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America’s Great Task: Rejecting Donald Trump

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I deplore hyperbole and sensationalism in politics. I am quick to remind people to keep  our politics in a broader, historical perspective. I respect people from both parties, and while some Presidencies have been better than others, I have believed that, whether America is under Democratic or Republican leadership, our country will broadly be fine.

Thursday night, watching Donald Trump accept the nomination for President, I was the most genuinely frightened I have ever been in my life.

A year ago, I predicted that Trump could be the Republican nominee. I didn’t realize how frightening of a prediction I made.

I have routinely dismissed outlandish comparisons of Trump to fascism. After Thursday night, no longer.

I regularly mock the notion that “this election is the most important one in a generation.” This time, I’m not so dismissive.

Let’s talk about that convention.

From night one, I realized this was not a normal convention. Usually, conventions are upbeat, take some jabs at the record of the opposing nominee, and then present a positive vision of change. This was different.

On the first night, Pat Smith called Hillary Clinton a murderer, holding her responsible for her son’s death. It felt reminiscent of Cindy Sheehan calling Bush a murderer due to her son’s death in Iraq; except the DNC never put her on stage. I’m not sure if the RNC thinks Bush is a murderer due to the 84 American deaths in embassy attacks during his presidency. Then, Rudy Giuliani, a once self described liberal Republican, gave a speech where he screamed at the top of his lungs, warning America of the dangers of terrorism, like an apocalyptic preacher. What America ought to do beyond our current 13,000 airstrikes launched against ISIS? Make sure we say the word Islamist more often.

The next night, Chris Christie conducted a trial of Clinton. The crowd all week chanted “lock her up.” This Republican Party makes Ken Starr look like Mother Theresa. Chanting for the arrest of your political opponent and accusing her of murder without substantiation feels like something out of a fledgling dictatorship, not a country where Jefferson once said “we are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.”

The words said along the margins of the convention may have been more startling. Congressman Steve King argued that whites have contributed more to civilization than any other “sub groups.” Convention speaker Antonio Sabato said Obama “absolutely is a Muslim.” Trump advisor Senator Baldasaro called for Clinton to face a firing squad. I’d be startled, but I’ve heard right-wing people I know say identical statements before. To be clear, however, this kind of rhetoric never occurs at a typical convention.

On the third day, Ted Cruz gave a speech that was both a courageous stand for principles and a political power play (yes, it can be both). He gave an eloquent defense of Reagan conservatism. He was booed off stage. The outsider Senator was not radical enough for this convention. Conservatives got to watch on live TV as their conservative party was officially taken over by right wing populist nationalists.

Watch the last RNC and compare it to this one. See the difference in policies proposed, along with the difference in tone. There was no conservative message of optimism, little mention of the founders, Reagan, or other conservative staples. The primary focus was tearing down Clinton and the status quo. Rarely was it mentioned how Trump would achieve his goals, though that is to be expected, as cults of personality rarely do nuance or specifics.

It seems almost pointless to fact check  this convention. Trump is using the general public’s fatigue with ‘political correctness’ as a blanket to cover his routine factual incorrectness. Why bother pointing out Clinton is no more ‘abolishing the 2nd Amendment’ than Reagan did with his gun control bill,  that Iran is dismantling its nuclear missile program and is helping fight ISIS and not the other way around (the notion that Shia Iran would aid Sunni ISIS is amusing),  and that Clinton opposed Assad while Trump has supported him. Would Trump’s supporters care if they read that Trump’s tax slashing plan would explode the deficit, that crime is falling and not rising, that America is enjoying increased respect abroad not less, that Obama has overseen historic periods of job growth not job loss, that illegal immigrants and refugees are less likely than white Americans to commit violent crimes, and that illegal immigration is actually at historic lows? Probably not. Facts are stubborn things, and apparently were too stubborn to endorse Trump or attend the RNC.

Still, I did not know whether the convention, with all its unconventionality, would be effective. And then Trump delivered his speech, the longest acceptance speech in at least 48 years. There was no softening, no effort to make up with conservatives and no pivot towards the general election. He doubled down. He painted America in apocalyptic terms, as a once great nation undermined by politicians and Democrats seeking to weaken this country. This America was lawless and under siege from terror. This America had left behind the ‘forgotten people,’ the ‘great silent majority,’ who work hard, love the country, and aren’t politically correct. He would be their voice. He would be their champion. He would make America great again. It’s not difficult to read between the lines of his Nixonian address. The fear Trump is tapping into doesn’t line up with facts but, rather, with a feeling. He’s tapping into the feeling that an America where white heterosexuals were the basic conception of what it means to be an American is slipping away. That’s why they are the real Americans. That’s why they wish to “take the country back”-take it back from the others. Certainly, there are other reasons people support Trump: party loyalty, disdain for Clinton, or frustrations with being left behind by globalization, but the ethos behind Trump’s references to his white masses as “real Americans” and his desire to “make America great again” is, at its core, the cry of a displaced social class wishing to reassert its dominance.

People have asked me if we have seen anything like this before: Nixon’s Silent Majority and calls for “law and order” as a response to increased racial integration and liberal social policies is an obvious comparison, though Nixon was oddly both more conservative and liberal than Trump. Trump, like Nixon, thrives off of victimhood: both loathed the media and intellectual elites, claiming they were biased against them. They relished in a “one man against the world” attitude, shared by their white supporters who believed they, not minorities, were the real victims of oppression. Trump is unique insofar as he is less experienced and qualified than Nixon, more radical in his policies, and is in a media-reality TV culture that helps sustain his efforts. Whether Trump believes in the fears he’s outlining or not, I don’t know, but he’s instilling them in others, and exploiting them effectively. As he gave his vision, easy to grasp, and hard for his crowds of cheering followers to resist, I felt what I felt the day he announced he was running for President: it is hard picturing him lose.

The greatest tragedy of Trump is not that he says what he says, but that people were ready to embrace his words. The tragedy of Trump is what he reflects in us. Sadly, his success should not have surprised anyone. Some in the GOP (though not all-just many of its loudest voices) have been playing with compromising facts and playing into fears for short term political gain for years. There was Nixon, after all, but there were more to come. In 2009, the GOP invoked fears of ‘death panels’ in trying to stop the Affordable Care Act, even though that law was originally the brainchild of the Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrich. The NRA regularly raises fears that the government will ban all guns, even as Democrats propose watered down gun bills that pale in comparison to Reagan’s proposed gun control legislation. For a generation, right wing talk radio and Fox News made the case that Democrats don’t just have different means than Republicans at helping our country, but that they actively wish to weaken this country and are a threat to America. Liberals aren’t just of a different political stripe; they are “not real Americans,” to borrow from Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin.

Surprised that John McCain was called “not a real war hero” the moment he disagreed with Trump? Remember that John Kerry was not a real war hero to the right wing the moment be questioned the policies of President Bush. You shouldn’t be shocked that Trump wants to target civilians and increase the use of torture: after all, Rush Limbaugh already told us that Abu Ghraib was just soldiers “blowing off steam” and Palin already reminded us that “water boarding is how we baptize terrorists.” For the right-wing nationalists, President Obama isn’t a typical center-left politician: no, he is a radical with a foreign worldview who is deliberately trying to weaken America, and is not a real Christian. When millions are convinced that their political opponents are less American, and want to purposefully weaken this country, then of course they will turn to someone like Trump to give them what they deserve. No, not a conservative agenda, but a man who will take their country back for them. In this respect, even though Trump is not a conservative, the Republican Party, and many conservatives in that party, laid the groundwork and enabled him, creating the environment that allowed him to take over and reshape the party in his image. Conservatives are not being honest if they do not recognize their complicity in that.

This is scary for liberals and conservatives alike. We are witnessing the most illiberal candidate in our history launch a dismantling of conservatism. The Republican Party was transformed from a conservative party into a right wing populist nationalist one. The new answer to problems is not limited government, but the power and anger of a strongman. Gone is the caution, the religious deference and the love of freedom that defined conservatism, and that I respected. Republicans who think that, four or eight years from now the voters Trump persuaded will repudiate their steadily entrenched dogma are naive, particularly if Trump wins. Meanwhile, Trump’s nativism, intense illiberality on virtually every policy question makes him an equally atrocious affront to liberals. Liberals should take no glee in battling Trump: a strong America is one with two sensible parties. Furthermore, it should be concerning to all voters that Trump is an affront to both of the most dominant American political ideologies.

Trump’s greatest affront may be, ironically, to the American identity itself. Trump claims to be for the people, but that claim is as farcical as his assertion that he believes all lives matter. He is for the silent majority of people, the people not in Steve King’s subgroups: to his supporters, he’s saying ‘I’m for people like you.’ Surely he’s not the voice for the disabled, for liberals, social conservatives, Hispanics, refugees, or Muslims. He is ‘for us’ and ‘against them,’ an admittedly persuasive stance. He is relying on the simplest of feelings: fear, anger and strength.

But ignore his inexperience, his predilection for falsehoods, and gross narcissism. Ignore his thin-skinned and vindictive pettiness, his lack of knowledge on issues or understanding of our democratic-republican government, his school yard bullying and shoddy business record. Ignore his destructive policies, like his prescriptions on trade, his wall with Mexico, withdrawing from NATO, his willingness to assist the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or ban on Muslims, and his inability to explain how he will implement any of them. Ignore that he is, in my view, the single most unqualified nominee of a major party in our political history-and I don’t say that without examining all the other nominees in our history. By Trump trumpeting that America is the domain of ‘real Americans,’ the silent majority, and by implying that his opponents are less American; whether that be by banning Muslims, mocking the disabled, denigrating women and Hispanics, calling into question the patriotism of war heroes, and censoring reporters, he is pulverizing something integral to us as Americans: E Pluribis Unim, out of many, one. This “America first” candidate is assaulting what has been embedded in America: that all of us are first among our fellow citizens, no group of us is more entitled to the blessings of liberty than another, and that this country is too vast for one opinion or just one kind of “real American.” That is the greatest danger Trump presents: even if he cannot pass any of his agenda (which is wishful thinking) if elected, Trump has the ability to change the very fabric of democracy in America. Trump being the voice for “real Americans” and standing against the “others,” whether they be political opponents, reporters or racial and religious minorities, marks an unraveling of what our founders intended our democracy to be. The result is a mob rule at best and an authoritarian state at worst, where our great leader, the strongman, determines who is and who is not part of his real America. Already, Trump ally Newt Gingrich has called for Muslims to be rounded up and forced to pledge their loyalty and deported if they don’t fall in line. Conservatism may have helped create the political climate; populist nationalism may have been the Trojan horse he used for his rise, but make no mistake: with Trump as President, America is flirting with fascism. The backdrop of crisis and calls for order are already there. The common enemy of the state, the others, has been identified. The cult of personality around a leader who will make them great has been established. All that is left is the oath of office.

I love this country. In spite of what is going on, or perhaps because of it, I want to get involved in our politics, and I’d encourage all of you in suggesting that this election speaks to the need for more people to get involved in politics, not for more people to become cynical. In this beautiful country of ours, yes,  we are great because we created the world’s largest economy, boast the greatest fighting force, and because of the achievements of our inventors and scientists, but we are also great because of our character. Embedded in us as a people is an optimism that tells us that we need to believe that things can get better, and that it’s our job to make that so, even if it means sticking our neck out to fight for justice for others. That’s how we first declared our independence. That’s why colonies from the south and Mid-Atlantic stood with Boston in 1775. That’s why we fought a bloody Civil War to makes others free. That’s why we fed Europe after World War One, saving a continent, and why we saved a continent from fascism two decades later. It’s why men and women came together to secure women the right to vote. It’s why we marched across a bridge in Selma. It’s why we banished smallpox and vanquished polio. It’s why we signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and PEPFAR. It’s why both gay and straight people can cheer that love wins.

That is how we have boldly answered the call to history: with optimism and wide eyes, with big hearts and hard work, with heroism and with hope. That’s how we carried the cause to which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors. That’s how we built a more perfect Union.

History calls us again. America faces the greatest challenge we have faced in a generation; whether or not we can overcome our baser instincts and heed, what Lincoln called, the better angels of nature. America has been put to the test, the test of whether it can reject Donald Trump. That is the great task remaining before us.

Trump must be defeated. The damage to both liberalism and conservatism he presents may be irreparable: the damage he threatens to the soul of America, unconscionable. Conservatives, defeat him by voting your conscience and voting for Johnson or a write in, and save your party. Don’t be fooled into doing otherwise: the notion that Trump could pick a qualified Supreme Court justice ended the moment he said Gonzalo Curiel is unsuited to judge a case because of his Hispanic heritage. Furthermore, his ignorance in regards to the Constitution, disdain for the separation of powers, and the real threats he poses to conservatism in the long term should make clear that Trump asking for conservatives to ignore his flaws because he will stop Clinton from appointing Supreme Court justices is a poor Faustian bargain. Conservatives, content yourselves with controlling the senate, and forcing Clinton to appoint moderate justices. For liberals, this is more simple: defeat him by uniting behind Clinton and elect her this fall.

Alexis De Tocqueville once observed that “America is great because she is good. When she ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

Don’t make America great again. Keep it good, and we will continue to be great. The world is watching us. Let them say that, in this time of turmoil, we faced this challenge, and became a new “greatest generation.” Let it be said that we answered the call of history. Let it be said that we remained dedicated to continuing  the work of building a more perfect union.

2016 Primaries Recap: What I got right and what I got wrong. 

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With both parties now turning to their nominating conventions, the 2016 Presidential Primary campaign is officially over. This has been an extraordinary race, one that I feel will be written on and studied for generations, much like the election of 1968. Here, before we turn our gaze to the general election, I’m going to share a few of my thoughts on the race, and examine the predictions I made last summer when this race began and see how they held up.

For starters, this was not the race anyone signed up for. It’s easy to forget, but before the campaign began, Clinton was the most admired politician in the country, and the most admired Democrat among Republicans. No one thought she would lose 22 states to a 74 year old socialist senator from Vermont.

