Sorting Through the Field


The Republicans have eleven declared presidential candidates, and one that is almost certain to enter the race. As voters in the primaries, each must sort through this field and winnow it down to a reasonable group of realistic choices. Toward that end, I’ve broken the field into four tiers – First Timers; Fringe; Second Tier; and Top Tier.

The First Timers are those who have never held elective office, making the Presidency of the United States their first political campaign, and on a national scale at that. This has only been once in modern times – Dwight Eisenhower – but, of course, he won World War II. A rather high bar. This year’s first timers are Carely Fiorina and Dr Ben Carson, both of whom are distinguished in their previous fields of endeavor.

Ms Fiorina brings her expertise at running a large corporation to bear on some of today’s operational problems. For example, she cannot continence just blindly giving each department a percentage increase over last year’s budget – “that makes no sense,” she says. She believes that Zero-Based Budgeting is the most reasonable approach. Under ZBB, each program must justify the amount of resources it needs, and that amount should be vetted by the department’s inspector general before it’s forwarded to the House and Senate’s Budget Committees.

She believes in equal rights under the law for gay couples, as she did at Hewlett-Packard. She opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and when pregnancy is a health risk to the mother. She agrees that the climate may be warming, but is against economically ruinous knee-jerk programs to “cure” it before we know for a certainty that we’re causing it, and before other major industrial nations do the same.

Having dealt with HP all over the world, she knows many foreign leaders and has visited numerous foreign countries, so she’s quite a novice at foreign policy.

Dr Ben Carson is a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon that brings a soft-spoken rationality to the contest. “I’m not a politician and I don’t want to be a politician,” he famously said in his announcement address. “Politicians,” he said, “do the politically expedient thing … I want to do the right thing.” He brings a charming sensible approach to problem-solving – look at the problem, figure a solution and apply it. In this, he wants to disseminate power out to the states. Get the solution closer to the problem.

He decries our “immoral” national debt, bloated entitlements, and convoluted tax system that has lost all credibility (he is a Flat Tax proponent). Dr Carson’s opposition to gay marriage, abortion and is a creationist. He is pro-Second Amendment.

He’s agnostic on climate change, but says that renewable energy and pollution reduction make sense with or without man-caused generalized warming.

Both of these candidates need to get better to make it to “Long Shot.” In a field this crowed, access to serious money will be hard to sustain for the 17-month grind. Ms Fiorina, with a listed net worth of $58 million, can’t really self-finance, and Dr Carson has even less to start with. Both are very interesting and bring fresh ideas and thinking to this year’s field, and may well influence the trajectory of the primary season, but I don’t look for either to be around by the last primaries (Super Tuesday, March 6 2016).

Fringe candidates are those with a highly specialized (read: limited) constituency. So far, we have, again, two players – Senator Dr Rand Paul (KY) and Senator Ted Cruz (TX).

Dr Paul is convinced that the federal government is too large to be relate to peoples’ concerns, and far too big to react to events in anything close to a timely manner. He would like to entice corporate money back into the US through lower corporate taxes and to use the new revenue to fix roads and bridges. The problem with this, of course, is that money is fungible and once in the treasury will simply be spent as needed. He’s establish “economic freedom zones,” where corporate and personal income taxes would be eliminated, in poor, underdeveloped areas. Dr Paul opposes a federal ban on gay marriage, preferring to allow the states to handle the situation. He also opposes legislation to establish “gay rights,” saying he doesn’t believe in behavior-based rights.

Foreign policy is where Dr Paul is most widely separated from his Republican compatriots. He wants a small military and the cessation of domestic intelligence gathering. He would declare war on ISIS (they hold territory and possess a domestic political infrastructure, claiming to be a state, thereby qualifying as a sovereign entity waging war against American assets and interests overseas). This, of course, would be at odds with his desire for smaller military. His dislike for drones was demonstrated with a 13-hour filibuster in the Senate.

Senator Cruz, like Rand Paul, is a Tea Party favorite, but is more of a classical conservative than Dr Paul, who is libertarian. Senator Cruz is behind a “Repeal Common Core” movement, which places him at far right end of the spectrum on this issue. He sees the problem as the proposal represents but the thin end of the wedge – destined to be continually expanded once in place. Jeb Bush, for example, sees it as a needed stabilization of scholastic standards to bring American students’ scores up to international standards.

Second Tier candidates are those who poll well within certain precincts, but not with broad enough appeal to elevate them into true contention. I put George Pataki, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum in this group. Governor Pataki will never catch up on name recognition with the rest of the field. His appeal is localized to New York, a deeply blue state. Governor Huckabee is hobbled by his close association with being a pastor – not a bad thing, just a put-off for public officials – I’m not sure anyone sees him as being able to stand up to the likes of Vladimir Putin. Rick Perry has to overcome his 2012 performance before he can overcome the rest of the field, although he’s one of two dark horses in the group. Rick Santorum is a good candidate, but is up against too many legitimate heavyweights. I would rank him as the other dark horse in this field, but behind Governor Perry.

Top Tier candidates are those I feel are in honest competition for the nomination. These are Jeb Bush (announcing Monday), Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham. Governor Bush was expected to take all the air out of room, but hasn’t – his poll numbers have hardly moved since polling began. Some of that can be attributed to the size of the field, but not nearly all of it. He’s just not that exciting. Senator Rubio is the rising star of the field – he’s a gifted public speaker, has a very compelling personal story, has an excellent record as a state legislator, and has been “victim” of two – count ‘em, two – ridiculously petty attacks by the New York Times. It doesn’t get any better than that for a Republican. Governor Walker has an exemplary record – fighting and winning against unions, won four elections in three years in a blue state, exhibits a flawless conservative record. Senator Graham is the long shot in this segment, but is a compelling speaker and demonstrates true conservative values – and is the most pro-defense candidate in the field.

