Parsing the Possible GOP 2016 Candidates: Part I, Bottom of the Pack

I am one of the first to complain when talking heads argue about presidential primary polls when primary elections are more than a year away. If 2012 taught us anything it’s that a leading candidate early in the race can be one of the first candidates out by actual election time. Regardless, I’ve been looking at several polls for potential GOP 2016 candidates (mind you, none of them have declared yet) and it’s the same names repeatedly being mentioned. For this I would like to briefly look at the most possible contenders and offer a quick opinion on them. The two most recent national polls I have were conducted by FOX and CNN/Opinion Research. In the former Bush, Perry, Paul, and Christie rounded out the top with Christie, Paul, Huckabee, and Ryan in the latter. Other names in both included Cruz, Walker, Santorum, Ryan, Rubio, and Jindal. In this first installment of this three part series I will look at those candidates who are most underperforming, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, each with 5 percent or less.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has already spoken out against Cruz, Rubio, and Paul for 2016 as he as many others believe that the nomination should go to a current or former governor. In a way though to boost his own position perhaps he also believes the 2016 candidate should be an outsider. Walker came to national prominence in 2012 following a protracted battle with state unions resulting in a gubernatorial recall election; Walker triumphed earning a greater share of the vote than he did in his election in 2011. This election saw incredibly high levels of spending and was widely publicized. Like other lesser known potential candidates, I believe the sudden media storm surrounding his recall election and subsequent victory is the primary reason he is even considered in polls today.

Regardless, I don't see Walker as anything more than a blip on the 2016 radar if he were to run. While he has signaled interest in seeking the nomination he simply doesn't have the support necessary or the ability to advance to the top of the pack. If he were to run I see such as run as being similar to Tim Pawlenty's in 2012; one of the first to enter and the first to leave even before the actual primaries once it's realized that victory is impossible. A major difference is that Pawlenty polled well in Iowa early on while Walker is doing dismal in Iowa and New Hampshire polls though I go back to my distrust in relying on polls so early on.

Walker could benefit in some ways from his opposition to the 2013 government shutdown. In a country where congress is so unpopular, he can work to differentiate himself from House Republicans who supported the shutdown. He is popular among conservatives but there are other possible contenders who are as well and they've been receiving more media attention. Though he also has experience, something possible conservative opponents such as Senator Paul lack. He has proven himself to be a fighter overcoming incredible odds in Wisconsin but a fighter alone is nothing without an image and brand. And yes, his recall election and victory was incredible but one must also realize that almost half of the voters of his own state tried to boot him out of office only one year into his term. That fact alone makes me question his readiness for 2016.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Richard 'Rick" Santorum is another story. Santorum had been the third highest ranking Republican in the Senate in the early to mid-2000s prior to losing his senate seat though he did come in second place in the 2012 presidential primary. The problem with Santorum is he's extremely polarizing; you either like him or hate him. Santorum's power emanated from Christian conservatives in 2012 owing to his highly conservative stance on abortions, gay marriage, family issues etc. These issues though are losing out to economic and foreign policy concerns with the younger generation in this country. Now for me, of course I'm interested in these issues but I'm more concerned with what situation economically this country will be in in ten years.

Now Santorum hasn't ruled out a 2016 run and some insiders have claimed he is laying the groundwork for an insurgent run. There are those who say he could have success and they cite the example of Romney; second place in 2008, first place in 2012. The same though isn't true with Santorum and in the large states like New York and Florida and any North Eastern state he won't be able to defeat any moderate Republican regardless of his experience. On the other hand his conservative credentials will not be of great meaning in states he won in the past as there are fresh faces to carry the conservative banner.

Truth be told, Santorum has tons of experience and has conservative credentials but I view him as a complete non-starter for 2016. To be frank, he's washed up. Add on to that his tendency to just make statements that are so awful and cringe worthy, I can't see him building upon anything more than what he accomplished in 2012. Santorum like Bachmann whose name has also been floated and who has also declared an interest would provide a field day for bloggers and talking heads in 2016. When the left talks about the GOP being close-minded, bigoted, and ignorant they point to republicans like these two and ultimately it's their sound bites that would hurt a reasonable republican candidate. Ultimately I see two routes for Santorum. In the first he builds up a good deal of speculation but stops short of declaring himself a candidate owing to some personal reason or his decision to pass his torch to another candidate. In the other he declares but drops out shortly after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Lastly we come to Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana and Vice Chairman of the RGA. Jindal has been a rising star in the GOP among more influential circles and was considered a possible contender in 2012. He took a bit of a hit though with the 2009 State of the Union rebuttal where he came off as weak and unenthusiastic but that alone shouldn't be held against him as he's had several standing ovation speeches since then. Jindal is also brilliant to say the least and ambitious rising from a humble background as the son of Indian immigrants to becoming a business owner in high school, to being a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and by revamping Louisiana's health department by age 24. Jindal is an American success story.