On the GOP side, this was supposed to be a race where a young, forward looking GOP had a contest between its best and brightest. This was the election where, after McCain and Romney’s defeats and the GOP’s lurches to the right, they’d  pivot to the center, expand their base, and cease existing as the party for rich white men. Bush, Rubio, Christie, Paul, Kasich, Walker, Jindal, Cruz, Fiorina-a formidable lineup, and that was only half the eventual field.

That all changed. The optimistic GOP was stillborn, turning to a negative politics unseen in the last 100 years, short on substance, lacking nuance, and brimming with hyperbole and extremism. The GOP doubled down on hardline stances and went further to the right on issues like immigration and gay rights, the exact opposite of the RNC’s post 2012 game plan. The campaign that started with Rubio’s call for a “New American Century” and Bush’s “Right to Rise” a GOP convention supporting a ban on Muslims, claiming Clinton and Obama were murderers, and a Republican Representative arguing that whites have contributed more to civilization than other groups.

This was not the race anyone was planning for.

Remember who the original GOP frontrunners were? Bush, Christie, Paul, Rubio, Walker and Huckabee all led the GOP field at some point before 2016. They won 1 state between the six of them.

And Ted Cruz? The Senator called a “wacko bird” by John McCain, loathed by Boehner, McConnell, George W. Bush, and the GOP leadership? Who thought he would be the establishment’s last hope, earning endorsements from the Bushes, McCain, and others in GOP leadership?

Remember how Republicans attacked the patriotism of anyone who questioned the foreign policy of George W. Bush, even if the person doing the questioning was a war hero? Well now they voted for a guy who is to the left of Michael Moore on 9/11 and has suggested Iraq was better under Saddam.

Oh, and yeah, who thought the nominee could be Donald Trump? Well, I did. But more on that soon.

Last summer, I made a handful of predictions on the 2016 race.  There were five big things I got right, and three big things I got wrong:

What I got right:

  1. Donald Trump winning the Republican Nomination

Okay, I’m going to take a victory lap on this one. Last summer, virtually everyone, from stat wizard Nate Silver to newspapers like the New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, from columnists like George Will to cable pundits to our politicians themselves, said Donald Trump had virtually no chance of winning the nomination. It was nearly unanimous across both parties. In August, I argued that he had a very strong chance. I did hedge my bet: I said conventional wisdom preferred Bush or Rubio, but I felt, in my heart, that Trump would be the nominee. Here’s what I wrote back in the beginning of August:

Here’s why Trump is formidable: first, he has no future in the GOP, so he can say things that would end other candidate’s careers (such as calling John McCain not a real war hero). Not being a politician frees him from those rules, and, ironically, years of conservatives saying “government is the problem” had made Trump more trustworthy to GOP voters than actual conservatives in government. Second, the voters who like Trump aren’t voting for him in spite of his offensive statements; they’re voting for him because of it. Every conversation I’ve had with a Trump supporter, they’ll tell me they like him because he ‘tells it as it is.’ Other candidates calling on Trump to apologize just strengthens his image as a man willing to ‘tell hard truths.’ The media saying Trump is too right wing just makes him more popular with his base because they think the problem with the GOP is that they’re not conservative enough. That is precisely why after every single outlandish comment Trump has made this campaign, despite the outrage, his numbers have only gone up. Further, while other GOP candidates are following the RNC’s 2012 autopsy that suggested they pivot towards the center, Trump knows that primary voters don’t care about the RNC or its autopsy reports. They view the GOP as a weak institution that allowed a black, Kenyan socialist to come into power and radically reshape America. Trump realizes that GOP voters have become more right wing since 2012, and more nationalistic since the rise of ISIS. If he continues this, and if the rest of the field remains fractured and starved for media attention, then yes, Donald Trump could become the Republican nominee…

(continued)

… it’s hard to imagine ‘The Donald’ ranking fourth in New Hampshire and dropping out after a bad Super Tuesday like just any old candidate. That’s something a ‘loser’ would do, to borrow one of his favorite words. I suppose that leaves him two routes; exiting the race before the voting begins due to ‘media bias,’ or, perhaps, not ending up like a ‘loser,’ and actually winning the nomination.

Conventional wisdom says that it’s going to be Bush or Rubio. However, I don’t know if this is a conventional election. With the direction the GOP has gone the past few decades, with phenomena like Limbaugh, Fox and Palin, and with Trump’s imperiousness to political gravity, I’m only more convinced of what I thought when I heard Trump’s announcement speech: I don’t know how he can lose.

So yeah, I predicted that an unqualified and dangerous candidate could win the GOP nomination before most anyone else did. And I was right. Congrats to me…I guess.

2. The surprising strength of Ted Cruz.

From the start, I thought that Ted Cruz was running the smartest campaign. His views were closest in line with GOP primary voters (closer even than Trump), and while Trump’s entry hurt most GOP candidates, it helped Cruz. Last summer, when Cruz was 8th in the polls, I argued that he had a chance to win Iowa, and was a dark horse for the nomination. Because of Trump’s presence in the race, Cruz would appear more reasonable that he would have otherwise, and, with the establishment candidates fractured, Cruz could position himself as the conservative alternative. Which is, as it turns out, exactly what Cruz did, earning himself the runner up title this primary season.

3. Walker as a paper tiger.

Remember when Scott Walker led the GOP field and told everyone he was going to win Iowa? While it’s easy to forget given how early he dropped out, Scott Walker entered the race as a stronger candidate than Rubio, Cruz and, yes, Trump. However, I wasn’t sold on Walker’s chances, even just a few weeks after he entered the race:

Personally, I do not think Scott Walker will be the Republican nominee. He is a policy lightweight and is relatively boring; more debates will show that, and the first one already has…and he will fade.

As it turns out, six weeks after writing that, Scott Walker had another boring debate performance, was at less than 1% in the polls, and then dropped out of the race.

4. Rubio’s Failure to Build a Base.

My outlook on Rubio was split: I viewed him as the candidate with the biggest upside (I still believe that), but one who could also find himself without a base or a path to the nomination. Here was my take last summer:

…as without a clear base, he [Rubio] remains low in the polls, but importantly, many voters’ second choice. He will need to seize the spotlight currently monopolized by Bush and Trump; continuing his strong debate performances can help do just that…ultimately, Rubio’s campaign can end in two ways; he can remain everyone’s second choice, and, without an obvious base of support, sputter out after failing to win any of the four first states. Alternatively, Rubio can set himself apart as a generational candidate of change, unite the party, and sail to the White House on the currents of optimism. I do not know which one is more likely.

What happened? Rubio came third in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, second in South Carolina and Nevada, and found himself without a base on Super Tuesday.

5. Carson’s Rise and Fall.

Last summer, Ben Carson was on the rise, and by the fall, would rival Trump for his lead in the polls. Here was my prediction last August:

Carson’s campaign is almost scripted with its feelings of political déjà vu; an outsider becomes a frontrunner in the summer, only to reveal a lack of policy expertise, and his campaign, without many veteran operatives or the requisite funding, buckles and breaks in the fall. Forget about Carson; just remember Wesley Clark, Fred Thompson or Herman Cain, and you’ll know how Carson’s story ends.

And we know the rest.

What I got wrong:

1. The Democratic Race

This isn’t based on anything I wrote, but rather, what I thought. I never thought Clinton would maintain her high approval ratings and not face a primary challenge. However, I did not think that Bernie Sanders would present such a strong challenge, and win 22 states. As it turned out, Democrat voters didn’t like Clinton as much as they originally claimed to, and the email scandal provided an opening to exploit that, giving Sanders more support than he otherwise would have gotten, even he still never really had a shot at the nomination (my take: half of Sanders’ supporters were voting for any Clinton alternative. If Biden ran, he could have taken the nomination).

2. The Irrelevance of Super PACs.

When this race began, most pundits were predicting that, in a post Citizen’s United environment, Super PACs would allow many candidates to raise massive sums of money from single donors and stay afloat later into the primary process. I thought so too. That didn’t happen. Sure, candidates raised lots of money in their Super PACs-that didn’t help raise money to run the day to day operations of their campaigns. Candidates-including Perry, Walker and Jindal-found themselves forced to exit the race due to financial troubles even while sitting on vast war chests in their Super PACs. Additionally, two candidates without large Super PACs did quite well for themselves. Their names? Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. So much for the “rise of Super PACs.”

3. Chris Christie and Everything that Happened There.

I have said Chris Christie is the best retail politician in the GOP with the worst sense of political timing. That view was vindicated this election. I said not to underestimate his debating prowess-that was vindicated with his tour-de-force in New Hampshire that basically cost Rubio the nomination. So what did I get wrong?

Even if he doesn’t win…Christie will emerge with a better reputation than he had when he entered the race, that I am sure of.

Yeah, I missed the boat there. Christie was enhancing his reputation among GOP voters…until he endorsed Trump. Sure, it made sense: back the winning horse. The problem was, everyone else saw how nakedly political it was. Christie, a guy who campaigned on entitlement reform, endorsed Trump, who was opposed to entitlement reform. The two disagreed on foreign policy, immigration policy, and a litany of issues. The result? Christie seemed like an opportunist, devoid of principles, willing to debase himself to make it on Trump’s ticket. And obviously that worked out well.

Why I missed the mark? I knew that Christie had bad political timing. I just didn’t know it was that bad.

 

And that’s it. I’ll write about the General Election soon. This race is historic and nasty in equal measure, but I’m still going to write about it. For all the bad things that have gone on in this cycle, this is still politics, and politics, as it has been said, is the most American thing you can do.

CNBC GOP Debate: Who won and who lost?

Republican Presidential Candidates Hold Third Debate In Colorado

Another GOP debate has come to an end, and it was decidedly the least enjoyable debate thus far. The conversation seemed less like a natural step towards determining the next leader of the free world and was more reminiscent of the conversation at a bad Thanksgiving dinner. Rand Paul was your nephew complaining about not getting enough food, Ben Carson was your uncle who showed up high, and Marco Rubio was the sexy foreign exchange student you’ve been making eyes with all night. A few candidates emerged from the melee of finger waving, fact denying, and moderator bashing better than they entered, but I question if anyone felt better about the state of democracy after the debate.

A note before I continue: much has been made of CNBC’s handling of the debate. I’ll admit, their moderator casually asserting ‘this is the first real debate’ because ‘CNBC is the best’ was amusing, given the debate that followed. Like, we’re talking about CNBC, a network whose slogan has been ‘good enough of news to be played in a hotel lobby during breakfast without you asking the manager to switch channels,’ and ‘the 4th best news channel to end with the letters BC,’ scratch that, forgot about BBC, make that fifth best.

Many conservative viewers complained that the questions were too antagonistic, and that the moderators were clearly biased. The candidates capitalized on that, giving Cruz, Rubio, Christie and almost every other candidate an applause moment just by attacking the moderators. While I will say that many of the questions were uninteresting, and that CNBC didn’t control the flow of dialogue well (in those respects they were bad moderators) I’d submit that attacks on fairness weren’t always, well, fair. First, for the majority (not all) of the questions, CNBC was simply asking the candidates to explain and defend their records. It’s not their fault that the Republican Party has lurched so far to the right, or that many candidates have proposed ridiculous policies. Second, even if questions were ‘biased,’ having an unsympathetic moderator better prepares candidates to deal with hard questions from the other party. Finally, it’s important to note that we are talking about the race for President. If a candidate defending their record, even focusing on the flaws of their record, is too difficult, perhaps they shouldn’t be running for leader of the free world. By and large, it’s a common theme for the GOP to prefer to complain about purported media bias rather than discuss the issues, perhaps a recessive gene that’s been passed on since Richard Nixon. Both parties could benefit from tough questions, though perhaps they could be asked more artfully. Ok, I’m done.

To the rankings:

Winners:

  1. Marco Rubio

Rubio has done well in every debate, but this night he shined. Rubio entered the debate as the possible alternative to both the ‘moderate’ Bush and conservative Trump and Carson. Rubio’s takedown of his old mentor, Jeb, made Bush seem weak and desperate while Rubio appeared to be every inch of a statesman. Rubio stayed on message, stayed positive, and turned each question to his advantage. He continues to be the most naturally talented communicator in the race, and is another step closer to becoming  the nominee.

  1. Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz has been running the smartest campaign in the race. He has the most campaign cash on hand, has a strong field organization, stays on message, is an excellent debater, and is well positioned to sweep up Trump and Carson’s voters should they fall. Tonight, Cruz did exactly what he needed to do. He took on the moderators rather than the other candidates (Newt Gingrich called, he wants his debate strategy book back), stayed on message, and appeared more human even while remaining polished. Yet, by Rubio taking the spotlight, Cruz can watch the Senator rise and fall while he lurks in the wings before sweeping to the front right before Iowa.

  1. Chris Christie

Second only to Rubio in terms of natural political talent, Christie turned in another excellent performance. He stayed focused on attacking Democrats and the moderators, presented some thoughtful policy, and was funny. Perhaps this might jumpstart a comeback, particularly if Kasich and Bush slip in the polls. Or this might not make a difference, and be too little, too late. We’ll have to wait and see.

Break even:

  1. Carly Fiorina

Polished, but not particularly memorable. It’s difficult to imagine people choosing to vote for her after the debate who otherwise wouldn’t have. Still, it was free media, and gave her largely invisible candidacy another moment in the spotlight. Nothing was lost for Fiorina that night, though she should begin to worry about becoming too reliant on debate performances for her campaign. 

  1. Donald Trump

Other than the Kasich put down, Trump was not a bully in this debate, and was surprisingly quiet. Some critics may point to this as sign that his shtick has worn thin and that voters are beginning to move on. However, Trump knows he has a loyal base, and he emerged from the debate unscathed. That’s all you need as the frontrunner.

