Earlier this year, I posted on the potential Democrat candidates for the 2016 US presidential elections. Clearly, that race currently looks as it is odds on for Hillary Clinton, but it is worth looking at the options in case health prevents her running. That is as true now as when I wrote the piece back in January.
The picture for the Republicans is far more fluid and uncertain. As in the post on the Democrats, I sought the opinions of the other regular contributors – although this was back in January and their opinions may have changed since then.
As with the Democrats, we start with a map showing the geography of the contenders: where our broad field of 17 potential candidates come from. As before, it is unlikely that all of these will run but given we are still over eighteen months away from candidates confirming their intentions we will go through the list of those we think most likely to throw their hats in the ring.
Compared to the Democratic map, there seems to be more of a geographic spread, without the same extent of north-eastern concentration. However, the West seems light on potential candidates.
A. Potential Re-Runners
We will start with five candidates from the elections two or six years ago. First off, the losing Presidential candidate…
1. Mitt Romney
Could Romney run again? He was clearly hurt by his defeat by Obama in 2012, and his most recent pronouncement when asked by the New York Times in February if he would run again was ”Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no.“
But that, as denials go, is hardly Shermanesque. The lack of a clear front-runner has led to some calls for him to reconsider.
On balance, we think this is unlikely. But never say never, and the expert observers have been noting an increase in his TV profile of late.
2. Rick Santorum
Assuming Romney stays out, how about the person who came second in the nomination race, Rick Santorum? Whilst Romney won comfortably, Santorum won eleven of the primaries and clearly appealed to the party’s religious conservative base. Unlike Romney, Santorum has made it clear that he is considering running again – telling NBC’s Meet the Press last year: “I’m open to looking into a presidential race in 2016”.
That said, Santorum’s campaign in 2012 never looked strong enough to break through – he did not have the financial backing needed once the race hit its middle stages because those with that sort of money could not see him as a viable candidate.
Like Romney, Santorum would have the advantage if nominated of coming from a state that normally votes Democratic in Presidential elections. Unlike Romney’s Massachusetts though, his native Pennsylvania might just about conceivably vote Republican under the right circumstances. Unfortunately for him, the Keystone State emphatically booted him out as their senator in 2006 and does not appear to have fallen back in love with him.
The 2012 contest shows that you would be unwise to rule Santorum out for 2016, but our panel all concluded that there were far more likely beasts in the running.
3. Rick Perry
Another Rick from the right of the party who stood in 2012 was Texan governor Perry. On paper, he seemed an ideal candidate for the GOP: religiously and economically conservative, outside the Washington elite, plenty of executive experience and from a big state. Unfortunately, (as Brian Clough once remarked about football), politics is not played on paper. The Texan might have given the impression he could walk the walk, but failed utterly to be able to talk the talk.
This year, Perry steps down after 14 years as governor of the Lone Star State. You might think that the embarrassment of his 2012 failure might make him reticent to try again, but his lead adviser from that campaign has hinted that he could be doing this to lay the ground for a 2016 re-run.
Perry will need to improve his stump performances massively to have a chance. He will need to muscle into a field of right-wing candidates that is sizable and this time round, he may not appeal to a party trying to find something that can give them some edge in the presidential race, whether it is political position, race, youth, gender or coming from a swing state.
4. Mike Huckabee
A more interesting retread might be the former governor of neighbouring Arkansas. Huckabee did well when he stood in 2008 and has a strong public profile through his programme on Fox News. Despite his strong religious conservatism (he is a Baptist priest in his spare time) he comes across with a friendly, folksy persona – playing bass guitar at some campaign events. His national polling at the moment stands up well when included.
His campaign in 2008 ultimately floundered when he ran out of cash, after a strong initial performance. His five years at Fox mean that has money this time, plus the stronger public image.
In some ways, he is a stronger, more likable version of Santorum – if both run, he will have the upper hand. But, like Perry above, he lacks much that would allow the Republicans expanding beyond the vote it secured in 2012.