There are problems though. Right now he is polling awfully in Iowa with low favorability ratings and limited recognition. Again though, it's only 2014 so that right now is for the most part meaningless. One of my favorite polling questions is that regarding favorability since I'm sure there are so many in Iowa who can name one positive or negative thing Jindal has done but I digress. On the other hand, Jindal has been working to increase his national profile and has been doing this through opinion pieces in major media outlets. This could be seen as part of his attempts to restart the GOP and not necessarily as a means to launch a 2016 campaign. Jindal has spoken at length on giving the GOP a fresh start and has made numerous populist appeals. Personally, I wholeheartedly agree with Jindal. The GOP needs to put aside pettiness, become more issue oriented and more inclusive.

Suggesting a better path for the GOP is a win-win situation for Jindal if he decides to run or not as the party will still benefit. If he's serious though he must be cautious not to come off as smug and pretentious as nobody wants to be lectured. Furthermore he must not make enemies of disaffected constituencies in the GOP, denounce the crazies but not the voters. Apart from that I believe Jindal could go some distance or at least launch a campaign that can propel him in the future or provide him with a cabinet seat if a GOP candidate wins. Though I admit I did believe the same about Jon Huntsman in 2012. With Jindal though there are several great positives. He is experienced and exceedingly intelligent; he doesn't claim to know all and takes his current office very seriously. He isn't gaffe prone and can inspire audiences. He has a vision and has been working on putting out policy briefs which show him to be above the talking point level. In the event of him running and after other major contenders have pummeled each other, Jindal might be one of the last standing.

There are others whose names are being mentioned who currently aren't included in polls. Those who I believe would poll on the low end include Rep. Bachmann, Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Carson, Rep. King, Rand Rep. Rogers among others. Now I could be wrong but I don't believe any of them would stand much of a chance in the primaries. Among Walker, Santorum and Jindal, I would give Jindal the best shot. He's an underdog who has time to increase his profile and popularity if he stays above the fray and refuses to engage in damaging battles with others. Also he is a governor and I firmly believe the 2016 GOP nominee should have executive experience. Santorum doesn't stand a chance as he would be hard pressed to expand his base of support over what he had in 2012. Walker is a nonstarter for me but I wouldn't discount a run by him in the future. Next in the series: Part II, the middlemen.

Posted by SPBrooker at August 5, 2014 6:25 PM
Comment #381735

I think one of the issues with the selection of candidates is the unrepresentative order of primaries. Florida has essentially a 50/50 mix of conservative/liberal voters with a healthy mix of independents. As such, it is (IMO) representative of national political leanings. Yet, by the time our primaries occur, the candidates are often ordained by three pretty unrepresentative states: Iowa (lots of conservative Christians/caucus system), New Hampshire (small New England) and South Carolina. Rick Santorum will likely do well in Iowa and get some traction, but would be a dud here.

I’d like to see something like four “national” primary voting days, where candidates must compete for votes in multiple states, with various mixes of states chosen to be generally representative of the country as a whole. Going back to the pre-1968 “smoke filled backroom” selection is better than what we have now, IMO.

My brother (inelegantly) states the primary system is where the largest t**d in the bowl rises to the top. We should do better.

Posted by: Mike in Tampa at August 6, 2014 8:15 AM
Comment #381736

Good article on one of my favorite topics.

The GOP slate of potential candidates for 2016 resembles the clown car of 2012, only worse. There was never really any question about Romney winning the nomination in 2012. This time, he is not running, and the candidates look every bit as ridiculous. By the way, you might want to include Romney as one of the top tier choices for 2016. He has stated repeatedly that he will absolutely not run again, and that is understandable. He has been continuously running for president since 2006. Still, he has a viable organization, and given the rest of the GOP field, winning 47% of the vote might be a very attractive proposition for the Republicans.

I thought Jindal might be worth taking seriously, but he is not. If anyone is unsure, just do a search of his quotes. This is the guy who called the GOP the “stupid party.” Last year he published a tirade that really made him look foolish, repeating some of the more extremist, radical statements that made Jindal call it the “stupid party” in the first place. It’s one thing if a politician really believes it. At least it’s sincere. But Jindal was saying what he thought the extremists and radicals wanted to hear, and it just sounded asinine and insincere.

Santorum might run again simply because he is on a mission, a religious quest to bring his brand of Christianity to the nation as a whole. He would be an absolute nightmare for the GOP if he did run. I don’t think he will. A lot of people will try to dissuade him, or maybe buy him off with the promise of a position in a GOP administration, Secretary of Sanctimonious Asshattery or something.

The others on the bottom tier are really not worth consideration. Michele Bachmann wondered out loud why no one was asking her if she would run again. Really? Is the woman so totally deluded that she would even have to ask?


Posted by: phx8 at August 6, 2014 2:12 PM
Comment #381738

Good comment, Mike.

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