  1. John Kasich

Kasich decided that night that he was going to be the adult in the room that got mad as hell about how far right the GOP has gone. He did that well, and also reminded (almost too often) viewers of his record. The trouble is that, with Carson, Cruz and Trump taking 60% of voters, it’s hard to say whether or not Republicans are even willing to listen, let alone agree, to Kasich’s ramblings. He’s veering towards Jon Huntsman territory, and by that I don’t mean to suggest he’s on the verge of a Mormon conversion. One bright spot is that, if Bush does implode, Kasich might be able to make a play for his voters; however, it’s hard to imagine, if judging just by this debate, why they wouldn’t instead go for Rubio or Christie.

Losers:

  1. Ben Carson

Carson baffles at debates. He turns in sleepy performances, meanders around questions, and presents policies that often fail to make any sense. In spite of that, his poll numbers go up. Carson had another such night. I’m not really willing to project what exactly is going to happen.

  1. Mike Huckabee

Huckabee is trying to stay relevant in the race, and it’s not working. He continually defended entitlements, which while courageous in the GOP, it’s hardly a winning issue. He appeared to be more like an angry pastor who watched fascist propaganda for speaking tips than he did a folksy preacher; that’s not good. He is another step closer to dropping out.

  1. Jeb Bush

Jeb would have been better off risking the wrath of Barbara and skipping the debate to smoke a joint outside with Rand. He took on Rubio early in the debate and lost, and that loss hung over the room for the rest of the night. He gave his usual talking points on his record, which is fine, but he should know by now that warranted, reasonable, nuanced policy proposals aren’t going to persuade voters in the age of Trump and Carson. Also, the kiss comment was weird. You can put ‘a warm kiss from Jeb’ next to ‘Amish erotica’ and ‘Cinnabon catered wedding’ as the least romantic and enticing things in the history of love. Jeb, with slumping polls, needed a good debate. Rubio took his spotlight. Jeb might not ever get it back. Jeb needs a comeback, needs to prove that he can bring something that the other candidates (particularly Rubio) can’t, and needs to do all this quickly. It can be done: ask John McCain or John Kerry about last minute surges to the top of the pack. The trouble is, half of Bush’s appeal was that the was the ‘inevitable frontrunner.’ When you’re no longer inevitable, just why are people voting for you?

  1. Rand Paul

Consistently the worst GOP debater, he was largely irrelevant throughout the evening. Rand could have ordered a pizza, played some blues, or streaked across stage and no one would have noticed. Put him next to Huckabee as ‘next major candidate most likely to drop out.’

And that was the debate. What were your thoughts?

Who won and who lost the CNN GOP debate


Presidential Primary debates are a lot like hot dog eating contests; it’s never clear if anyone actually walks or waddles away as a winner. Since the advent of television, primary debates have been a staple of the nominating process. These ‘debates’ hardly qualify as debates in the truest sense of the word; if anything, they’re nothing more than unified press conferences. However, debates do present a chance for the candidates to clash, to explain themselves, to sell their case to the people, and to engage in a direct comparison with some of their rivals.

Wednesday night’s GOP debate was rather heated, with candidates routinely engaging in a fierce back and forth, and the moderators were more than willing to allow themselves to be interrupted or dismissed. Since there were eleven candidates on the stage, many of whom were trying to appeal to different sets of voters, it’s hard to claim that anyone ‘won’ the debate. Just take the last GOP debate in August; Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie gave well informed answers, while Ben Carson and Donald Trump’s answers lacked serious policy specifics. Nevertheless, it was Trump and Carson who rose in the polls in the weeks that followed.

With the limitations of political analysis in mind, here’s a brief ranking of the winners and losers of the GOP primary debate, from first to eleventh.

  1. Carly Fiorina

It wasn’t so much that Fiorina’s policy answers were better than her rivals-simply naming leaders or saying words like ‘comprehensive,’ ‘Shia,’ and ‘tactical’ together in a sentence does not mean you have any experience beyond watching Homeland or West Wing-but it was enough for voters to be convinced that she has the policy knowledge to lead the country. Furthermore, her attacks on Trump landed the hardest, and knocked Trump off of his game for the second half of the night, particularly with her response against the ‘face’ comment. Why Fiorina’s performance matters is that, currently, she has low name ID; this means that her performance expanded her ceiling of possible support, giving her new voters to persuade who otherwise would have not even known who she is. Unlike Trump or Clinton, who are universally known, Fiorina has plenty of room to rise.

  1. Chris Christie

As I’ve said, Chris Christie is one of the most naturally talented politicians in the race, and he reminded us of that tonight. His answers on 9/11, regarding the Fiorina-Trump feud, entitlements, and drug policy all earned applause from the crowd, and showed an optimistic but tough candidate. Christie is more than likely still crowded out of the race, but he certainly helped his cause tonight, and might begin to experience a McCain like resurrection in New Hampshire if he keeps this up. The question is this: can Christie get a second chance as a frontrunner, or will voters decide he’s just not as flawed as they once thought?

  1. Jeb Bush

Bush’s performance was assuredly mixed: though he sounded like the smartest guy the room, he also veered into boring politician answers at times, and suffered some verbal miscues. However, during most of his tussles with Trump-over speaking Spanish, his wife, Trump’s casino designs, Iraq, and Trump’s support of Democrats-Bush definitely came out on top, looking like the President of the chess club taking on the playground bully. His smoking weed confession made him appear much more human, and his “sorry, Mom” comment may have been the best joke of the night. None of this assures a Bush resurgence. Bush’s fate depends on what part voters remember; the boring candidate with the last name Bush, or the guy who was willing to fight Trump and win?

  1. Marco Rubio

Rubio was largely ignored throughout the first half of the debate, and while he didn’t clash with other candidates, when he did answer, his answers were easily the most eloquent of any on that stage. Rubio certainly didn’t lose anything tonight, and continues to impress pundits, but his campaign’s chief problem still persists; despite his immense talents, he still has yet to make himself relevant to the race.

  1. Ted Cruz

Cruz is continuing his under the radar strategy, and it’s working. His answers on Iran, Kim Davis, and abortion all appeal to the GOP base, and while he may sound a tad too polished, hard-right Trump and Carson voters have to be thinking ‘maybe this guy will be my second choice; he seems like the most conservative one there.’ That is exactly where Cruz wants to be; well positioned to scoop up Trump and Carson voters if they falter.

  1. John Kasich

No longer the hometown kid, Kasich’s performance was less stellar than his last one, though he still turned in a solid performance. He clearly seemed reasonable, and he staked out his position as a maverick and defended himself well, though GOP voters outside of moderate New Hampshire may not care for his centrist streak. Also, I think everyone has his spiel about his record just about memorized. We get it. Ohio is doing really well.

  1. Scott Walker

I’d wager Walker had a better night than the first debate; his ‘Apprentice’ line got a good reaction, though it was obviously scripted. However, as the night went on, his answers seemed nothing better than standard issue right-wing pandering, without the panache of Trump, eloquence of Cruz, or depth of Rubio. Mired with low polling numbers, Walker is quickly becoming irrelevant, and seems more and more out of his depth.

  1. Ben Carson

Difficult to assess. I thought Carson’s performance was mediocre in the last debate, yet he has risen to 2nd nationally in the polls. This time, however, I think he failed to deliver any truly great lines, or present himself as a better candidate than his rivals. I could be wrong, however: even though Carson answers every question as if he’s answering a phone call at 4AM, that still hasn’t stopped him from being popular with evangelicals craving a candidate with no government experience whose name is not Donald Trump.

  1. Donald Trump

Always the hardest candidate to rank. Trump, as he proved in the first debate, can defy political rules, cross lines and still see his poll numbers go up. I’d wager this debate was different; the trouble wasn’t that Trump gave incoherent policy answers or said rude things (like calling Paul ugly or making fun of candidate’s low polling numbers), it’s that he seemed like a bully who picked fights and lost them. Fiorina and Bush particularly got the better of Trump, questioning his temperament, his honesty, and his conservative bona fides, garnering applause in the process while the room was silent for Trump (though 500 people barely show the attitude of the country). Perhaps none of this will effect Trump and he’ll continue to rise, but I believe that with other candidate’s visibility increasing, and with his lackluster performance, other candidates may begin to close the gap.

The best debate picture in the history of debate pictures.

The best debate picture in the history of debate pictures.

  1. Rand Paul

Rand Paul had a bad first debate, and a fairly bad second debate. Trump’s putdowns clearly unnerve him, and by the second half of the debate, Paul was left whining ‘I’d like to address that’ only to be ignored by moderators, candidates, and audience alike. For a man who was once the frontrunner, his campaign is now on death’s door: he will need to turn in better performances than that if he wants to win.

  1. Mike Huckabee

On the way to the Reagan Library, there is a Soup Plantation buffet. Everyone, including Huck himself, would have either preferred if he spent his evening there, or wouldn’t have noticed if he did.

Altogether, these past two debates have been fantastic political theatre. Proof enough are the 23 million Americans who tuned in to watch. The next debate will be for the Democrats next month, which, given the small field, will be drastically less entertaining. That could be altered instantly, however, if one man finally decides to join the race: Joe Biden.

Who did you think won?

And who do you think lost?

Guide to the 2016 GOP Primary Part III: The Players

While being witness to the ostentatious orgies of political primaries, with its Iowa fair pig calls[1], candidates posing in Harleys and Abrams tanks alike[2], high pitched screams at rallies[3], and debates where candidates claim that they have made contact with UFOs[4], one fact is comforting to know: most candidates have little to no chance of actually being elected President (also, this may be the first time the phrase ‘ostentatious orgy’ is used-I’m a vernacular pioneer!). Some candidates, due to personality flaws, intellectual limitations, or radical political views, are simply unelectable, and while they may attract an intense following, can never unite the party behind them, and fail to win the nomination. This can happen in multiple ways; party establishment officials could work to block their nomination, other mainstream candidates can demolish them with ads, or the candidates can just be passed over by the primary voters, who (in both parties) are a lot more discerning than the pundits give them credit for. It’s the same story, whether the candidate is Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, or Rick Santorum.

However, a candidate being unelectable and unable to win the nomination does not stop them from having a significant impact on the primary. Some severely unelectable candidates can still attract a strong niche of voters, raise millions of dollars, win a few states, and even briefly claim the mantle of the frontrunner. These candidates are often political outsiders, or hold fringe or radical views that, while they may command the allegiance of a loyal base, can never really expand beyond a core following, or if they do lead in the polls, soon falter once faced with closer scrutiny (see Cain, Herman[5]). Unlike The Dark Horses or The Frontrunners, however, these candidates will ultimately fail to win the nomination, and have no reasonable path to victory. In this election, there are three candidates that fit that description. All of them are well known, all have polled in 1st place at some point in this cycle, some might be your candidate of choice, but none of them will become President of the United States. These are The Players.

Continuing in the rankings (now, as I believe none of the following candidates have a chance of winning, I will ask ‘How can they influence the election?’ rather than ‘How can he they win?’)

9. Ben Carson

carson

Age upon taking office: 65

Funds raised: $10.8 million (presumably much more post-debate)

National polling average: 9.7%

Campaign quote: “I’m the only candidate to separate Siamese twins, the only one to operate on babies while they were still in mother’s womb, the only one to take out half of a brain, although you would think, if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it.”

Who is he?

Ben Carson is an internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon who entered the political arena in 2013 when, after being invited by the White House to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast, he chose to use the event as a platform to criticize President Obama and his policies, earning cheers from the right. He is loved by the religious right, many of whom appreciate his incorporation of his religious beliefs in political discourse. He has a unique combination of being likeable on TV and possessing a charismatic life story, yet simultaneously being an almost sleepy speaker. He is the only African-American candidate in the race, is Gallup’s sixth most admired man in the world, and was played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie Gifted Hands (and, if Cuba’s courageous turn in Snow Dogs [6]is an indicator of anything, should be a sign of increased credibility for the Carson campaign).

What does he stand for?

Carson does not have a gubernatorial record or a litany of senate votes to extract his views from, but as it stands, Carson seems to identify as a cultural and evangelical conservative. Carson calls for abolishing the IRS and instituting a 10% flat tax, likening it to Biblical tithing[7]. Carson supports a balanced budget amendment, and said that every agency must be cut by 10%, but hasn’t specified if that includes military spending or what specific services he believes should be cut.[8] He has called Obamacare the ‘worst thing that has happened to this country since slavery’ (apparently he’s not familiar with Crocs, zip off shorts, the Baconater, and canned cheese)[9]. Carson wants to end Medicare and Medicaid, [10]and proposes that instead citizens should have tax exempts health savings accounts, though he hasn’t specified how people who cannot afford care will receive it[11]. On immigration, he supports a temporary guest worker program, but opposes any pathway to citizenship.[12] He opposes same-sex marriage, and calls being gay a choice, since “a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight, and when they come out, they’re gay.”[13] He is pro-life, and said in regards to using aborted fetuses for research, that there’s “nothing that can’t be done without fetal tissue” and that babies aborted at 17 weeks were clearly human beings, however, Carson has in the past used aborted fetal tissue for research[14]. Carson initially supported banning semi-automatic assault weapons in 2013, but now says there should be no restrictions, and that even full automatic weapons should be legal for purchase.[15] He is not convinced that climate change is occurring,[16] does not believe in evolution[17], and admits that he is a novice on foreign affairs. [18]

How can he influence the election?

Carson is currently on a good track; his debate performance, while shallow in terms of policy discussion, increased his visibility, and voters have responded by thrusting him into the top three in Iowa, South Carolina, and nationally. Carson’s appeal lies in that he’s an outsider, like Trump, but is also a man of deep Christian faith, claiming to draw his political beliefs from Scripture, like his tithing tax (it’s still unclear if women are mandated to wear head coverings in church in President Carson’s America, or if that’s a state issue[19].) He makes some claims that are bolder than any of Trump’s (like claiming the Democrats are following the footsteps of Lenin), but he does it with a smile. If Carson can solidify his position as the evangelical’s ‘happy warrior,’ then he is in a good position to win Iowa, South Carolina, and many of the Southern primaries. This makes him a direct threat to conservatives like Trump, Walker, Cruz, and Huckabee, all of whom rely on similar states and voters to win. By splitting the conservative vote,  a strong Carson run means a better chance of an establishment candidate winning the race.

