Handicapping the 2016 Field

It’s a bit early, but let’s try to forecast the race for the presidency in 2016. As a minimum I can look back when the results are in and see how good a prognosticator I am. I usually treat serious topics, mostly in an appropriately serious manner. This post is different. If you can’t have some fun with the political shenanigans, observing them can get pretty depressing.

HillaryThe Democrats are easy. The race is Hillary’s to lose, and I must say that she seems to be giving that a real try at present. My advice to her is to relocate to an undisclosed location until the convention and let surrogates make her case. At least if they blow it she can deny all. None of the declared or possible competitors stand a chance, and that’s a good thing since none would win the election anyway unless the GOP chooses a dodo. (Now that I think about it, that possibility can’t be totally discounted.) The closest analogy I can come up with is any horse race with Big Red in the field. Not that Hillary is such an outstanding candidate, but her possible competitors are all dead money. It’s a shame that Elizabeth Warren has come close to a Shermanesque statement. She would at least have livened up the contest and all we are left with is good ol’ Bernie. (See my clever pun there?)



The situation is quite different for the Republicans. The field is large, several possibilities have a lot going for them, and a few might even become plausible Presidents. In the following list I have included everyone who has declared or might declare. They fall into three categories. The Cream of the Crop have most of the necessary bona fides, have significant party support, and might be able to mount a strong campaign. That doesn’t mean that they are all viable opponents for Hillary. The Long Shots are serious people who seem to have some support, but there is little evidence that they have the legs for the long run. (I may be getting carried away with my horse racing references.) Those in the final group don’t have a prayer, although I suppose a consolation gift of selection for Vice-President isn’t out of the question.


Jeb Bush: the quintessential establishment candidate, the son and brother of past Presidents and ex-Governor of Florida, which is an absolutely essential win for any candidate. He says a lot of smart things but some are anathema to the right. He is going to have to walk back his positions on immigration and Common Core, but without pulling a Romney. And he has made some astonishing gaffes that also makes one think of Romney in 2012. He said that his closest advisor on the Middle East will be his brother! Say what?? He isn’t formally in yet so maybe he will get his act in order when he does. If so he will be a leading contender.

Marco Rubio: a young and relatively inexperienced ethnic candidate, a dynamic speaker, and popular Senator from a key state, once again Florida.  Do you see parallels to Obama here? I wonder how many thoughtful Republicans might make this unfortunate connection. Rubio has broad support and seems to be everyone’s second choice. Somehow he has managed to appeal to the establishment, the Tea Party, and even the Libertarians without scaring any of them off. But can he move to first place? I suspect it will take a stumble from others. Also he suffers the curse of the sitting Senator. Very few have walked directly up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, probably because they are forced to go on record with too many controversial positions. Only three come to mind, Harding, Kennedy and Obama, and two of these didn’t even survive their term of office.

Mike Huckabee: one of those in this race who has actually won a primary in the past and an ex-Governor from Arkansas. Do you think lightning could strike twice for the little town of Hope? He is well-liked by social conservatives and evangelical Christians, but he isn’t their only choice in this field. His gravitas has been damaged by stints as a talk show host and as a huckster for snake-oil remedies. Huckabee has to be taken seriously and he has an engaging personality but I think his time has past.

Rand Paul: once a true believer of his father’s libertarianism, he has been trying to spread his faith to have broader appeal. The result so far is a mishmash of civil libertarianism, classical America-firstism, and oddly progressive views on things like same-sex marriage. Recently he has been trying on a hawkish international view but all that accomplishes is to increase his incoherence. I wouldn’t count him out but it’s hard to see how he wins primaries unless he sharpens his message. (Another senatorial curse victim.)

Chris Christie: previously a leading candidate, this New Jersey Governor has been badly damaged by Bridgegate and the worst may be yet to come. He is supported by big business and would be supported by moderate Republicans if there were any left. It never seemed to me that his manner and look would wear well in the hinterland where Republicans get most of their electors. I suspect he might be an early dropout, especially since SEC rules about donations would likely force him to resign as Governor if he decides to run.

