack of experience, his role in the government shutdown, and being born in Canada, but it remains to be seen how strong the headwinds from these issues will be, or if they’ll mean anything at all.
Expectations: It’s basically Iowa or bust for Ted Cruz. If he doesn’t win outright, he must at least be better than most of the other favorites among the conservative base to justify going forward, or he could very well be the 2016 version of Michele Bachmann. At this time, Cruz is polling at 7.5% in the Real Clear Politics average among Republicans nationwide.
2) Governor Chris Christie – New Jersey
Pros: Governor Christie has developed a reputation as someone who speaks his mind and tells people the truth, whether that’s what they want to hear or not. He was also strong on the campaign trail for gubernatorial candidates as head of the RGA in 2014. His efforts helped claim victory for Republicans in the blue states of Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Republican governors also retained their positions in most cases, with Pennsylvania being a notable exception. The Governor also showed that he can appeal to minorities and independents in his 2013 re-election bid, and won the women’s vote by 15% while running against a female opponent.
Cons: Christie has fallen behind early in the polls, and seems to be struggling to make up ground. His previously mentioned outspoken and blunt style has played well in New Jersey, but it remains to be seen whether it can carry over to voters in other states.
Expectations: New Hampshire could be to Governor Christie what Iowa is to Ted Cruz and others. Of course, the fact that Cruz and company will be in the running for the same voters as one another could create an opening for Christie to have a better than expected run in Iowa, which would help his chances.
3) Governor Jeb Bush – Florida
Pros: He’s a Bush, which naturally means access to the family’s network of money and influence. With 2012 nominee Mitt Romney out of the race, Jeb Bush also appears to be the “establishment” favorite. He was also the two-term governor of the all-important swing state of Florida. Bush had a record during his time in office of cutting spending and being staunchly pro-life, which may come as a surprise to conservatives who have voiced suspicions about him.
Cons: Good news, bad news. He’s a Bush, which means he could face challenges among voters like Martin O’Malley who don’t like the idea of another Bush or Clinton inhabiting the White House. He’s also seen as a RINO by figures such as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham because of his positions on immigration and common core.
Expectations: Jeb Bush will be formidable in the 2016 Republican primaries, though he could have trouble if the supporters of Cruz, Paul, et al. coalesce around one candidate instead of being spread out.
4) Governor Scott Walker – Wisconsin
Pros: Walker is perhaps best known for taking on public sector unions and surviving an ensuing recall election in 2011. To be sure, his wins in 2010, 2011, and 2014 are impressive for the simple fact that he pulled them off as a conservative Republican in a strong union state such as Wisconsin that hasn’t been carried by a Republican since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide victory. At this time, he also seems to be the only Republican in the polls who is keeping pace with current front-runner Jeb Bush, as the two are essentially tied at about 17%, with Rand Paul in third at roughly 8%.
Cons: Walker does have some areas of concern, however. He was pretty much quiet on abortion until he pledged to sign a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. He also doesn’t seem to want to share his thoughts regarding gay marriage. Add to these the fact that he supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and that he’s been shaky on common core, and it’s easy to see where he may run into trouble with social conservatives in the primaries.
Expectations: Walker will likely run as a Washington outsider, as opposed to Senators Paul and Cruz who cannot do so, who also offers an opportunity to prevent a potential Bush or Clinton dynasty. He also has appeal as a Republican who has won three statewide races in a blue-leaning swing state when it comes to presidential years. His perceived ambivalence on gay marriage and shifting tone on abortion, in conjunction with his stance on immigration, will gain more negative attention as the primaries approach.
5) Senator Rand Paul – Kentucky
Pros: Rand Paul has positioned himself as the “big tent” Republican with libertarian tendencies. He will likely inherit many of his father’s former supporters, though some have voiced concerns about him becoming too “mainstream.” He has also won the CPAC straw poll three years in a row, which shows that he has the ability to earn support from the conservative/activist base.
Cons: He’ll be one of several candidates vying for the support of the base. As mentioned above, his perceived built-in support from his father’s former voters might not be as strong as expected. His foreign policy views are significantly out of step with the rest of the GOP field. For example, he supports normalized relations with Cuba and negotiations over sanctions when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program. It remains to be seen whether these positions will be detrimental or not, as young voters and libertarians may actually see them as positives.
Expectations: There isn’t likely to be a whole lot over overlap between Paul and Bush or Christie supporters, so he basically needs to win a likely war of attrition with Cruz, Walker, and company to consolidate those voters and then hope for the best.
6) The Rest
No disrespect to these potential candidates, but they will probably face a more difficult road to the nomination than the five I have talked about specifically. These are just some of the possible candidates who have hinted that they may run.
Ben Carson lacks experience and name recognition outside of conservative circles. Marco Rubio took a hit for working with Harry Reid on an immigration bill, and it remains to be seen if he will recover. Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, and John Kasich are so far down in the polls that it’s tough to see any of them making up ground this already-crowded field. Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee are all throwbacks at a time when it seems most of the GOP wants to run a fresh face.