Why is he running?

Carson is concerned with the future of his country. He thinks that America has strayed far from what the Founders intended, and that Democrats are using schemes like health care, welfare, and education to destroy liberty and set the stage for a collectivist socialist state, with Obama taking strategies from Vladimir Lenin’s playbook[20]. Additionally, given that Carson’s notoriety came from the twin combination of the film in 2009 and his Prayer Breakfast speech in 2013, it is hard to imagine that his popularity would sustain itself until 2020, or at least enough to mount a national campaign. This is his time if he ever wants to enter politics.

What’s going to happen?

Right now no candidate intrigues conservative voters as much as Ben Carson. Those who had never heard of him were impressed by his good humor in the debate. Evangelicals like his life story and his Christian faith. He currently has the highest favorability ratings of any GOP candidate. However, like many outsider candidates, it is highly likely he will crumble under increased scrutiny. Within days of his surge in the polls, it was revealed that Carson studied aborted fetal tissue within days of condemning such research, and more damning revelations can still follow. Foreign policy questions will also show his lack of intellectual depth, and voters will soon decide that, even though they like him personally, he is ill suited to become commander in chief. Carson’s campaign is almost scripted with its feelings of political déjà vu; an outsider becomes a frontrunner in the summer, only to reveal a lack of policy expertise, and his campaign, without many veteran operatives or the requisite funding, buckles and breaks in the fall. Forget about Carson; just remember Wesley Clark, Fred Thompson or Herman Cain, and you’ll know how Carson’s story ends.

10. Rand Paul

Age upon taking office: 54

Funds raised: $13.9 million. [21]

National polling average: 4.3%[22]

Campaign quote: “In order to restore America, one thing is for certain, though: We cannot, we must not dilute our message or give up on our principles…we need to boldly proclaim our vision for America. We need to go boldly forth under the banner of liberty that clutches the Constitution in one hand and the Bill of Rights in the other.”

Who is he?

Rand Paul is a one-term Senator from Kentucky, and is the son of the Libertarian icon and three time Presidential candidate, Ron Paul. Paul was elected with the Tea Party wave of 2010, and has fashioned himself as a Republican who is ‘libertarian-ish,’ embracing many of his father’s principles of limited government and isolationism, while avoiding some of his more radical policies. Paul earned notoriety in 2013 when he filibustered the confirmation of CIA chief John Brennan, not ceasing until the Obama administration announced that they would not use drones to target U.S. citizens without due process. He was once hailed by Time magazine as ‘the most interesting man in American politics,’ won the CPAC straw poll three years in a row, and was once the frontrunner for the Republican nomination[23].

What does he stand for?

Paul, like his father, supports a smaller government that follows a strict textual reading of the constitution. Unlike his father, he is a bit more willing to be engaged in foreign affairs, though still clings to some isolationist tendencies. He has called for a 14.5% flat tax, [24] reducing foreign aid spending (including to Israel), auditing the Federal Reserve, passing a balanced budget amendment, and slashing government spending, cutting both social spending and military expenditures. [25] He opposes all government involvement in healthcare, and instead supports tax exempt health savings accounts.[26] On immigration, he opposes a pathway to citizenship[27], but supports temporary visas.[28] He is pro-life, opposes any government involvement in marriage, [29] opposes all restrictions on the 2nd Amendment, [30] supports federal legalization of marijuana[31], wishes to repeal mandatory minimums[32], and has called for the abolition of the TSA. [33] He supports trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees, has spoken in favor of elements of the Iran deal, and voted to ban gays from the military[34]. Paul does not believe in evolution[35], is unsure of man’s contribution to climate change[36], and has questioned the 1964 Civil Rights Act, wondering if the government has a right to tell businesses whether or not they can discriminate[37].

How can he influence the election?

It was originally thought that Rand Paul had a high floor of support, or in other words, that he had a key group of libertarian leaning voters that would always stick with him. With his numbers continually dropping (now near the bottom of the pack in Iowa, New Hampshire, as well as nationally, all polls he once led) that no longer seems the case. Trump, Cruz, and Sanders’ campaigns have robbed him of his monopoly on the well of angry voters who want an outsider. He can, however, turn his campaign around and influence the election. Paul should continue to attack Trump, though less in a lecturing or dismissive way than he has in the past, such as when he interrupted Trump throughout the debate. If he wants Trump’s voters, being rude to their man would hardly be the way to earn their vote; instead, he should highlight how Trump’s conservative rhetoric does not mirror his liberal record. A weakened Trump benefits Paul, who needs voters who want an outsider. Paul must market himself as a maverick outsider ready to change politics, somewhere between Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy; being an heir to his father makes him a fringe candidate, but forsaking libertarian views removes his unique calling card. Instead, he must be transformational, tacking the issues other candidates won’t tackle (like criminal justice), and refusing to tow party line. Paul cannot win the nomination, but he can force GOP candidates to make stances on issues like privacy rights, surveillance, debt, foreign aid, drug policy, and criminal justice, and in doing so, can enrich the debate. If he does that, he can leave the race more respected and admired than when he entered it, positioning himself for a successful senate career.

Why is he running?

Paul is genuinely concerned over the future of his country; the mounting debt frightens him, along with the government surveillance policies. He believes that America is not the republic it was once intended to be. Furthermore, going into 2015, Paul thought that his unique libertarian brand was at its high tide of popularity, and he was right; unfortunately for Paul, that tide has since met its high water mark and has receded. That’s why Paul is now desperately trying to bend election rules to allow him to run simultaneously for senate and President, as his Presidential possibilities quickly dim.

What’s going to happen?

This was not the race that Paul signed up for. The race Paul was supposed to enter was a race where he stood as the lone Washington outsider, ready to transform politics with his unique blend of civil libertarianism, a skeptical foreign policy, and free market capitalism. Since then, events have routinely sabotaged his campaign; Trump seized the outsider mantle for himself, while Sanders snatched his grassroots excitement and youth activists. ISIS and the return of the War on Terror to the center stage has made his isolationist foreign policy seem unrealistic, and his concerns on civil liberties irrelevant. Wary conservatives have defected to Cruz, and donors have followed, leaving Paul’s campaign in a financial lurch. Paul has increasingly become forgotten and irrelevant. This doesn’t mean Paul will not impact the election; he can still influence the debate (but only if he avoids debate performances like his last one), and, if he gets back to peddling his brand of maverick politics, could make a comeback in Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada, states with libertarian followings, and maybe, like Gingrich last year, have a resurrection. Maybe. And maybe vaccinations will prove to be dangerous to children, and maybe Cuba Gooding Jr can nab his second Oscar with Snow Dogs 2: Let Skiing Dogs Fly (hint: they won’t). The trouble with Paul is this; even without those outside events, Paul’s campaign sputtering was predictable. The fault is not in his stars, but in himself; he is poor on the stump, and is bad at fundraising.  He, like his father, sounds whiny, lecturing, and angry when he debates, talking about the Constitution as if no one has heard of it before, and is condescending in interviews, where he once shushed a reporter. [38] All that worked a bit better for Ron Paul, as he was the grandpa you were glad you never had, but it’s a lot harder for Rand, who can’t use senility, bad hair, or Texan roots as an excuse for his demeanor (well, maybe the hair). Finally, his views are too far off base from the GOP voters for him to ever win the nomination. With out of line views, poor campaigning and deficiencies in personality, his result is to be expected. Yet at one point he led nationally; and that is really what makes him one of the most interesting men in politics.

11. Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee

Age upon taking office: 61

Funds raised: $6.5 million[39]

National polling average: 4.3%[40]

Campaign quote: “I don’t come from a family dynasty, but a working family.  I grew up blue collar and not blue blood.  I ask you to join with me today not just so I can be President, but so we can preserve this great Republic and that someday your children and grandchildren can still go from Hope to higher ground.”

Who is he?

Mike Huckabee was a pastor, and then a three-term Governor of Arkansas, from 1996-2007. He ran for President in 2008, emerging from the bottom of the polls to become a strong challenger to McCain, winning the Iowa Caucus and a slew of Southern primaries. Since then, he has hosted a show on Fox News, and passed on a run for President in 2012 despite polls showing him as the frontrunner. He is popular throughout the Republican Party, but specifically among evangelicals, who appreciate his faith-based politics along with his folksy rhetoric. He plays electric guitar, and released a book called God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy (which, all together, represent the leading causes of death for Southerners and Canaanites). He was born in the same town as Bill Clinton, has been endorsed by Chuck Norris, and was once the Republican frontrunner for 2016. [41]

What does he stand for?

Huckabee has carved out for himself a blend of populism and social conservatism, decrying Washington elites who have left Middle Americans lagging behind. Huckabee supports abolishing the IRS and replacing the tax system with a 23% national sales tax, or FairTax[42], though as Governor he increased taxes to pay for new infrastructure.[43] As Governor, he balanced ten budgets in a row, but did so by deferring spending to future budgets, increasing his state’s long term debt.[44] Huckabee supports the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, but has yet to specify what his replacement would entail.[45] He opposes a pathway to citizenship, and has called for more border security, though does not believe children of undocumented immigrants should be deported.[46] He is pro-life, thinks homosexuality is unnatural and sinful[47], doesn’t believe in evolution[48], and despite claiming in 2007 that ‘climate change is here and it’s real’ now claims that climate change science is ‘unsettled.’[49] Huckabee opposes entitlement reform[50], and has said that Obama’s Iran deal will march Israelis ‘to the ovens.’[51]

How can he influence the election?

Even though he cannot win, Huckabee can do well in the 2016 race, but certainly not with his current strategy. Sensing the angry mood of voters that has fueled Trump’s rise, Huckabee has made outlandish statements designed to make headlines; the ‘ovens’ comment, claiming that Democrats act like an ‘Uncle Sugar’ providing women with “birth control because they cannot control their libido,”[52] and that he wished he could have identified as transgender in high school so he could have seen girls shower during PE.[53] Voters like Huckabee when he’s folksy, optimistic, and funny; not when he’s angry, condescending, and marketing himself as a woman’s libido expert (emphasis on the last one; when you lose the race, Huckabee, please return to Fox. Women’s libido expert is just not your calling and doesn’t look great on a business card). If Huckabee can channel his optimistic folksy image and stay in the conversation through solid debate performances, he can emerge as a fall back for social conservatives after they abandon Carson, Walker, and whoever else they latch onto during the electoral dating game between now and Iowa. Then, Huckabee can win a string of Southern states like he did in 2008; he can’t win himself, but he certainly can stop someone else from winning, like Carson, Cruz, Walker, or Trump.

Why is he running?

It’s his last chance to run for public office. Huckabee is already yesterday’s news; wait until 2020 and he’ll be a relic. Running will keep his name in the conversation, can set him up for another book deal, and can increase his salary when he returns to his show at Fox. Finally, Huckabee has to be a little bitter about passing on a 2012 run, a race that he could have won; perhaps, even if he knows his chances of winning are close to zero, he can sooth his ego and try to correct his past mistake.

What’s going to happen?

It is not uncommon, particularly in Republican politics, for candidates to run for President, lose the nomination, only to claim the nomination in another attempt. Just ask Reagan, Bush, Dole, McCain, and Romney. However, when every one of those candidates ran a second (or third) time, there was a new rationale for their candidacy, for why they were a better choice now than they were before. Bush became more conservative and acquired Vice Presidential experience, the War on Terror made McCain seem like a timelier candidate, Romney decided to focus on the economy instead of social issues and so on. There is no clear rationale for a second Huckabee candidacy; there is no reason why Huckabee is better than his rivals, or better now than he was in 2008. This means that even if Huckabee does everything right, the very best he can do is a repeat of 2008, where he wins Iowa and some Southern primaries. More likely, against a strong field, he won’t even get that far. With his poor fundraising and lack of national organization, he’ll stay in the discussion due to his high notoriety, but will be eclipsed by the social conservatives of the current generation, like Cruz, Walker, and Carson, the more they become well known. Huckabee is a player (this, and for a very brief but raucous weekend sophomore year at seminary, are the only recorded times Mike Huckabee has been called ‘a player’), but the part he’ll probably play is the candidate on stage who looks most like yesterday’s news.