5. Paul Ryan
Whilst Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan did not seek the presidential nomination in 2012, his profile rose massively as Romney’s running mate. Since then, he has maintained a high profile in Congress, leading the budget proposals of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
That has drawn some criticism from the Tea Partiers, who have suggested that he has sold out to break the Congressional impasse. But Ryan is a young, ambitious fiscal conservative who continues to propose massive budget cuts. Like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin is a purplish blue state – it has voted Democrat in every election since 1988 but has often given them cause for concern.
He looks like a strong candidate: fiscally right-wing but not to the point of not being able to reach a deal, from a good state to run from. His polling to date has been good, although he has only topped them in the immediate aftermath of Chris Christie’s troubles.
But whilst he runs from a good state, congressmen from the House rarely get very far in presidential races. He has neither executive experience or foreign policy experience. This may stop him winning through.
B. The Establishment Governors
If none of the above five win through, the elite echelons in the Grand Old Party might swing behind one of the next four mainstream candidates. Whilst it might be a stretch to call all of them ‘moderates’, they are not as off the wall as the Tea Partiers.
6. Chris Christie
Christie was the candidate that the establishment was wetting itself about: a governor from a habitually Democratic state with a no nonsense reputation that played well with blue collar workers. Christie has been a nimble operator: seeming moderate when he needed votes from his state (witness his gushing praise for Obama’s help in the wake of Hurricane Sandy) and yet brutal in his dealing with the unions and Democrats in the state when it suited him.
Our own Charlie East-West thought that Christie had the best chance of securing the Republican nomination, and if so being able to beat any Democrat bar Hillary Clinton.
This was, of course, all before the Fort Lee traffic scandal blew up in January. Christie should not yet be written off: he topped a poll earlier this month by Fox. But his ability to stay the course relies on the ongoing investigations into this scandal concluding without any evidence that he knew what was going on.
7. Jeb Bush
With Christie’s downfall, the establishment appear to be swinging behind Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida (a key swing state), brother of the last Republican president and son of the previous one. Is America ready for a third President Bush?
Electoral data gods FiveThirtyEight think that Bush could win through. He can appeal to moderate voters but also has enough conservative support to secure primary votes (particularly for primary ballots as opposed to the caucuses). His Floridian base is a very good one: the most populous of the swing states. When it comes to extending the base beyond white America, his Hispanic wife may help.
Whilst it feels as if he has been around forever (remember him promising his brother that Florida would go his way in 2000?) he is only 61, six years younger than Hillary Clinton.
Bush has said that he is still considering whether he wants to run. If Christie’s chances are mortally wounded, Jeb is the obvious choice for the establishment to swing behind.
8. John Kasich
Of a similar age to Jeb Bush, and a governor of another key swing state, Ohio, is John Kasich. His polling is subterranean at the moment, but that could change with the right backing and if neither Christie or Bush run.
Like Bush, Kasich has aspects that could appeal to both moderates and conservatives. As the House of Representatives’ budget chairman (the position Ryan now holds) in the Gingrich revolution, he did deals with the Clinton regime on spending and on gun control. Yet his tenure of Ohio’s governor’s mansion since 2011 (up for re-election this year) has seen him appeal to the conservative base through saying no to federal money for infrastructure projects (whilst taking money from Obamacare for Medicaid) and implementing tax cuts for the rich.
Like Huckabee, he has been a Fox News regular in the past. There is a lot of indicators in his favour, but he has not made any noises about running. Our guess is that he probably won’t. particularly if Christie or Bush do run.
9. Bobby Jindal
Our final establishment-favoured governor is Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. For an Indian American, Jindal has broken through the Deep South’s racial ceiling to hold the governorship of the Pelican State since 2008. Could this young (still only 42) non-white face enable the Republicans to break through the racial divide to win the White House?
His political career has been meteoric: it started at the age of 24 working for the then governor, Murphy Foster, who had just switched parties to the Republicans. Jindal was given the key role of the state’s Secretary for Health and Hospitals, responsible for 40% of the state’s budget. George W Bush made him his Assistant Secretary of Health in his first administration, after which he returned home to try his hand for the governorship in 2003 (aged 31). He failed, but won a congressional seat the next year and the governorship in 2007 in the wake of dissatisfaction with the Democrat Kathleen Blanco’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.
