Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The State of the Race: Republican Primaries

Republican frontrunners Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush
It feels weird to go into a rundown of the top Republican candidates for president on the day of the Democratic presidential debates, but quite frankly Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (and, whether he shows or not, Joe Biden) have so much riding on tonight that it seems pointless to mess with a ranking that could well be worthless in about 24 hours if there's a major flub or miss.  As a result, we'll go with the people who will, regardless of how well anyone does tonight, attack them mercilessly: the nine men and one woman who are running for the Republican nomination for the presidency.

The reality is, at this point, that the Republican nomination is largely winding down and we've had some unexpected casualties.  It's still staggering to me how quickly and resolutely Scott Walker fell in this primary, and how Donald Trump ended up being such a weird flash-in-the-pan who, while technically still leading in the primaries, seems to be about ready to be done with his run-at-the-top as the grown-ups take over.  A top ten may seem a bit much (really there's only 3-4 people who actually seem likely to win), but for uniformity we'll stick to ten now and probably move down to 5 the next time we do this lineup.  Let's dive in...

10. Mike Huckabee

It's unclear at this point what Mike Huckabee's goal in the presidential primary is, as he clearly has no shot at the evangelical vote, which is ever-shrinking, as it appears to have abandoned him for fresher candidates like Ben Carson and Ted Cruz.  The former governor still has his moments of press, but they seem to happen more so for endorsing controversial figures like Kim Davis and Josh Duggar, and less to do with actual policy. Huckabee will probably stay in until at least Iowa if only to keep being the "social issues" candidate, but the reality is that this is over for him. (Previous Ranking: 10)

9. Rand Paul

It's less a question of if, not when, Rand Paul drops out.  Despite seemingly being the candidate that could build on his father's presidential ambitions, it appears the younger Paul has all of the anti-establishment without any of the votes, and won't actually succeed in avenging his father's many bids for the White House.  Instead, it may well be that the Kentucky Republican Party forces him to get out of the race for the Oval Office and instead come back to run for reelection, where concerns abound that State Auditor Adam Edelen could be a formidable player against him next November. (Previous Ranking: N/A)

Gov. John Kasich
8. John Kasich

Kasich has gone from being a potential dark horse against Jeb Bush to now biding his time waiting for the right moment to drop out and endorse Marco Rubio.  The longtime Ohio Republican is wildly popular in the Buckeye State, and knows that he won't be president, but seems like a strong chance for VP if Marco Rubio is nominated as he shores up Rubio's lack of national and executive experience, and gives the GOP establishment someone else to crow about, along with some pivotal electoral votes as that is still a weakness for the GOP (look for the Democratic nominee to go with one of the Virginia senators if Rubio/Kasich is a thing). (Previous Ranking: 5)

7. Chris Christie

I'm moving Christie up because he seems to be rebounding a bit in New Hampshire, and is in that position where no one is threatened by him but his scandal seems to have subsided, so if he stays in it's more-than-likely that he gains.  Still, though, as much as Chris Cillizza and other Christie-supporters want to believe that Bridgegate is over, it's only over because no one really thinks of Christie as important-he's not remotely close to winning a primary, and he's a lame-duck governor.  If he were to rebound at all, the Bridgegate scandal will come back to bite him. (Previous Ranking: N/A)

6. Ben Carson

I'm aware that Carson is in second place in the polls and that would normally mean that he would be ranked higher, but Carson is arguably the worst of the three "outsider" candidates from any standard metric.  He lacks Trump's celebrity and showmanship and Fiorina's debating ability.  Plus, his tendency to compare everything to Hitler relegates him to gadfly candidate.  He's clearly got an appeal, but it feels like the sort of appeal that will die off quickly as he doesn't have the cache to be a frontrunner.  He'll be in until Iowa, for sure, but I doubt that anything outside a first place finish will keep him in the conversation. (Previous Ranking: 7)