Next time, read my final installment for the Republican field, when I discuss The Issue Candidates, the Spoilers, and The Also Rans.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRNetIJNwFs&feature=youtu.be

[2] http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2013/11/dukakis-and-the-tank-99119.html#.VdSkKflrVoM

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6i-gYRAwM0

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMhCKXQn4vA

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8Ua-LHS3CM

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mao0cFzm8I

[7] http://www.ontheissues.org/Ben_Carson.htm

[8] http://www.ontheissues.org/Ben_Carson.htm

[9] http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/ben-carson-obamacare-worst-thing-since-slavery/

[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/us/politics/ben-carson-on-the-issues.html

[11] https://www.bencarson.com/issues/health-care/

[12] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/25/ben-carson-obama-executive-orders-reward-illegal-i/

[13] http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/dr-ben-carson-argues-being-gay-absolutely-choice-n317321

[14] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/08/13/ben-carson-no-apologies-for-1992-fetal-tissue-research/

[15] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2014-11-20/ben-carson-seeks-to-assure-supporters-hes-solid-on-guns

[16] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2014-11-26/ben-carson-not-convinced-on-global-warming

[17] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ben-carsons-creationist-views-spark-controvery-over-commencement-speech/2012/05/08/gIQAi0vsBU_blog.html

[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/us/politics/ben-carson-on-the-issues.html

[19] http://biblehub.com/1_corinthians/11-6.htm

[20] http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-10-09/entertainment/bal-ben-carson-lenin-fox-news-20131009_1_megyn-kelly-president-obama-saul-alinsky

[21] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html

[22] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[23] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/01/rand-paul-is-the-2016-republican-frontrunner/283258/

[24] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/01/rand-paul-is-the-2016-republican-frontrunner/283258/

[25] http://www.ontheissues.org/senate/Rand_Paul.htm

[26] http://www.ontheissues.org/senate/Rand_Paul.htm

[27] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/politics/rand-paul-on-the-issues.html?_r=0

[28] http://www.ontheissues.org/senate/Rand_Paul.htm

[29] http://time.com/3939374/rand-paul-gay-marriage-supreme-court/?xid=fbshare

[30] https://web.archive.org/web/20101104202218/http://www.randpaul2010.com/issues/a-g/guns-politicians/

[31] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/03/10/sens-booker-gillibrand-and-paul-unveil-federal-medical-marijuana-bill/

[32] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/18/rand-paul-mandatory-minimum-laws_n_3949415.html

[33] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0512/75896.html

[34] http://www.ontheissues.org/senate/Rand_Paul.htm

[35] http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/04/09/1376586/-Rand-Paul-does-not-subscribe-to-evolution#

[36] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/05/12/where-the-2016-gop-contenders-stand-on-climate-change/

[37] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/20/rand-paul-tells-maddow-th_n_582872.html

[38] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iD-VOp6t5E8

[39] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html

[40] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[41] http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/poll-mike-huckabee-latest-gop-front-runner-in-race-to-lose-to-hillary-clinton-20140203

[42] http://www.desmoinesregister.com/videos/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2015/08/13/31641037/

[43] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/mike-huckabee-defends-tax-hikes/article/2564212

[44] http://www.ontheissues.org/Mike_Huckabee.htm

[45] http://www.ontheissues.org/Mike_Huckabee.htm

[46] http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/Mike-Huckabee-immigration-education-presidential/2015/01/25/id/620590/

[47] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1207/7270.html

[48] http://www.wired.com/2008/01/evolution-is-no/

[49] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/21/mike-huckabee-climate-change_n_7632030.html

[50] http://politicalwire.com/2015/05/06/huckabee-declares-himself-defender-of-entitlements/

[51] http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/26/politics/huckabee-obama-israel-oven-door/index.html

[52] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/01/23/huckabee-dems-think-women-cant-control-their-libido

[53] http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/02/politics/mike-huckabee-transgender-caitlyn-jenner/index.html

Guide to the GOP Primary Part II: The Dark Horses

American politics, much like Telenovas, buffets, and discount fertility drugs, are full of all sorts of surprises. In 1844 the then unheard of James K. Polk won the Democratic nomination and the Presidency (from there he graduated to ‘not quite unheard of,’ a title he currently shares with Bill Paxton, and ‘people who go to Golden Corral and have no regrets’). That election, and not the similarly named Katy Perry song, gave birth to the term ‘dark horse,’ a surprise, come-from-behind winner. American presidential politics has known its fair share of dark horses: Polk, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and Jimmy Carter are all examples of successful ones. In every election cycle there will be some candidate with that label who will earn much media speculation, and headlines with question marks, even if they fail to win (‘Can Santorum win?’ ‘Can Dean pull of an Iowa surprise?’ ‘President Herman Cain?’ The correctly answers are ‘no,’ ‘no,’ and ‘lol,’ respectively).

The 2016 Republican primary is unique insofar that there isn’t just one dark horse, or maybe two, but rather there are five candidates that fit that description. These dark horses aren’t leading any polls, and most (possibly even all) will fail to win any states. However, because of their immense personal talent, they have the potential to pull off a come from behind surprise win. In that respect, dark horses have low floors of support, so to speak, but high ceilings.

One final point of consideration: in primaries, candidates do not actually compete with every other candidate. They just compete with their rivals for their proverbial ‘lane.’ View the primary voters as lanes on a freeway. The Republican electorate this year can be effectively divided into four lanes; the establishment (held by Jeb Bush; past occupants have been Mitt Romney and John McCain), the outsiders (held by Donald Trump; past occupants include Ron Paul and Pat Buchannan), the evangelicals (held by Scott Walker and Ben Carson; past occupants include Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Pat Robertson), and the conservatives/Tea Party (held by Trump, Walker, and Cruz; past occupants included Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich). No candidate, not even Republicans’ beloved Saint Ronald Reagan, could possibly win all four lanes. However, with such a crowded field (17 candidates!), states are regularly going to be won with 25% of the vote or less. All a candidate needs to do to win the nomination is to dominate one of those lanes, and do decently well in another, before they have enough victories and momentum to get the entire party in line. Each of these dark horses has the potential to win one of these lanes or an early state; but they all have to slay one of their frontrunner rivals first.

Continuing the numeric rankings that began with The Frontrunners, I give you The Dark Horses:

  1. Ted Cruz

Age upon taking office: 45

Funds raised: $52.5 million[1] (behind only Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton).

National polling average: 5.8%[2]

Campaign quote: “This is our fight. The answer will not come from Washington. It will come only from the men and women across this country, from men and women, from people of faith, from lovers of liberty, from people who respect the Constitution.”

Who is he?

Rafael Edward ‘Ted’ Cruz is a Senator from Texas, serving his fourth year in office. He was a national champion debater for Princeton, served on George W. Bush’s legal team for Bush V. Gore, and later became the longest serving Solicitor General in Texas history. He considers himself to be a tea party conservative who stands for liberty. He has called his Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, a liar, and believes Republicans fail to win Presidential elections because they and are not conservative enough. He was born in Canada, but his father is Cuban. When he delivers his speeches, he typically will avoid Teleprompters or scripts and will simply orate from memory. He was the first candidate to enter the 2016 Presidential race.

What does he stand for?

Ted Cruz believes liberty in America has never been under greater threat, and that threat comes from Washington D.C. and President Obama’s administration. He says the U.S. Constitution is his ‘touchstone,’ and that it guides all of his views[3]. Cruz calls for an abolition of the IRS, and to replace the entire tax code with a single flat rate[4]. He wishes to slash government spending, and pass a constitutional balanced budget amendment[5] He gave a 21 hour speech to filibuster Obamacare[6], and later shut down the government in a vain attempt to repeal it.[7]In the wake of Sandy Hook and Navy Yard shootings, Cruz threatened to filibuster any gun control legislation, and to Iowan voters in the days after Charleston, told them to “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”[8] He is pro-life, and supports the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Cruz supports a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage[9], and compared marriage equality activists to fascists who target Christians[10]. He called the recent Supreme Court case legalizing gay marriage the ‘very definition of tyranny,’ called the majority judges ‘philosopher kings,’ and declared that “we should be horrified at the notion that five unelected judges can seize authority from the American people.” [11]Whether Cruz was horrified at five unelected judges giving George Bush the Presidency or allowing corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to his political campaign remains unknown. Cruz, the current Chairman of the Senate Science committee, believes climate change is a hoax, and compared himself to Galileo in standing up against the scientific community.[12] He opposes Common Core, supports congressional term limits, and opposes any pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.[13] He signed the letter to Iranian leaders to undermine President Obama’s negotiations, [14]and said that ISIS needs to be ‘bombed back into the Stone Age.” [15]

How can he win?

In what is the most conservative GOP primary field in history, Ted Cruz is the most conservative candidate, and his views are the most in line with the base. Currently, Cruz ranges between eighth to fourth place in most national polls. His current strategy has been to continue preaching his conservative message while other candidates rise and fall throughout the summer and autumn months. He declined to attack other candidates in the debate, and is the only candidate to defend Donald Trump. That’s the strategy Cruz should continue. With luck, Trump will flame out, and his supporters will defect to the conservative who stood up for their Donald. Cruz has already been slowly picking off supporters from the faltering Paul campaign. If he slowly builds up support, and then becomes more aggressive in the weeks leading into Iowa, with the establishment fractured between Bush, Rubio, Kasich and Christie, Cruz could consolidate enough of the Tea Party, Outsider, and Evangelical vote, win Iowa and South Carolina, and be well positioned to sweep the South on Super Tuesday. As there are far more conservatives than moderates in the GOP, the nomination is Cruz’s for the taking if he can solidify himself as the primary conservative alternative.

Why is he running?

Ted Cruz is genuinely worried about the future of this country; “the world is on fire,” as he hyperbolized to one soon to be traumatized young girl in New Hampshire (the world is on fire, according to the Senator, but the planet isn’t warming…oh never mind). Furthermore, the Senator knows this is his best chance to win the White House. He is both young and well known. His lack of government experience, with all the antipathy towards Washington, is an asset among Tea Party voters. Running later in his career, after he’s spent years in Washington, would hurt his brand.

What’s going to happen?

Cruz’s path to the nomination, uniting the conservatives while the establishment remains fractured, has been attempted before. Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan all seized the nomination in a similar manner. The trouble for conservative candidates, even talented ones like Cruz, is that they typically either face competition within their own conservative lane, a problem faced by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in 2012, splitting their votes, or lack the funds to compete nationally, like Mike Huckabee in 2008. The first problem will be Cruz’s greatest challenge; he requires Trump and Walker to stumble, and cannot face competition from Carson, Huckabee or Paul. Unlike most conservative candidates, those three included, Cruz is impervious to fundraising troubles; at $50 million raised in less than two quarters, he has the third largest haul of all the candidates, including Hillary. That gives him the ability to go toe to toe with Bush or Rubio on Super Tuesday. Cruz’ candidacy can end in two ways; the likely way is that he becomes this cycle’s Gingrich, who, despite sharp debate performances, can’t consolidate the conservative vote, and while winning some Southern primaries, falls behind the frontrunners and becomes more irrelevant as the race goes on. There is another route for Cruz, however: with Trump in the race, Cruz can remain the most conservative candidate, but suddenly appears boundlessly more reasonable, strengthening his credibility. Then, if Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Christie split the establishment, so long as Cruz commands some 25% of the electorate, he can sweep primaries by a slight lead in votes, before getting enough momentum to seize the nomination. It is a testament to how scared the GOP establishment is that, while they’ve worry about the election of Donald Trump, they have forgotten to worry about the election of 2016’s Barry Goldwater.

  1. John Kasich

kasich

Age upon taking office: 64

Funds raised: $11.7 million[16]

National polling average: 3.5%[17]

Campaign quote: “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he’s going to ask what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.”[18]

Who is he?

John Kasich is the son of a mailman, a fact he will remind you of regularly (the phrase ‘son of a mailman’ also works as a satisfying expletive, for the record). He was elected as an Ohio congressman in 1982 and served 18 years in the House, becoming Chairman of the House budget committee, and worked with President Clinton to balance four budgets in a row, becoming the last Budget Chairman to preside over a balanced budget. He briefly ran for President in 2000 before leaving politics, only to return in 2010 and win the Governorship of Ohio. He won re-election with 64% of the vote, carrying 86 out of Ohio’s 88 counties, including urban areas like Cleveland. He is blunt, believes in ‘straight talk,’ and is a maverick who is willing to buck party lines. He has served longer in government than any of the candidates for President from either party[19].

What does he stand for?

Kasich is a ‘compassionate conservative,’ who puts solving problems over staying within party lines. [20] In addition to his four balanced budgets he helped pass in the House, as Governor of Ohio, he turned an $8 billion deficit into a $2 billion surplus. [21] He cut income taxes across the board by $3 billion, while offsetting the lost revenue by raising sales tax and cigarette taxes.[22] As Governor, he accepted the Medicaid expansion brought by Obamacare, providing health care coverage to 275,000 Ohioans, who otherwise would have been left uninsured.[23] As President he would want states to customize their health care programs to fit their own needs, supports tax exempt health savings accounts[24], and has called to repeal parts of Obamacare. [25]On education, he expanded charter schools, initiated vouchers for low income students, implemented a teacher performance based merit pay program, and supports Common Core. [26] On immigration, Kasich supports a pathway to citizenship.[27] He is pro-life, and reduced funding for Planned Parenthood by $1.4 billion[28]. He said that Republicans must accept the Supreme Court’s ruling on Same-Sex marriage, and that Christians are called to show love to the gay community. [29]Kasich is one of the few candidates to talk about criminal justice, and as governor, reduced mandatory minimums, expanded rehabilitation, and helped make Ohio’s recidivism rate among the lowest in the country[30]. Kasich believes climate change is a real problem[31], voted in Congress to ban assault weapons[32], and supports using ‘boots on the ground’ to defeat ISIS. [33]

How can he win?

Kasich, in a party the prizes ideological purity, has a tough road to the nomination. As the fellow moderate and ‘resume candidate’ of the race, Kasich will need to replace Bush as the establishment favorite. He needs to market himself both as more experienced than Bush (6 years as Governor and 18 in the House), and also a fresher face (Kasich was re-elected in 2014; Bush hasn’t run for office since 2002). With his record of surpluses, economic growth, low crime, and high approval ratings, Kasich is also positioned well to eclipse both Walker and Christie, both of whom face budget deficits, slow growth, and low favorability at home. Kasich can minimize the damage of his moderate apostasies by showing how, rather than just throw out conservative phrases and the obligatory offering to the ghost of Reagan, he actually has the record of working with Democrats to pass a conservative agenda. Kasich should skip Iowa, and as he has been doing already, focus on winning New Hampshire, where independents and moderates are up for grabs. Winning New Hampshire is critical; it’s the surest way to knock Bush out of the race, and it positions himself to win Nevada later in February. [34]With Bush gone, and with conservatives hopefully divided between their cohorts of contenders, Kasich can solidify the establishment backing, and be well on his way to the nomination.

Why is he running?

Kasich was originally planning on endorsing Bush and sitting this cycle out[35]. However, with Jeb, the presumed frontrunner, only locking down 10-15% of the vote, Kasich recognized that there was a clear opening in the establishment lane. This, coupled with his tremendous success in re-election in 2014, convinced Kasich to throw his hat in the ring. Kasich believes he has a clear shot to win the Presidency, if he runs a tough and smart campaign. That’s why he hired McCain’s strategists who orchestrated his own primary win in 2008.[36] Kasich also knows that, with his maverick reputation, Congressional experience, and popularity in the critical swing-state of Ohio, running for President would raise his visibility as the best Vice Presidential pick the eventual GOP nominee could make.

What’s going to happen?