Jindal has always played to the right of the party (as a congressman, he openly criticised his benefactor Bush for not being aggressive enough on cutting taxation), but not quite to the level of Tea Party zealotry.
But Jindal is not currently popular at home: last October, his approval rate fell to 38 percent, thanks to closing healthcare facilities and being forced into an embarrassing climb down after promising to abolish state income tax. In 2009, the Republicans gave him the job of responding to Obama’s first statement to the joint houses of Congress – most observers agreed he flunked it.
Jindal just doesn’t seem to have the gravitas to pull off the presidency. He is not wild enough for the Tea Party or Religious wackos, and too unreliable to get the moderate and establishment vote. His polling this year has sat between 2 and 5 percent. We don’t think it will get much higher.
C. The Tea Party
If the establishment does not get its way, the Tea Party would be the benefactors. Their danger is that they crowd each other out: these are our top five contenders. For all the faults of the Tea Party, they do provide some ethnic diversity that the Republicans desperately need, as well as the only senators in our list.
10. Marco Rubio
The 43 year old senator Marco Rubio scores on both counts, as well as having the advantage of coming from the most populous swing state, Florida. If the Republicans want to reach over to Hispanic voters, particularly in Florida, he fits the bill.
Rubio was the star of the 2010 Republican mid-term successes, with a bright future predicted by many and being dubbed the Crown Prince of the Tea Party Movement . He was seen as a potential vice presidential pick for Romney only two years later.
Yet, he does not yet seem to have the traction many expected: most of his polling has been in the high single digits. This month, a poll in the critical early primary state of New Hampshire put him a disappointing tenth.
Rubio has probably suffered from being a bit more sensible than the Tea Party would like, in a cramped field of contenders on the right. The true believers have passed their affections to more zealous champions of their cause. His difficulties are not as pronounced as Jindal’s, but he does appear to have become lodged in the same crack between the mainstream and the Tea Party.
That said, of those on the right of the Republicans, he seems to have less detractors than others. He is George East‘s pick to become the eventual nominee and his chances are good if the field thins out.
11. Ted Cruz
The benefactor of this cooling of passions appears to be the new Texan senator, Ted Cruz. Cruz is also Hispanic, but from a Mexican background rather than Rubio’s Cuban one, so potentially having a greater traction with Hispanic voters outside of Florida.
Cruz’s winning of the Republican nomination for Senator in 2012 surprised many commentators, thanks to a grassroots Tea Party campaign for this hot-shot lawyer. He has since put himself at the forefront of the movement, doing things that seem crazy to many but endears him to their true believers.
Cruz’s Achilles’ Heel? Well, the charge that he is not actually American. This is not just pure racism, but the fact he was born in Canada and still has dual US and Canadian citizenship. Cruz is trying to drop that Canadian link, but he would be a massive embarrassment to any Republican who had been party to the Birther antics against Obama. Cruz could be plagued by suggestions that he could not legally stand to be President at all.
Personally, I don’t think this will have too much traction, at least where it matters: those that were never going to vote for him will bring it up but I am not sure it will change many minds. Given the on-going strength of the Tea Party, he remains my current pick.
12. Rand Paul
The third senator, Rand Paul, was elected in 2010 alongside Rubio. As the son of Ron Paul, a key inspiration to what there is of an intellectual strain to the Tea Party, he remains another favourite of the faithful. That poll in New Hampshire where Rubio was tenth? Paul topped it.
But whilst wowing a critical base, he has a number of drawbacks. The key one is that he is a true maverick, as libertarian as much as he is Republican. Whilst not as doctrinaire in his opposition to military intervention as his father, he is remarkably non-militaristic for a Republican. He thinks states should decide on same-sex marriage rather than imposing a federal ban. He wants term limits for Congress (a sure way to lose your colleagues’ support). On the other hand, he favours a flat income tax (i.e. everyone pays the same percentage, no matter what they earn) and is against abortion even for rape and incest. There is plenty of fodder one way or another for opponents to play with in the Primary process.
Another is the state he comes from: Kentucky’s outcome is not in doubt (despite backing Bill Clinton, it is considered so safely Republican nowadays that no-one factors in a potential Democrat presidential win there) and it is fairly small electoral college wise.