5. Carly Fiorina

At the beginning of this cycle, I will admit that I underestimated Carly Fiorina.  She has done a remarkable job of positioning herself as a serious voice in the primaries, and I suspect that she will be able to parlay that communicative ability into a cabinet position (perhaps Secretary of Commerce?) or potentially even a high-ranking position in the RNC (maybe Fiorina will succeed Reince Priebus?).  However, I stand by the fact that she has little-to-no chance of being president in the 2016 election-her tenure at HP and failed 2010 Senate candidacy will not play well in a general election without some sort of buffer like a successful government position (elected or otherwise) in between.  She's 61, so it's not the end of the line for her politics-wise, but she'd need to move quickly to get another chance after this.  Considering how well she's done, she's probably earned it. (Previous Ranking: 10)

Donald Trump
4. Donald Trump

Like Carson, I'm more than aware of the fact that Trump is in the lead and to a certain extent I think that Trump is right at this point in his frustration about the media dismissing him.  He's still in the lead, well ahead of the three men that are listed at the top of this list, but his problem is a lot like Bernie Sanders in that no one can actually picture him as president.  That says a lot here-if no one can see you in the Oval Office, why would they waste a vote on you when they could pick someone who actually has a shot.  There's also the fact that while the Trump train was fun and may have helped winnow the field (Scott Walker, Rand Paul, and Jeb Bush are all considerably weaker as a result of the businessman), it's almost time to vote and America doesn't vote with their remote control when it comes to national policy. (Previous Ranking: 3)

3. Ted Cruz

One of two major candidates moving up one slot, and a critical slot, on this list, Ted Cruz is now at the make-or-break moment of his campaign.  The Texas senator has made almost no friends on the Hill, but he sees in the support for Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Carly Fiorina the avenue for an outsider, but one who has a little bit of elected experience.  That pretty much describes him, and as a senator he has a prestige that slots 4-6 can't buy, but also is one of the few sitting politicians who can't be branded a Washington insider.  Cruz will need to figure out a way to make inroads on Carson and Trump voters as they continue to peel off and not lose them to Rubio, but if he does there's a real case to be made that he's a legitimate threat for the nomination.  He needs to start gaining in the polls in the next month or so though or else he risks being thought an also-ran. (Previous Ranking: 4)

2. Jeb Bush

After almost a year of putting the Florida governor at the top of these charts, I'm finally giving in and moving him to second place, which shows what a huge blow the fundamentals of Republican politics have taken this cycle.  Despite having all of the money, the family connections, the experience, and the general-election credentials, Bush cannot seem to translate, and the mess that's happening in the House is another nail in the coffin, particularly if a young conservative like Paul Ryan comes in and takes over as it would be a clear parallel to what is happening to Bush and his former protegee.  Only a fool would discount Bush this far out from Iowa/New Hampshire (after all, those assets I listed above pretty much any candidate would kill for), but he is no longer the frontrunner and needs to start acting fast in order to avoid being pushed out of the second place slot and be thought an also-ran, as Bush can potentially win in a Rubio v. Bush contest, but not if he's also fighting a Trump or Cruz as well. (Previous Ranking: 1)

1. Marco Rubio

As a Democrat at the beginning of this cycle the thing I most dreaded was Marco Rubio being the Republican nominee, and it looks like my worst fears have been realized.  The man many have dubbed the Republican Barack Obama has clearly put himself in a great position, starting to rise in the polls at the correct time (it's hard to imagine that as Christie, Kasich, and even Fiorina start to fall that Rubio doesn't gain more than any other candidate on this list with Jeb in his current state), and having the general election aura that reflects someone who could actually be president.  He still has to face Bush in what I'm suspecting will be a post-Trump series of votes (I doubt Trump makes it to the primaries), but he goes into that as the frontrunner in a party that loves them. (Previous Ranking: 2)

There it is-what do you think?  Do you feel like Rubio has officially displaced Bush as the likely nominee?  Whom do you think is rated too high or too low?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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