Kasich, thus far, has been doing everything right; he entered late, and then blitzed the market with ads to boost his name recognition. It paid off; he made the cut for the first debate, ousting Rick Perry, and after a solid debate performance, is now consistently in the top three in New Hampshire (tied with Bush). The media, who always loves and underdog maverick, has nothing but positive coverage. Whether he can sustain his momentum, particularly once Bush (with his $120 million war chest) starts playing ads as well, remains yet to be seen. John Kasich’s campaign can end up like one of two others candidates named ‘John’. Like John McCain in 2008, Kasich can campaign hard in New Hampshire, deliver ‘straight talk’ at town halls, and use a surprise win there, coupled with an adoring media, to supplant Bush (as McCain did with Giuliani) and win the nomination. Alternatively, Kasich’s fate can be akin to 2012’s Jon Huntsman; liked by the media, but too moderate for GOP voters and unable to raise the funds to seriously compete with the frontrunner. The best he gets is a third place showing in New Hampshire. The nightmare scenario, for the GOP establishment, is where both candidates split the moderate vote, handing the nomination to someone like Trump or Cruz. The dramatic differences between these three likely scenarios makes Kasich one of the most interesting candidates of the race.

  1. Carly Fiorina

DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 24: Carly Fiorina, Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Company, speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on January 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The summit is hosting a group of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates to discuss core conservative principles ahead of the January 2016 Iowa Caucuses. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Age upon taking office: 62

Funds raised: $5.2 million (prior to the debate, now likely to be much higher).[37]

National polling average: 3.5% (average prior includes polls prior to the debate; the most recent poll has given her 9%).[38]

Campaign quote: “I started as a secretary and became ultimately the CEO of the largest technology company in the world. I know personally just how extraordinary and unique this nation is.”[39]

Who is she?

Carly Fiorina has never served a day in elected office. She was a Vice President for AT&T, and later became the first female CEO of a Fortune 20 company, Hewlett-Packard, where she oversaw the largest merger in history between HP and Compaq. As CEO, revenues rose but so did costs, leading to an increase in company debt, and the value of HP stock plummeted by over 50%. [40] Shareholders later forced Fiorina into resigning. Fiorina’s disastrous tenure at HP has led her to be routinely ranked as one of the worst CEOs in recent history; some have called her the ‘anti-Steve Jobs.’ [41] In 2010, she lost her Senate bid to Barbara Boxer by over ten points, despite running in a strong Republican year. She has been ranked by Time and Forbes as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world, and she has a net worth of $59 million[42]. She is a breast cancer survivor.

What does she stand for?

It isn’t always clear, given that she lacks a record in office to study. She favors tax cuts, but hasn’t specified what amount. She wants to lay off a quarter million government workers, but has yet to specify from what departments. [43] Fiorina supports repealing Obamacare, and replacing it with a system that covers ‘high risk pools,’ or patients with life threatening conditions that cannot afford coverage; it’s a plan that has been proposed and defeated in the House, and would cost around $200 billion. [44] On immigration, Fiorina supports citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military, but is opposed to comprehensive immigration reform.[45] She is pro-life, with exceptions to rape and incest, pro-expansion of gun rights, and does not deny that humans contribute to climate change.[46] She says that she disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, but said that voters must accept it as law.[47] In foreign affairs, Fiorina said that she wishes to arm Ukrainian fighters to oppose Putin, and arm Kurds to fight ISIS. She has called for tougher inspections for Iran’s nuclear program, but hasn’t specified what about the inspections outlined in the deal she exactly opposes. Also, she wants everyone to know that she knows a lot of foreign leaders. [48]

How can she win?

Fiorina’s path to the nomination is unconventional, though certainly not unimaginable. The last GOP candidate without elected experience was Dwight Eisenhower, in 1952. Fiorina, so far, has been doing reasonably well; she shined in the ‘kid’s table’ GOP debate where, in comparison with her rivals, speaking coherently was enough for her to sound as if her words were crafted by Tennyson or Ovid. Since then, she has placed in the top four in national polls, as well as polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. She will likely be with the top ten at the next GOP debate. What her constituency is; evangelicals, establishment types, outsiders or conservatives, is unclear. She is most likely to benefit from a falling Donald Trump, whose Washington-weary voters will turn to another outsider. The key for her is to not peak too soon; stay steady in the top four, and then blitz with ads as voting in Iowa draws near. As she is, other than Trump, the only candidate to be a frontrunner in both Iowa and New Hampshire, she is positioned well to win both states in succession, if she plays her cards right. Winning both states would be difficult, though hardly impossible; if she pulled that off, it would be hard to imagine her not winning the nomination.

Why is she running?

Fiorina believes she can surmount tremendous odds and win the Presidency, something that, given her life experience with overcoming obstacles, is not totally unwarranted. Furthermore, she knows that a strong Presidential run gives her a multitude of possibilities even if she loses; she can stay in media circles, go on speaking tours, write another book, or even earn herself a cabinet post. Most pundits, however, have come to one conclusion; with Hillary running, the GOP nominee will need to court female voters, and could use someone with a non-government background. In other words, Fiorina is running a determined campaign for Vice President of the United States. [49]

What’s going to happen?

Despite her current poll standing, I remain very skeptical of her chances. Her debate performance was solid, but she seemed to simply use policy terms and name drop foreign leaders in order to sound impressive. Without government experience, one must look to her time in the private sector, which is problematic, given her failed tenure at HP. I am also skeptical of her ability to attract new female voters. Republicans think that women will automatically vote for female candidates; women being elected into power is their version of women’s rights (see Palin, Sarah). What they don’t understand, however, is that feminist voters are going to vote for a candidate if they stand up for women’s issues (gender equality, pay gap, health care), and just like men, want candidates who are qualified; being a woman in of itself isn’t enough. All that said, I just don’t know what Fiorina uniquely offers. Outsider candidates all follow the same pattern; when they run, no one knows who they are, but then they surprise people in an early debate, and then rise in the polls during the Summer and early Fall. Following that, there is increased media scrutiny, they come under attack in the debates, in interviews they show how they lack a coherent platform, and then voters eventually realize that when someone is trying to run for the highest position in American government, it’s best when, you know, they’ve actually served in government. That’s how it always goes; whether the candidate’s name is Herman Cain, Wesley Clark, or Steve Forbes. So, unless Fiorina won a world war and is ready to tell us about it, I’m more inclined to say her campaign will end up a bit more like those last three rather than Eisenhower’s. But I could be wrong. After all, who thought Donald Trump would actually run for President and lead the polls all summer?

  1. Chris Christie

christie

Age upon taking office: 54

Funds raised: $14 million.[50]

National polling average: 3.8% [51]

Campaign quote: “Both parties have lead us to believe that in America, a country that was built on compromise, that somehow now compromise is a dirty word.  If Washington and Adams and Jefferson believed compromise was a dirty word, we’d still be under the crown of England. “

Who is he?

Chris Christie is the two-term Governor of New Jersey. He claims that he ‘tells it as it is.’ He won the Governorship of the deep blue Garden State in 2009, and staked out for himself a reputation as a tough, blue collar governor who is determined to ‘get stuff done,’ even if that means working with Democrats. He declined to run in 2012, despite strong polling, and pleas from the Koch brothers, the Bush family, and Henry Kissinger. He led his state through Hurricane Sandy, but earned the ire of conservatives when, a week before the election, he hugged President Obama when he visited the disaster stricken areas. He won re-election in a landslide in 2013, boasted the highest approval ratings in the country, and as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, orchestrated Republican victories all over the country. However, he was accused of closing down bridge lanes and causing a traffic jam as a vendetta against a Mayor who declined to endorse him. Christie was cleared of all charges, but since then he has become one of the most unpopular governors in the country. He was once the undisputed frontrunner for the Presidency. [52]

What does he stand for?

Christie is a problem solver first, and a Republican second, though he largely holds conservative views. As governor, Christie never raised taxes; as a Presidential candidate, he has proposed reducing corporate taxes to 25%, and to simply the tax code and reduce income taxes across the board.[53] He also managed to balance a budget ever year; however New Jersey’s constitution requires a balanced budget, which has led Christie and the legislature to offset current costs to future budgets, which is, in effect, creating a deficit. This has caused New Jersey’s credit rating to be downgraded nine times, the second most in the nation. [54][55]On healthcare, Christie has proposed turning Medicaid into a block grant, and reducing Medicare benefits, and while he has called Obamacare ‘a train wreck,’ he implemented its reforms in his state.[56] Pension reform and reducing entitlement spending has become his trademark issue this election. [57]Christie is pro-life, opposed to a pathway to citizenship, and against gun control.[58] On same-sex marriage, Christie vetoed a bill giving marriage rights to same sex couples, but now claims he accepts that it’s the law of the land. [59] While once for Common Core, claiming to be ‘leading the charge for common core,’ he now ‘regrets it,’ and favors vouchers and performance based pay. [60] Teachers unions, he maintains, deserve ‘a punch in the face.’[61] Christie believes humans contribute to climate change, but doesn’t support combating it until China does so. He is opposed to negotiating with Iran or Cuba, and believes Putin would be more scared of him than he is of Obama.[62]

How can he win?

Christie winning the nomination is highly unlikely though not entirely impossible. First, he must continue to remain in the debates; with his low polling, he is in grave peril of losing his spot in the top ten, a blow which would virtually end his candidacy, robbing it of legitimacy. Given their similarities, Kasich is his most immediate rival, and Christie will need to flank him from the right without losing his own moderate voters. Bush, too, must also be dealt with; a Christie nomination is impossible if Bush has a lock on the establishment money and support. His path to the nomination is similar to McCain’s in 2008. Christie must continue focusing his efforts in New Hampshire, working town halls, a venue which he has mastered par excellence. He should then call in favors from Governors he helped elect, and use them to bolster his operations on statewide levels. A Trump implosion, given the Donald’s similar love of ‘telling it like it is’ (if someone can tell me what ‘it’ is, I would be very grateful), would boost Christie’s support as well. In short, a Christie victory requires a mammoth task; both frontrunners must falter while another rival must stumble.

Why is he running?

He has no reason not to. Christie’s best chance for President was in 2012, where he could have easily beaten the flawed GOP field. Emerging from that election, he was the presumed frontrunner for 2016, until Bridgegate happened, ending his image as a tough guy who fought corruption, becoming a little less Frank Serpico and a little more Tony Soprano. With his tenure as governor limping to a close, and his approval ratings at new lows, Christie is upset that he didn’t run when he had the chance, but he knows he has nowhere to go but up. If he loses, but continues faring well in debates, people will remember what they liked about him; he can then go write a book, run for New Jersey senate, get a job on a talk show, or at least be viewed as a decent guy. On the other hand, if he wins, then Christopher James Christie would have just pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in American politics.

What’s going to happen?

Chris Christie is absolutely devoid of any sense of political timing. He skipped a race for President he could have won, has clumsily flipped positions on issues, and is running his campaign on entitlement reform, which while that may earn approving glances from the press and folks writing for The Economist (which may tell you a bit about who he is running for; running to win back the media who once adored him), it is hardly inspiring for voters. ‘Mr. Christie has courageous proposals on entitlements’ does not give you the Iowa Caucus. He has the highest disapproval ratings of Republican voters, and is vehemently disliked by the Tea Party. Kasich and Bush have more impressive gubernatorial records, and Trump has taken ‘telling it like it is’ to whole new levels. Simply put, it seems most likely that the race for President will leave Christie behind, even if he manages to stay in the debates. Even if he doesn’t win, if he continues his focus on policy, and scores a few more moments in debates like the one he had with Rand Paul, Christie will emerge with a better reputation than he had when he entered the race, that I am sure of. And there is a chance he could win; Christie is the best retail politician in the race. In an era of twitter, super PACs and super delegates, simply walking into a diner and shaking hands still counts for something. Strange things can happen in American politics; after all, there was that time when an unknown Republican won the governorship of New Jersey.

To my readers: please, feel free to ask questions, comment, or voice your disagreements.

Up next: The Players.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html?_r=0

[2] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[3] http://www.realamericansfortedcruz.com/

[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/anthonynitti/2015/03/23/ted-cruz-to-run-for-president-why-his-plan-for-a-flat-tax-may-doom-his-candidacy/

[5] http://www.ontheissues.org/senate/Ted_Cruz.htm

[6] http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/more-than-21-hours-later-ted-cruz-has-been-cut-off-20130924

[7] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/ted_cruz.html

[8] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/20/ted-cruz-gun-control-charleston_n_7628960.html

[9] http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/ted-cruz-gay-marriage-ruling-reaction-npr-interview-119559.html

[10] http://www.examiner.com/article/ted-cruz-warns-liberal-fascism-is-targeting-christians

[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ted-cruz-gay-marriage_55b00157e4b07af29d57677c

[12] http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/USA-Update/2015/0327/Ted-Cruz-compares-himself-to-Galileo-new-language-for-climate-change-skeptics

[13] http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/ted-cruz-immigration-115101.html

[14] http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/texas-sen-ted-cruz-defends-decision-sign-letter-iran-over-n324856

[15] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/08/31/cruz-fires-up-conservatives-says-bomb-islamic-state-back-to-stone-age/

[16] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html?_r=0

[17] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[18] http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-pn-kasich-2016-20150721-story.html

[19] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/22/us/politics/john-kasich-election-2016-presidential-race.html

[20] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/22/us/politics/john-kasich-election-2016-presidential-race.html

[21] http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/aug/06/john-kasich/kasich-i-took-state-ohio-8-billion-hole-2-billion-/

[22] http://www.foxnews.com/transcript/2015/02/27/gov-kasich-lays-out-his-tax-plan-ohio/

[23] http://time.com/money/3988642/kasich-defends-medicaid-expansion/

[24] http://www.ontheissues.org/John_Kasich.htm

[25] http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/20/politics/kasich-obamacare-here-to-stay/

[26] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/07/20/what-ohio-gov-john-kasich-is-doing-to-public-education-in-his-state/

[27] http://www.wsj.com/articles/kasich-backs-path-to-legal-status-for-undocumented-immigrants-1439164176

[28] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/30/ohio-abortion-restrictions-budget-bill_n_3526844.html

