June 17, 2015
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The 2016 Republican presidential nomination is the most open contest in the history of the Republican Party.
There are more candidates with serious potential than in any race in 160 years.
There is no clear front runner. This week’s leader with 11 percent in one national poll is Dr. Ben Carson. Ahead of Dr. Carson, however, was “undecided” with 20 percent.
The voters are like shoppers who know they have a long time before they actually need to buy something. They can have lots of opinions and change them cheerfully between now and when voting begins 7 months from now.
On the one hand, Dr. Carson is not likely to be the nominee.
On the other hand, at a time when approval of Congress has dropped to 19 percent, according to Gallup, and the average American thinks 51 percent of every federal dollar is wasted, a clear outsider may have an unusual advantage. (Think back to Wendell Willkie–who had been a Democrat and never held elected office–winning the Republican nomination in 1940 as an example).
Similarly, Carly Fiorina is steadily gaining ground, and her claim to being the Republican best able to take on Hillary Clinton may become a significant advantage. She can certainly talk about innovation and prove she is a Washington outsider who understands the real world.
Of course, this week’s Suffolk University poll which found that Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, is now within 10 points of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire (Clinton 41, Sanders 31) may be a sign that a strong anti-Clinton theme could become less important if her support continues to erode.
Donald Trump’s entrance yesterday guarantees the biggest, noisiest, most assertive and most flamboyant outsider will be in the thick of things. His ability to fund his own campaign is so great that, if he wants to, he will be able to match Jeb Bush’s fundraising network by writing his own checks.
While outsiders are exciting and often impressive, the nominee is usually an experienced professional who has held public office and learned politics the hard way–by doing it.
The biggest surprise so far has been that Governor Bush has not yet become dominant despite his record as governor, his family ties to two presidents, and his access to an enormous nationwide fundraising system that has been growing since his dad’s first race for president in 1980.
The vacuum this has created is being filled by different people in different states.
Arguably Governor Scott Walker is the most competitive right now with a strong base in the first state to decide. Walker appears to be doing very well in Iowa. He has a nationwide fundraising base from his fights with the public employee unions. He is very methodical and down to earth. (He really does shop at Kohl’s.)
Neither Bush nor Walker can assume front-runner status, however. There are an amazing number of strong competitors prepared to challenge them.
Senator Marco Rubio has had a very successful launch–so successful that the New York Times felt compelled to do a hit piece about his four speeding tickets in two decades. This enabled him to raise more than $100,000 online responding to the Times.
Ohio Governor John Kasich is expected to enter the race soon and he will immediately contest Scott Walker as the midwestern candidate and Bush as the moderate candidate.
Kasich’s extraordinary 2014 victory in Ohio, carrying 86 of 88 counties and 26 percent of the African American vote in a state that has been vital to winning the presidency, as well of his record of governing with energy and skill, will make him a serious contender the day he announces.
Governor Rick Perry has been calmly and methodically preparing to prove that his previous run for president was an aberration, and that his 14 years as the longest-serving governor in the history of Texas are a better measure of his capabilities.
Perry will need to contend with another home-state conservative favorite, Senator Ted Cruz, who is a world-class debater and was described by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz as one of the brightest students he had in a long career teaching there.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has had a rocky start with problems in his home state, focused enmity from the New York Times and considerable skepticism from conservatives. He is, on the other hand, a compelling campaigner and an effective articulator of the need for leadership. He and Jeb Bush are in a competition for the New York-area donor base. If Governor Christie can attract a significant share of the big donors there, he may emerge as a strong contender.
Governor Mike Huckabee has broadened his appeal from his 2008 race through his show on Fox News and he will be a significant factor in at least the first several caucuses and primaries. He is an appealing debater and if he catches fire he could knock a number of the other social conservatives out of the race.
Senator Rand Paul is different from most of the other contenders. He has expanded on a nationwide base inherited from his father and developed a clear commitment to privacy as a dominant value (even at the risk of national security) and a very clever approach to broadening the Republican appeal and reaching out to a lot of people who normally wouldn’t consider a Republican candidate.
Senator Lindsey Graham will be the national security candidate of this cycle, in the mold of John McCain. He is aggressive, energetic and personable. If something really bad happens in national security he could become a major contender overnight.
This introductory list doesn’t include Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Senator Rick Santorum who ran effectively as the social conservative advocate in 2012, former New York Governor George Pataki and a number of other aspirants who will be in the contest.
There is no way to know today who the nominee will be. This really is the most open race in the history of Republican presidential nominations.
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