The beginning of 2015 has seen not only a blizzard on the East Coast but a blizzard of activity among potential Republican candidates for 2016. Some observers have seemed as unenthusiastic about the political blizzards as most snow bound residents were for the natural variety: “Oh, no. Do we really need this much, this soon?” The PBS NewsHour has identified no less than 17 individuals who have indicated that they’re “interested” or “actively exploring” a presidential bid. In alphabetical order: John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, and Scott Walker. Just this morning the NewsHour list had one addition and one subtraction. Mitt Romney announced that he had abandoned any plan to run, while Senator Lindsey Graham took the initial step of forming a PAC. Other prominent figures who have made no announcement but are thought to be waiting in the wings include Governors Bobby Jindal and Mike Pence.
The NewsHour also suggested several reasons why candidates are swarming at such an early date. First is money. If you haven’t noticed, it seems to take an astonishing amount of money to run for President. RINOcracy.com has been of the view that the effect of spending large amounts on political campaigns has been exaggerated and that large donors often get little or no return on their investments. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that substantial amounts are required and no one wants to be left behind allowing potential donors to be “signed up” by a rival. As a corollary, there is a need to attract attention in order to raise money, and even if the entire project ultimately fails, the attention may lead to hosting a talk show or other economic benefit.
Mark Shields recently recalled the “Great Mentioner,” a term coined many years ago by Russell Baker (or, in some memories, Art Buchwald). It referred to the practice of journalists and pundits of plucking this or that politician from relative obscurity by noting that he (there were no ‘shes’ in those days) had been “mentioned” as a possible candidate. In the present era, Shields observed, potential candidates are no longer willing to wait for the first nudge from the Great Mentioner, but appear to rush in spontaneously to try to prime the pump. One factor in their willingness to do so, the NewsHour pointed out, was the example of Barack Obama and his meteoric rise from state senator to the presidential candidate in only four years. His example makes it seem more plausible to “wake up and look at themselves in the morning and say, ‘Hey, if he could do it, why not me?’” A further source of encouragement noted by the NewsHour is the historical record that the incumbent party generally does not win the third term in the White House.
Given the media’s attention to the early elbowing, we thought we would provide a brief rundown of our own preliminary views.
As readers RINOcracy.com will recall, we have given a tentative endorsement to Jeb Bush for the Republican nomination. The basis for the endorsement is the impression that, as a matter of intellect and personality, Bush is better prepared than other potential candidates to develop and deliver a positive message that will have broad appeal in a general election. The endorsement has been tentative not only because Bush has not declared his candidacy, but has neither laid out his position on many major issues nor been exposed to the rough and tumble of the scrum that Republicans use to select a nominee. As a practical matter, the early caucus/primary calendar is not particularly helpful to Bush. The kick-off event is the Iowa caucuses in January 2016, closely followed by New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries. Iowa and South Carolina are strongly conservative states, and while Bush’s conservative positions on social issues will bring him support, his stands on Common Core and immigration may well be a problem. As to the latter, we note that Iowa is the fiefdom of Rep. Steve King, a leading opponent of immigration reform (and immigrants).
Since we last wrote of Bush, there have been three developments that merit some mention. First, was the indication by Mitt Romney–now withdrawn– that he was seriously considering running. This would have been a complication for Bush since their respective donor bases are thought to be similar. And Romney might have provided competition in New Hampshire and elsewhere for the “moderate” voter. Romney’s expression of interest, however, had been met with a roar of applause on the order of one hand clapping. While Romney’s withdrawal should ease Bush’s path, we doubt that he would have become a serious threat to Bush.
The second is the inevitable increase in scrutiny of Bush’s record as Florida Governor and, in general, commentators seem to agree that it was the record of a “solid conservative” that somewhat belies his current perception as a moderate. It is questionable, however, whether that record is sufficient to assuage conservatives who are upset over Bush’s positions on immigration and Common Core. There is one aspect of Bush’s record as Florida Governor that we find troubling. That aspect is the extraordinary efforts that Bush made in attempting to prolong the life of Terry Schiavo against the weight of medical opinion and the wishes of her husband. Bush’s efforts were, as several courts found, without legal basis, and were, in our view, well-intended but profoundly mistaken. Today’s issue of Politico devotes a lengthy cover story to recounting the affair and Bush will likely hear more about it in days to come. His actions, however, were a heartfelt response to a unique situation and we doubt that they will become a major issue or would have a significant impact on a Bush presidency.
The most recent development, and perhaps the one of greatest concern, lies in Bush’s recent comments on the difficult and controversial subject of immigration. Within a single speech, an address to the National Association of Automobile Dealers on January 23, Bush said:
We need to find a way, a path to legalized status for those that have come here and have languished in the shadows. There’s no way that they’re going to be deported — no one’s suggesting an organized effort to do that. The cost of that would be extraordinary.