[29] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/08/06/john_kasich_on_gay_marriage_my_faith_says_unconditional_love.html

[30] http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/09/09/kasich-outlines-goals-for-a-second-term-discusses-presidential-run-decision.html

[31] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/john-kasich-believe-candidate-stands-10-issues/

[32] http://www.ontheissues.org/John_Kasich.htm

[33] http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/20/politics/john-kasich-isis-boots/index.html

[34] http://www.politico.com/story/2015/08/john-kasich-jeb-bush-new-hampshire-primary-2016-121326.html

[35] http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/04/politics/john-kasich-jeb-bush-election-2016/index.html

[36] http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/John-Kasich-John-Weaver-Fred-Davis-advisers/2015/06/10/id/649831/

[37] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html?_r=0

[38] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[39] http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/republican-debates-quotes-from-donald-trump-ben-carson-carly-fiorina-and-more-august-6-2015-1.10715379

[40] http://americasmarkets.usatoday.com/2015/05/04/president-fiorina-how-carly-did-at-hp/

[41] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/americas-worst-ceos-where-are-they-now/

[42] http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/carly-fiorina-personal-net-worth-118637.html

[43] http://www.radioiowa.com/2015/08/13/fiorina-the-professional-political-class-has-failed-us-all-audio/

[44] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-05-04/carly-fiorina-s-obamacare-replacement-plan-hasn-t-fared-well-with-house-republicans

[45] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/05/us/politics/carly-fiorina-on-the-issues.html

[46] http://www.ontheissues.org/Senate/Carly_Fiorina.htm

[47] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/carly-fiorina-believe-candidate-stands-10-issues/

[48] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/fiorina-i-know-more-world-leaders-than-any-candidate/article/2569040

[49] http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2015/0814/Carly-Fiorina-s-breakout-moment-Can-she-capitalize-on-it

[50] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html?_r=1

[51] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[52] http://www.newsmax.com/Newsmax-Tv/krauthammer-christie-gop-frontrunner/2013/11/08/id/535702/

[53] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/01/us/politics/chris-christie-on-the-issues.html?_r=0

[54] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-04-17/new-jersey-cut-by-moody-s-as-christie-gets-ninth-debt-downgrade

[55] http://www.politifact.com/new-jersey/statements/2011/oct/02/chris-christie/chris-christie-claims-he-balanced-two-budgets-whil/

[56] http://www.ontheissues.org/Chris_Christie.htm

[57] http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/24/politics/chris-christie-jeb-bush-entitlement-reform/index.html

[58] http://www.ontheissues.org/Chris_Christie.htm

[59] http://www.app.com/story/news/politics/new-jersey/chris-christie/2015/06/26/chris-christie-gay-marriage-supreme-court/29338319/

[60] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/28/chris-christie-common-core_n_7463292.html

[61] http://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2015/08/02/sotu-tapper-christie-national-teachers-union-deserves-a-punch-in-the-face.cnn

[62] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/01/us/politics/chris-christie-on-the-issues.html?_r=0

Guide to the 2016 GOP Primary Part I: The Frontrunners

On Thursday night, seventeen Republican candidates faced off in the first debate showcasing what is, despite the candidacy of Donald Trump, the most formidable Republican field assembled since 1980. Since the number of candidates is somewhere between a baker’s dozen and the amount of sons sired by a certain Mitchard “Mitt” Romney, it can get hard to keep track of who they are and what they stand for. Because American politics is my sport of choice, I have spent an inordinate amount of time studying this race. As I check GoogleNews each morning, I’ve read at least one article a day concerning the election since 2013. As I write this now, I realize that I probably could have used that time to something more productive, like, say, curing AIDS or something. Anyways, let my wasted time go to your benefit. This is a four-part exhaustive guide to the 2016 GOP candidates. Who they are, what they stand for, how can they win, why are they running, and what I think is going to happen. Given the length of these articles, you can choose to read it all, or just brush up on the candidates you’re interested in but not familiar with. Following the first Democratic primary debate, I’ll write an article on the Democrat race.

Obviously I’m using my personal opinion in many of these assessments. You will no doubt disagree with my take, and many of my insights may prove to be wrong. I’m just an observer with many opinions and a bit of snark.

I’ll list the candidates by order of their likelihood of winning the nomination. This guide will be divided into four posts, each dedicated to a separate tier of candidates. The frontrunners with a clear shot at the nomination. Second, the dark horses, who have no clear broad base of support, but have the capacity to reach the top tier should a frontrunner stumble. Third, the players, who may have better poll numbers than the dark horses, have cash and name recognition, and even might win some state primaries, but due to their ideology, have no chance at winning the nomination. Lastly, the Issue Candidates, Also Rans, and Spoilers. Candidates who run to raise awareness on an issue, expand their political stock, or sell books. They won’t win the nomination, and most of them know that. Or maybe they’re just delusional.

The Frontrunners

  1. Jeb Bush

jeb announce

Age upon taking office: 63

Funds raised: $120 Million [1](a fundraising record[2]).

National polling average: 12.5%[3]

Campaign quote: “My message will be an optimistic one because I am certain that we can make the decades just ahead the greatest time ever to be alive in this world.”[4]

Who is he?

John Ellis ‘Jeb’ Bush is the brother of President George W. Bush, and was governor of Florida from 1998-2006. During his re-election, he won with over 61% of the Hispanic vote[5]. He calls himself a ‘consensus building pragmatist conservative,’ and is something of a policy wonk, being more comfortable quoting numbers from studies rather than firing up a crowd. His last campaign was in 2002, in a world with no twitter, no Facebook, no American troops in Iraq, and where no one had heard of Barack Obama.

What does he stand for?

Jeb Bush’s overall government philosophy is one of reform; if a program doesn’t work, it should be fixed, or made to work better. As Governor of Florida, he lowered taxes every year, reduced spending by over $2 billion, gave Florida its highest possible bond rating, oversaw a balanced budget[6], and presided over a time where Florida produced more jobs than any other state in the country[7]. He is anti-gun control[8]. He is pro-life[9], and defunded Planned Parenthood in Florida[10]. On Health Care, he supports the repeal of the ACA (Obamacare), and wishes to replace it with an unidentified private sector scheme. [11]He oversaw the protection of Florida wetlands, and believes that humans contribute to climate change. [12]On education reform, he prides himself over his support of school vouchers, charter schools, performance based teacher pay, and higher standards for students[13]. His campaign’s slogan is a ‘Right to Rise.’ Bush has set out a two-term goal of 4% GDP growth[14], and 19 million jobs[15]. Bush argues that his record in Florida, and America’s past success in the 20th Century, should give Americans hope that they can accomplish great things, and that this is the ‘greatest time to be alive.[16]

How can he win?

By and large, Bush has the most conventional path to the GOP nomination. He, like his father, his brother, John McCain, Bob Dole, and Mitt Romney before him, needs to position himself as the most electable, and somewhat ‘inevitable’ candidate, who is moderate enough to win the general, but conservative enough to satisfy primary voters. The Iowa Caucus, with its voters preferring their candidates waving bibles or feasting on county fair corn dogs (or the occasional fried opossum, another Iowa must-have eat, if it’s done the right way), is a tough battle for the policy oriented Jeb, so he’d be best to devote his resources elsewhere and lower expectations, like McCain did in 2008. If he wins New Hampshire, where he currently is a frontrunner, he will be well positioned to win in Nevada, a state with many moderate and Hispanic voters, and South Carolina, which despite its sharp conservative bent, has been friendly to fellow Southerner Jeb. After that, with his vast war chest, he will be in a prime position to dominate Super Tuesday and the litany of March contests that follow.

Why is he running?

Bush thinks he can be President. He is tired of pessimistic assessments that America is in a global power in decline. Just as significantly, he is weary of watching his party alienate voters by their increasingly dogmatic stances on issues like immigration. He has passed on Presidential bids before; this is his last chance to do something in politics.

What’s going to happen?

He is currently the most likely Republican nominee. He has the money to be competitive, and he has proven to be an energetic campaigner. Many pundits cite ‘Bush fatigue’-the unwillingness of voters to treat the Presidency like a proverbial Iron Throne to be passed between warring families. However, Clinton’s presence in the race, and Bush’s continued efforts to cast himself as a forward looking candidate, seem to undercut that argument. There are also concerns that Bush is not conservative enough; a surprising charge that is indicative of the GOP’s lurch to the right, given that Bush is a tax cutting, pro-life, pro-gun Southern Governor. However, rather than pander to voters, Bush has defended his stances on Common Core and immigration, adding that he understands if voters don’t agree with him on everything. It’s a smart move; voters prefer candidates to be honest about their views rather than shift their positions to fit their audience (see Romney, Mitt). Furthermore, so long as Trump is in the race as a frontrunner, he will suck oxygen and media time away from lower candidates, like Rubio or Kasich, who could both otherwise seriously threaten Bush’s position. For many voters, this leaves them with a resigned choice of Trump or Bush. That’s exactly a choice Bush wants voters to make.

  1. Marco Rubio

rubio

Age upon taking office: 45

Funds raised: $42 Million[17]

Polling average: 6.2%[18]

Campaign quote: “My father stood behind a small portable bar in the back of a room for all those years, so that tonight I could stand behind this podium in the front of this room.”[19]

Who is he?

Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, was the Speaker of the House of Florida Representatives for five years, and was a political ally of then Governor Jeb Bush, who was something of a mentor[20]. Rubio beat RNC backed Governor Charlie Crist for the GOP nomination for an open Florida senate seat in an upset, and became one of the youngest Senators in the country. He has never lost an election[21].

What does he stand for?

While Rubio was elected with the Tea Party tide of 2010, he soon positioned himself as a forward thinking legislator who was willing to cooperate with Democrats. He tried and failed to pass bipartisan immigration reform, and after backlash from his party, has since lurched to the right. In his campaign, Rubio has draped himself with Kennedy-esque language, discussing a need to look towards the future and dare to build a ‘New American Century,’ and how this election must ‘not be about what government can do for you, but what together we can do for America[22].’ He has proposed lowering income taxes to two rates of 25%, and 15%, and has also proposed to cut corporate taxes[23]. He has expressed support for cutting spending and reforming entitlements[24], but has not given specifics, and has also stated that he supports increased defense spending. On immigration, he supports a fifteen year pathway to citizenship, but says that the border must be secured first[25]. He signed the Senate letter to Iran indicating that he will work to undermine President Obama’s nuclear deal[26]. Rubio wishes to repeal Obamacare, and replace it with tax credits for healthcare spending[27]. He is pro-life[28], and does not believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. [29]He is pro-expansion of gun rights. He voted to extend the Patriot Act, voted against the Violence Against Women Act[30], and does not believe humans contribute to climate change[31].

How can he win?

Marco Rubio is currently a candidate without a constituency. Moderates have gone to Bush and Kasich and are wary of Rubio’s stances on climate change and same-sex marriage, while conservatives believe Rubio to be weak on immigration and have defected to Walker, Trump, and Cruz. However, in many polls, he is a plurality of voters’ second choice[32], and fares well in general election polls against Clinton. He will need to cast himself as a generational candidate, almost a Kennedy or Obama figure, while at the same time showcasing that he has the policy knowledge to be one of the smartest candidates in the room. His spot between Bush and the right, while disadvantageous now, gives him a clear opening to unite the party. He will need to continue his strong debate performances, and perform well enough in either Iowa or New Hampshire, and then win in either SC or NV to give his campaign momentum, something that, with his funds and rhetorical skills, he is capable of doing.

Why is he running?

Marco Rubio believes he can be President. He gave up a second term as Senator and is choosing compete with fellow Floridian, Jeb Bush, his political mentor. In his announcement speech, Rubio expressed how waiting his turn is not in his DNA, not when ‘America’s exceptional identity is at stake.[33]’ He also knows that, as a Latino from a swing state, a strong Presidential run could make him a great running mate, something Scott Walker has noted multiple times. [34]Make no mistake; Rubio is ambitious, and believes that, because of rather than in spite of his young age, this is the best chance he will have to become President. That’s why he is risking more than anyone else in order to win.

What’s going to happen?

From his announcement speech to the first debate, one thing is clear: Marco Rubio is the greatest communicator in the race, and has the greatest potential to transform both the Republican Party and America in profound ways. If Rubio wins the nomination, with his immense likeability and youthful charisma, it is hard to imagine him losing the general election to Clinton. However, none of this makes him a lock at winning the nomination, as without a clear base, he remains low in the polls, but importantly, many voters’ second choice. He will need to seize the spotlight currently monopolized by Bush and Trump; continuing his strong debate performances can help do just that. Already, the first post-debate national poll gave him a six point bump. His inexperience, in an era where voters largely distrust government, shouldn’t be a problem. Ultimately, Rubio’s campaign can end in two ways; he can remain everyone’s second choice, and, without an obvious base of support, sputter out after failing to win any of the four first states. Alternatively, Rubio can set himself apart as a generational candidate of change, unite the party, and sail to the White House on the currents of optimism. I do not know which one is more likely. The moment Rubio, like Obama or Kennedy, becomes a movement rather than a man, is the moment he will be ready to win the Presidency.

  1. Donald Trump

trump

Age upon taking office: 70 (he would, if he served two terms, be the oldest President in U.S. history; his hair, however, would only be the sixth oldest).

Funds Raised: $1.9 Million [35](he is largely self-funding)

Polling Average: 22.8%[36]

Campaign Quote: “We need — we need somebody — we need somebody that literally will take this country and make it great again.”[37]

Who is he?

A reality TV star, a real estate mogul, and every liberal comedian’s dream.

What does he stand for?