Ted Cruz: a darling of hardcore conservatives, the Tea Party, and social conservatives, this Texas Senator is widely despised by his colleagues on the hill. Being a champion debater will help him make his case, particularly in the chaotic candidate debates to come. Taking principled but hopeless stances, like almost single-handledly closing down the government, doesn’t seem like a recipe for success in the primaries. But perhaps I give activist voters too much credit for common sense. (Thankfully yet another subject for the senatorial curse.)

Scott Walker: a small government conservative with strong credentials from his successes as Winsconsin Governor. He got an early boost from enthusiasm in neighboring Iowa but he just doesn’t seem ready for prime-time to me. Still, just winning repeatedly in a blue-leaning state is impressive. However, his demeanor seems a little low-key for what the primary voters seem to want and I think his best chance is a VP pick.

Rick Perry: another small government conservative and hardliner on immigration, this Texas ex-Governor has been working hard to overcome embarrassing shortcomings in his 2012 try. If the GOP is pining for a George W. Bush clone, he’s their man. Likely? Not so far as I can see.


Rick Santorum: former Pennsylvania Senator, indefatigable campaigner, and so frequently underdog that some think that actually is his first name. It’s hard to believe that he won primaries and caucuses in 11 states last time and managed a very respectable second place finish. Essentially he is a one-trick pony as a social conservative and that won’t carry him to the finish this time. Frankly I doubt he will even give it a try.

Bobby Jindal: a young and decidedly ethnic-appearing Governor of Louisiana, Jindal has an impressive resume and is smart and full of ideas. But let’s face it, he just doesn’t look like a GOP nominee, and hailing from the crazy aunt state doesn’t help either. Still he has more concrete ideas for governing than almost any of the others, so he should be taken more seriously. At least that’s my opinion. Unfortunately for him, not many seem to share it.

Lindsey Graham:  a hawkish version of John McCain and Senator from the key early primary state of South Carolina. If he runs, it must be mostly as a lark and to get his hardline international views front and center. He hasn’t a chance really unless the front line totally collapses or war seems imminent. But he is a strong debater and great campaigner so he would give the leaders fits on the stump. (As if it matters, another subject of the senatorial curse.)

John Kasich: has built a strong reputation as Governor of Ohio, with wide-ranging support from the business community to the Tea Party. If he runs, he can’t be ignored but it doesn’t currently seem likely. Actually this surprises me. Kasich would draw support from primary voters who might otherwise consider Bush or Walker, and except for his apparent reluctance I would have placed him in the Cream of the Crop group.


Ben Carson: a brilliant neurosurgeon with a compelling life history but absolutely no political experience. He excites the devoted who like red meat and are looking for a true outsider. Could he somehow come from nowhere and make it happen? Well, it isn’t impossible. Consider the case of Wendell Wilkie, the corporate lawyer thrown up in the hopeless cause against FDR in 1940. Of course, that isn’t a very promising example, is it?

Carly Fiorina: former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and another political novice whose only experience was getting blitzed by Barbara Boxer in the 2010 California senatorial election. I can’t for the life of me come up with any justification for her candidacy, but she seems serious about it. But there is the sneaking suspicion that this is all about a possible VP selection, isn’t there?

Sarah Palin: yes, that Sarah Palin! There is a segment of the GOP core who loves her, for reasons I have yet to divine. Her disastrous turn as McCain’s VP pick should have quenched their ardor, but it seems not. If she runs — probably unlikely — we will be entertained with some bizarre campaign rhetoric, and that isn’t all bad.

John Bolton: briefly U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and a hawk’s hawk when it comes to international affairs. Newt Gingrich said that he would have chosen him as Secretary of State if he had won, which is one more reason to be thankful that didn’t happen. He might make a good wartime President if that’s what you are looking for.

Donald Trump: last and definitely least, The Donald is a really strange commodity even for the GOP. He is a political novice, multiply-bankrupt businessman, host of a weird TV show and unashamed conspiracy theorist. Yet somehow otherwise sensible commentators treat him respectfully. I keep expecting them to wink at the camera during interviews.