I think this whole mob will sort itself out to a race between Rubio and Walker.

There is a significant number of possibilities[1] still out there who have stated or threatened to run this year, a couple of whom could shake up the race. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has a following, but again, I don’t think it’s broad enough to gain national traction. New Jersey Governor Chris Christy certainly has name recognition, but his in-your-face style – like Ted Cruz’s – I don’t think translates well in a presidential election. Ohio Governor John Kasich is a plain-spoken governor with a great record of leading a swing state on a balanced budget and getting large pluralities in all his elections. He could be a serious contender. And, of course, there’s always Donald Trump, the Harold Stassen of Republican presidential primaries. He could self-finance and out-spend Hillary and Jeb combined, but I’m not sure he’ll actually stay with it long enough to matter. For one thing, he got “The Apprentice” optioned for next year – something he can’t do if he’s running for political office. For another, he would have to put his financials up for FEC review – something he’s been reluctant to do in the past. Even if he gets by those hurdles somehow, I don’t think enough the electorate will take him seriously as a potential POTUS.

Sorry for the length, but it’s a large field. This is how I see it shaping up at this very early stage.

[1] Mark Everson (fmr IRS Commissioner); Jack Fellure (retired engineer); Bobby Jindal (Governor, LA); Donald Trump (developer); Chris Christie (Governor, NJ); John Kasich (Governor, OH); Bob Ehrlich (fmr MD Governor)Jim Gilmore (fmr WV Governor, fmr Chairman RNC); Peter King (US Representative NY).

4 thoughts on “Sorting Through the Field

  1. I notice your handicapping of the GOP candidates is very close to Charles Krauthammer’s Op. Ed. published in the Washington Post last week. At least as far as the Top Tier candidates are concerned.

    I think by the beginning of next year the field will have narrowed itself down to 6 or 7 people. Which will be good for the GOP going into the primaries. I bet that field will consist of Jeb Bush, Scot Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and possibly Graham or Fiorina. I still think the money machine will have a great influence on who will be left standing by 2016. Most of these people have SuperPacs that will back them up with the dollars that are needed. But I think both Graham and Fiorina need to find a SuperPac that will get behind them. Even though Fiorina has great personal wealth it won’t be enough to sustain her. Even if she spends her entire fortune. Jeb Bush has already raised $100 million before his official declaration yesterday. As to Graham a SuperPac may form around him that shares his Neocon views. People like Bill Krystol and Fred Barnes the editors of the Weekly Standard find him an attractive prospect.

    And finally, I think Hillary and Jeb share a common problem: Neither of them can give a speech that will resonate with anyone except their most loyal supporters. I found Hillary’s speech on Roosevelt Island the other day pedantic and too carefully scripted. And yesterday Jeb’s official declaration seemed like he is less than enthusiastic to be entering this race at all. Just my impressions.

    • Once again, I’m delighted that Dr Krauthammer agrees with me – didn’t see his column.

      I agree that the beginning of the year will see a narrower GOP field. I would alter your proposed field in only one exception – if Donald Trump is serious about running (he will announce today and self-finance), he will be in it as long as he wants to be. I’m not sure that if Senator Graham doesn’t challenge Bush, Walker and Rubio in the polls by then, he will still be there. If Carly Fiorina catches popular fire, her financing will come, as she is the best GOP foil for Hillary Clinton.

      Yes, I agree that Ms Clinton’s speech was less than inspiring, and as I said in the piece, Jeb Bush just doesn’t seem that exciting – maybe that’s just me. As you know, I’m a Rubio fan, but mostly, I just want to get the White House back in adult hands – you know, people who know that Islamist terrorists are Islamic, that you can’t win a war by not fighting it, that endless regulations and even the treat of increased taxation costs jobs and economic improvement, things like that. I could be proven wrong about Jeb Bush, but if you had him and Marco Rubio speak at the same event, I don’t think anyone would come away thinking Mr Bush was the better candidate. And both need to convince, first Republicans and then the nation, that they are capable of leading the nation out of our morass.

      If nothing else, the Republicans will put on an interesting show this cycle.

  2. Now that “The Donald” has officially entered the Republican political arena, I’d say that the GOP has one really big problem. How do they keep this clown out of the debates so as not to turn them into a circus like what happened in 2012?

    I bet this is what prompted you to write your “The Absurdity of Identity Politics” the day after he announced….”Pay no attention to what’s behind the curtain!” Ha hahaha.

    I watched his whole 50 minute diatribe and enjoyed every exquisite minute of it. Made my day!

    • As I have said, I have no doubt the Republicans are still capable of presenting kooks. I’m sure Mr Trump provided you with much schadenfreude. Fortunately, Mr Trump is the only Republican with higher negatives than Hillary, so I doubt that his candidacy will go very far. The damage he can do by slashing and burning other Republicans, however, can be severe. In Washington, if you say something three times, it’s taken to be true – accusations are generally all you need to sully a Republican (whereas evidence is seldom sufficient to publically convict a Democrat – that’s just a fact of political life that we must put up with). Fortunately, most Republicans don’t have any higher a view of Mr Trump that you or I do.

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