Difficult to say. He has no public platform on his campaign website, and his policies are determined by whatever is on his mind in an interview. A decade ago, he expressed views in favor of abortion rights, gun control, and universal health care[38]. Since then, his views have largely changed. He has suggested a 0% corporate tax rate to boost growth[39], and believes social spending must be cut, though he has a secret plan to save social security, the details of which we can presume will come after the election[40]. He wishes to impose tariffs and protectionist policies [41]to punish foreigners who steal American jobs[42]. He wishes deport illegal immigrants and plans on building a wall on the border, and claims that Mexico will pay for the wall because he ‘says so’[43]. Trump believes that the Mexican government is purposefully sending immigrants to America, and that they are murderers and rapists, though some, he assumes, are good people[44]. Climate change, he declares, is a hoax[45], and Common Core is a disaster[46]. Obamacare should be repealed. [47]He has a secret plan to destroy ISIS, but he will not tell anyone what it is, because saving lives can wait[48]. He believes he can get better trade deals because he beats China all the time[49]. Above all, however, he wants to make this country great again!

How can he win?

He needs to keep doing exactly what he has been doing. The best leaders, the Lincolns, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, appeal to the ‘better angels’ of our nature; our more idealistic, optimistic, or altruistic notions. However, from the day Socrates was sentenced to death in Athens, there has been a dark side of democracy; politicians have appealed to voters’ ignorance, bigotry, cynicism, selfishness, and their baser natures, and have won by doing so. These are the voters behind George Wallace’s American Party and Nixon’s Silent Majority. These voters are angry, loathe government, and are tired of a politically correct country that they believe needs to toughen up. Trump is playing to these voters’ anger, saying his outrageous statements because he knows there’s an audience for it.

Here’s why Trump is formidable: first, he has no future in the GOP, so he can say things that would end other candidate’s careers (such as calling John McCain not a real war hero[50]). Not being a politician frees him from those rules, and, ironically, years of conservatives sayung “government is the problem” had made Trump more trustworthy to GOP voters than actual conservatives in government. Second, the voters who like Trump aren’t voting for him in spite of his offensive statements; they’re voting for him because of it. Every conversation I’ve had with a Trump supporter, they’ll tell me they like him because he ‘tells it as it is.[51]’ Other candidates calling on Trump to apologize just strengthens his image as a man willing to ‘tell hard truths.’ The media saying Trump is too right wing just makes him more popular with his base because they think the problem with the GOP is that they’re not conservative enough. That is precisely why after every single outlandish comment Trump has made this campaign, despite the outrage, his numbers have only gone up[52]. Further, while other GOP candidates are following the RNC’s 2012 autopsy that suggested they pivot towards the center, Trump knows that primary voters don’t care about the RNC or its autopsy reports. They view the GOP as a weak institution that allowed a black, Kenyan socialist to come into power and radically reshape America. Trump realizes that GOP voters have become more right wing since 2012, and more nationalistic since the rise of ISIS. If he continues this, and if the rest of the field remains fractured and starved for media attention, then yes, Donald Trump could become the Republican nominee.

Why is he running?

That’s the billion dollar, or perhaps in the case of Trump, nine billion dollar question. Perhaps it’s a publicity stunt to boost his name brand. Quite possibly, he is tired of being ridiculed as a joke after the Birther controversy, and wanted to gain leverage over the GOP by becoming a frontrunner with a constituency that gives him the power of Kingmaker if he threatens a third party bid. My best guess is that, after success in business and television, in his old years, he thought this would be an entertaining way to pass the time, even if it would be met with eye rolls from some circles. In short, this is his version of your grandfather buying one of those ‘Singing Fish’ to entertain house guests.

What’s going to happen?

Unclear, but given his standing in the polls and his penchant for breaking all rules of political predictions, you have to say he has at least a viable chance at winning the nomination. The historian would point out that ‘summer candidates’ regularly flame out by fall; just talk to Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Wesley Clark, Phil Gramm, John Glenn, and a whole cast of other characters. It has yet to be seen if Trump’s recent comments directed towards Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, suggesting she was angry with him because she was menstruating, will hurt him in the polls (on a certain level, it would be a little sad that Trump making a crude and suggestive comment; not calling Mexicans rapists, not his anthology of bigoted statements, nor his utterly ridiculous political positions, would become the controversy that stopped his surge). [53]Perhaps if Trump is flanked on the right; if his litany of previous liberal positions becomes continually publically broadcast, will he then lose his supporters. They won’t leave him for being offensive or too conservative, for that’s what they love about him; they’ll leave once they realize he’s more of an opportunist than a conservative. However, it’s hard to imagine ‘The Donald’ ranking fourth in New Hampshire and dropping out after a bad Super Tuesday like just any old candidate. That’s something a ‘loser’ would do, to borrow one of his favorite words. I suppose that leaves him two routes; exiting the race before the voting begins due to ‘media bias,’ or, perhaps, not ending up like a ‘loser,’ and actually winning the nomination.

Conventional wisdom says that it’s going to be Bush or Rubio. However, I don’t know if this is a conventional election. With the direction the GOP has gone the past few decades, with phenomena like Limbaugh, Fox and Palin, and with Trump’s imperviousness to political gravity, I’m only more convinced of what I thought when I heard Trump’s announcement speech: I don’t know how he can lose.

  1. Scott Walker

walker

Age upon taking office: 49

Funds raised: $26.2 million.[54]

Polling average: 9.5%[55]

Campaign quote: “Americans deserve a President who will fight and win for them.”[56]

Who is he?

Scott Walker is a two term Governor from Wisconsin, who won a bitter recall election on the same ballot Wisconsiners used to re-elect President Obama. He prides himself with his battles to decrease bargaining rights for unions[57]. He drives a Harley[58], was a college dropout [59], and his sandwich of choice is a Reuben.

What does he stand for?

Walker markets himself as a Reagan Republican who has won fights for conservatives. He balanced his state’s budget when he took office, but has since left his state with a deficit, and though he reduced taxes by over $2 billion, he didn’t create half the number of jobs he declared he would as Governor. In his campaign, he has expressed support for cutting taxes and spending, but hasn’t provided any specifics. On immigration, he used to say that a pathway to citizenship makes sense[60]; after seeing the beating Rubio and Bush took for similar sentiments, he has since opposed amnesty, but also opposed deportation, and oddly said that America had too many legal immigrants[61]. We await eagerly for him to complete his journey of self-discovery on the issue. He proposed a budget that defunded Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, and says he is pro-life[62]. He wishes to repeal Obamacare, and refused ACA funds to expand Medicaid as Governor. He has a 100% NRA rating[63], favors vouchers for schools, supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage[64], believes it is unclear if humans have caused climate change, [65]and has said twice that he doesn’t know if President Obama is a Christian. [66]In terms of foreign policy, Walker has said that, since he was able to take on 100,000 union protesters, he could take on ISIS, [67]and that foreign policy requires leadership, not a PhD. [68]

How can he win?

Scott Walker is closer to the GOP base than Bush, Rubio, and (if you study his record) Trump. He has already painted himself as the ‘true conservative’ of the frontrunners. Now he needs to show that, more than being conservative, he’s a conservative who can win. Winning three elections in four years in a blue state certainly helps that argument. If he can win in Iowa, where he is already leading and appears to be the favorite, [69]stay in the mix in New Hampshire, and win in conservative South Carolina, he will be well positioned to win big on Super Tuesday, when conservative Southern and Midwestern states go to the polls.

Why is he running?

Walker’s political capital is at its height. He doesn’t have the temperament or policy acumen to turn to the Senate after his Governorship is done, so the Presidency is his best bet. Walker knows that, even in this talented field, he is both more conservative than most of the candidates while also appearing electable. Furthermore, Walker must know that a strong run, even if he loses, makes him-a tough conservative Governor from the Midwest-an obvious running mate for Bush or Rubio.

What’s going to happen?

Personally, I do not think Scott Walker will be the Republican nominee. He is a policy lightweight and is relatively boring; more debates will show that, and the first one already has; his numbers in Iowa have shown their first signs of slippage. However, as some of my high school debate friends can testify, I’ve been dead wrong on Scott Walker predictions before. Walker can soak up Trump’s supporters should The Donald flame out, and with his record, is positioned to hit Bush from the right. Rubio, as a younger, more charismatic rising star, remains a threat. Walker needs Rubio to be irrelevant if he is going to win. Walker wins the race if the race falls to a handful of candidates; say Bush, Trump, and perhaps Paul and Carson. In that race, Walker is the candidate who meets the equilibrium of most conservative and somewhat electable. The race Walker cannot win is one with a resurgent Rubio or a rising Christie, Perry, Cruz or Kasich. Walker cannot lose the mantle as either rising conservative star or a tough governor. I think the debates will continue to show his lack of depth, and he will fade. But I’ve been wrong about Walker before, so I can easily be wrong again.

Up next: the five dark horses of the race.

References:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html?_r=0

[2] http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/sfl-jeb-bush-fundraising-20150427-story.html

[3] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[4] http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/jeb-bush-2016-announcement-full-text-119023.html

[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/12/15/jeb-bush-did-really-well-with-latinos-in-florida-it-probably-doesnt-mean-much-for-2016/

[6] http://www.wsj.com/articles/jeb-bushs-record-offers-cover-from-the-right-1424316603

[7] http://www.ontheissues.org/Jeb_Bush.htm

[8] http://www.wsj.com/articles/jeb-bush-built-conservative-record-as-florida-governor-1418761689

[9] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-01-13/which-bush-is-most-conservative-you-might-be-surprised

[10] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jeb-bush-planned-parenthood-funding_55c247a3e4b0f7f0bebb43d1

[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/07/jeb-bush-obamacare_n_6822942.html

[12] http://www.ibtimes.com/jeb-bush-people-contribute-climate-change-solutions-needed-2032507

[13] http://www.businessinsider.com/did-jeb-bush-pass-the-first-school-voucher-program-in-the-nation-2015-8

[14] http://money.cnn.com/2015/08/04/news/economy/republican-debate-4-percent-growth/index.html

[15] http://www.businessinsider.com/jeb-bush-pledges-4-gdp-growth-as-president-2015-6

[16] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-04/jeb-bush-starts-outlining-a-vision-as-he-considers-white-house-campaign

[17] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html?_r=0

[18] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[19] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-04-13/transcript-marco-rubio-announces-run-for-president

[20] http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/04/13/jeb-bush-marco-rubio-relationship-column/25714547/

[21] http://time.com/3819977/marco-rubio-campaign-launch/

[22] http://www.nationaljournal.com/2016-elections/marco-rubio-is-now-channeling-jfk-explicitly-20150606

[23] http://www.ontheissues.org/Senate/Marco_Rubio.htm#Budget_+_Economy

[24] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/marco-rubio-grabs-the-third-rail-of-entitlement-reform/article/2548389

[25] http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/immigration-reform-facts

[26] http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/marco-rubio-would-absolutely-send-another-letter-iran-n320796

[27] http://www.aei.org/publication/rubios-health-plan-is-a-fresh-breeze/

[28] http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/07/politics/marco-rubio-abortion-republican-debate-gop/index.html

[29] http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/sen-marco-rubio-same-sex-marriage-114061.html

[30] http://www.politico.com/story/2013/02/marco-rubio-opposes-violence-against-women-act-87532.html

[31] http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-rubio-denies-climate-change-20140511-story.html

[32] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/marco-rubio-everyones-second-choice/390366/

[33] http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/04/14/marco-rubio-a-man-in-a-hurry/

[34] http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/walker-rubio-2016-how-about-rubio-walker/2238534

[35] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html?_r=0

[36] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[37] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/transcript-donald-trump-2016-presidential-announcement-article-1.2260117

[38] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/07/09/ths-many-ways-in-which-donald-trump-was-once-a-liberals-liberal/

[39] http://ontheissues.org/Celeb/Donald_Trump_Tax_Reform.htm

[40] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/videos/2015-01-24/how-the-donald-will-save-social-security

[41] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/opinion/paul-krugman-from-trump-on-down-the-republicans-cant-be-serious.html

[42] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2014/03/06/trump-warns-gop-on-immigration-theyre-taking-your-jobs/

[43] http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/04/politics/donald-trump-mexico-wall-pay/index.html

[44] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/16/donald-trump-mexico-presidential-speech-latino-hispanic

[45] http://ecowatch.com/2015/06/16/donald-trump-presidential-bid/

[46] http://www.ontheissues.org/2016/Donald_Trump_Education.htm

[47] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-07-30/trump-s-obamacare-replacement-plan-sounds-quite-a-bit-like-obamacare

[48] http://www.vox.com/2015/6/3/8714659/trump-ISIS-secret-plan

[49] http://time.com/3923128/donald-trump-announcement-speech/

[50] http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/donald-trump-john-mccain-war-hero/index.html

[51] http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/01/politics/donald-trump-supporters-new-hampshire/index.html

[52] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/poll-trump-surges-to-big-lead-in-gop-presidential-race/2015/07/20/efd2e0d0-2ef8-11e5-8f36-18d1d501920d_story.html

[53] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/06/us-usa-election-trump-idUSKCN0QB01F20150806

[54] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html?_r=0

[55] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

[56] http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/text-of-scott-walkers-presidential-announcement-speech-b99536880z1-314749221.html

[57] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-scott-walker-wisconsin-unions-met-20150727-story.html#page=1

[58] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/scott-walker-endorses-harley-companys-endorsing/story?id=32480697

[59] http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2015/06/scott-walker-didnt-finish-college-would-that-make-him-a-bad-president-000126

[60] http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/26/politics/election-2016-scott-walker-immigration/index.html

[61] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/14/us/politics/scott-walker-on-the-issues.html

[62] http://www.nationaljournal.com/healthcare/wisconsin-cuts-funds-to-planned-parenthood-20110626

[63] https://votesmart.org/candidate/evaluations/3552/scott-walker#.VcYsO_lrVoN

[64] http://www.politico.com/story/2015/04/iowa-faith-freedom-summit-2015-117346.html

[65] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/14/us/politics/scott-walker-on-the-issues.html

[66] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/08/01/scott-walker-is-still-unsure-whether-obama-is-christian/

[67] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/02/scott_walker_compares_unions_to_isis_the_wisconsin_governor_thinks_fighting.html

[68] http://www.ontheissues.org/Scott_Walker.htm

[69] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/04/28/three-reasons-iowa-republicans-love-scott-walker-right-now/

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