Guide to the 2016 GOP Primary Part III: The Players

by incomparablyjonah

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


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.