The 40 percent of the people that have come illegally came with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds. We ought to be able to find where they are and politely ask them to leave.
If there is a way of reconciling those two statements, we haven’t figured it out. If those who are politely asked to leave, politely decline, what then? Are they to be deported? If so, is there a reason to treat their overstay of their visas more severely than wading or swimming across the Rio Grande? Taken together, the two statements will satisfy no one on either (or any) side of the immigration debate. In short, we agree with Chris Cilliza of The Washington Post, whose January 27 column discussing the speech was titled “Jeb Bush needs a better answer on immigration. ASAP.”
Despite misgivings, we continue to support Jeb Bush. We will, however, offer capsule thoughts on leading members of the remaining field (omitting some we think the Great Mentioner might have passed over).
If Bush decides not to run, or falters early, we believe there are at least four plausible alternatives: Senator Marco Rubio, Governors John Kasich of Ohio, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Mike Pence of Indiana. Senator Rubio played a constructive role, at considerable political cost, in supporting the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate, (although he subsequently retreated somewhat from that position). Rubio is also one of relatively few Senators to not only speak of the problem of income inequality but to offer specific proposals to address it. On the other hand, we are not comfortable with Rubio’s apparently firm stand that human activity is not a cause of climate change. Governors Kasich, Walker and Pence have all established strong records of achievement, and have attracted broad political support in their respective states. Governors Pence and Kasich have an edge in our view because their prior service on Capitol Hill gave them experience in foreign affairs and, more generally, how Congress works (or doesn’t). Governor Pence has made no announcement of his plans, and is at a disadvantage because under Indiana law he will have to choose between running for re-election and running for President.
Less Plausible Alternatives
We believe that the less plausible alternatives are Governors Christie, Jindal and Perry and Senator Graham. Governor Christie’s national support might seem to earn him a higher position, but we remain deeply concerned about his temperament. We are not aware of any evidence that he ordered or knew of “Bridgegate,” but personal experience with the Nixon Administration convinces us that a leader must take responsibility for the atmosphere he creates and for actions by his staff that they are convinced are what he would have wanted. In addition, his often brusque and sometimes rude manner of dealing with individuals in public may be amusing, or occasionally satisfying, but in our view it is not the deportment of a President and is needlessly divisive.
Governor Jindal was not a candidate in 2012. Although he had enjoyed considerable media exposure, it failed to translate into significant national support. Whether he is capable of generating such support remains to be seen. Jindal’s Indian heritage adds a welcome dimension to the image of the GOP, but whether it would be a source of support from minorities is not clear. Governor Perry was a candidate in 2012 and carries considerable baggage from that unhappy experience. Media reports suggest that his platform performance has since improved, but he will have to work hard to overcome the negative image of 2012. Perry is also dogged by a pending indictment in the State of Texas. The indictment seems highly political, and unlikely to be successful, but while it endures it must be something of a distraction.
We have appreciated Senator Graham’s contributions to the nation’s foreign policy and national security debate, but are uncertain of the message he will bring to domestic issues.
There are four figures who may play prominent roles in the Republican selection process but none of whom, in our view, would be an acceptable nominee. They are Governor Mike Huckabee and Senators Rick Santorum, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Governor Huckabee and Senator Santorum are of course familiar from their prior candidacies, Huckabee in 2008 and Santorum in 2012. While we do not withhold support from Republican candidates simply because we disagree with them on social issues, it is a different matter where positions on such issues are the centerpiece of a candidacy as they appear to be with Santorum and Huckabee. Moreover, we are not aware of any particular strength of either that would make them a particularly effective candidate in the general election or a successsful president if elected.
Senator Rand Paul, it should be said, has some constructive views and perspectives. He has spoken out about the need of the Republican Party to broaden its demographic base and he has worked with Senator Cory Booker on proposals for much needed sentencing reform. On matters of national security, however, he is well removed from mainstream Republicans and indeed, our view of reality. The notion of Rand Paul as Commander in Chief is enough to make one nostalgic for the picture of Mike Dukakis wearing a helmet and riding in a tank.
Finally, Senator Cruz earns the distinction of being the least acceptable of any individual likely to be seriously considered as a candidate. We have referred to Senator Cruz several times and like to think of him as the leader of the Oozlum Caucus in Congress. For any newcomers to this space, the Oozlum is the legendary bird that flies in ever-decreasing concentric circles until it flies into its own fundament. That we think is the sort of flight plan that Ted Cruz and the Tea Partiers would impose on the Republican Party. The only conceivable merit we can think of for Ted Cruz as the Republican nominee is that it might put to rest once and for all the canard that the Party can win presidential elections only by nominating a “real conservative.”
The foregoing assessments are obviously subjective to a large extent, and except for the category of Non Alternatives, are subject to change. We are not sure that the Republican field will turn out to be as much as an improvement over 2012 as some appear to believe, but it should be diverse enough to make things interesting.