But it is perhaps the decider will be this: his senate re-election campaign would also happen in 2016, and Kentucky bans candidates being on the ballot for more than one position in any set of elections. Paul would need to be very sure of the nomination, or willing to leave the Senate, if he is to run.
13. Scott Walker
Outside of the Senate, there are two Tea Party governors who are potentials. Neither is polling particularly highly and both are controversial in their home states, but either might run in the right circumstances.
Scott Walker has been the right-wing governor of Wisconsin (see Paul Ryan above) since 2010, stirring up massive controversy with his brutal budget cuts (removing bargaining rights from employees and massively cutting funding for education and Medicaid) and his refusal of federal money (on the ideological principle that government should not fund infrastructure projects) for initiatives such as a high speed rail system that would have linked the state capital, Madison, to the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, as well as to Chicago and Minneapolis. Those budget cuts spurred massive protests and a recall election for governor.
But he survived the recall, by a larger margin than his original victory. Walker has proved that wackadoo policies can win through in a state that has voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1988. That should scare the hell out of most Americans, but is music to the ears of the Tea Party faithful.
14. Nikki Haley
Our final Tea Partier is the governor of South Carolina. Like Jindal, Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley is of Indian descent, and became the Deep South’s second non-white post-Reconstruction governor in 2010. As a 42 year-old, she is also the youngest current governor.
Very much in the Sarah Palin mould, Pro-Life, pro-low tax and anti-regulation, she has also taken a tough stand on illegal immigration that might not play well with Hispanic voters. She is not particularly well-liked in her state: her latest approval rating was less than 50%, although from a worse base.
One place she may have an edge though is that South Carolina is a critical early primary: it pretty much set up both Bush in 2000 and McCain in 2008 to win their nominations whilst providing the first upset for Romney’s 2012 campaign.
D. The Outsiders
Our last category are those sniffing around the edge of the contest. We don’t currently think any of these three will eventually throw their hat in the ring, but things could change.
15. Sarah Palin
You may have noticed an obvious omission to the Tea Party list above, indeed she was even mentioned in passing in the Haley entry: the Tea Party’s Grizzly Mama herself.
That is deliberate: no-one is currently predicting she will run. In the run-up to the 2012 presidential primaries and this year’s Alaskan senate race, she hinted she would run before dropping out later. This time, there is radio silence on running.
Palin seems far happier with her regular appearances on Fox and pushing the Tea Party, particularly the ‘Pink Elephants’ – women Tea Partiers like Christine O’Donnell and Nikki Haley.
16. Ben Carson
You may have noted that none of the above candidates is African American. Now, not many African Americans vote Republican, but there is usually at least one in the running: last time around, Herman Cain made a strong initial showing before revelations about his personal conduct sunk his chances.
Maryland retired star neuro-surgeon (the first person to successfully separate twins conjoined by the head) and newspaper columnist Ben Carson is the person who might fit the bill: having won rightwing plaudits for his speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, whose audience included Obama, where he advocated a flat income tax in what is normally a non-political event. He then garnered further praise speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Despite his career, Cardin is a creationist and compares Obamacare to communism. He has also drawn comparisons between homosexuality and bestiality.
Despite not having been active in the Republican Party, the Tea Party love him: putting him third in their presidential wishlist behind Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. On balance, the chances to draft him seem slight, nut not impossible.
17. Donald Trump
Finally, The Donald. You will recall that he played with standing in 2012 and went a bit potty with all that Birther stuff (don’t expect any consistency from him if Ted Cruz stands). He also tweeted when Obama won the 2012 contest that the election was “a sham and a travesty” and called for a revolution.
Trump has already stumped up $1 million researching the feasibility of a 2016 shot at this. Like Carson, he spoke at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference. For anyone else, that would suggest serious intent.
But for Trump, a mere $1 million is small change. Plenty of polling shows that voters don’t see him as a serious candidate, and he has more negative support than most of the rest of the field. No, expect Trump to flirt with the idea of standing before shuffling off to the sidelines again to shout more sulky inanities into the void.