With 17 serious (or at least semi-serious) candidates vying for the Republican nomination for the 2016 Presidency, I was certainly interested to tune in for the first debate. I consider myself a moderate Democrat who proudly refuses to tow the party line on issues I don't agree with and who tries to approach politics with an open mind. When watching the debate (I will write a similar post about the Democratic nominees in October after their first debate) I tried to consider both "objective" ideas (how well a person speaks, how much they might appeal to their base vs the general populace, etc.) that were independent of if I agree with what they are saying and "subjective" ideas (do I personally like their perspective, would I consider crossing party lines to vote for them, etc.) that were thinking in terms of myself as a voter to be courted. I also tried to discern what their overall through-line was, not just their stated mission but also their unspoken narrative.
I have grouped them together loosely by what I see as their overarching paradigm, though some I see as distinct enough to merit their own title.
Jeb Bush - Obviously he is a well-known name, and the representation of dynastic politics in America as much as the Clintons and Kennedys are to the Democratic party. The impression I was left with after the debate was this; he seemed surprisingly reasonable. While he was universally panned in the media (even conservative media) as uninspired, prosaic, and inarticulate during the debate, I'm not sure that is the impression I walked away with. Certainly, he was not a dynamic speaker or personality, but his rhetoric was surprisingly moderate. While other candidates were bringing down the fire-and-brimstone, he actually talked about immigration reform that (GASP!) included allowing current undocumented aliens to work their way to citizenship. Pretty bold for someone on a Fox News Republican debate. With all that being said, his name deeply sullies his chances of the presidency. Both his father and his brother's tenures as US president were, to put it charitably, mediocre at best. Fair or not, this does influence the average voter when considering who to cast their vote for.
Through-line: A Bush, trying to distance himself from his family's legacy with a pragmatic tone.
Strengths: Name-recognition, fair appeal to moderates republicans and conservative republicans alike
Weakness: The baggage of the Bush name and a lackluster debate hurt.
Probability of Being Nominee: Good. He is one of three people I see as the potential nominee.
If he is the nominee, probability of being President: Fair. He stands a decent chance against Hillary (or the unlikely Bernie Sanders) but would probably ultimately be sunk by his brother and father's poor standing in the history of presidencies.
Forecast: See end of article
The Political Novices:
Dr. Ben Carson - An affable, kindly Neurosurgeon, who also has a penchant for fiery declarations against things he dislikes (see his comments on gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act) In the debate I was thoroughly disappointed. His work shows that he is obviously a bright guy, and a good leader, but he seemed, frankly, in way over his head. His cringe-worthy explanation of why he supports a 10% universal tax rate ("It's based on God, and He's a pretty good guy" or something to that effect), and his lack of political experience didn't appear like a strength as it does for some "outsider" candidates, For him, it definitely seemed like a liability.
Through-line: A political outsider, struggling to adjust to the political arena.
Strengths: A great story, potential appeal to minority voters, and no political baggage yet.
Weaknesses: He was weak in the debate, he seems lost when trying to articulate his position and he has never held elected office.
Probability of Nomination: Fair. He's got a punchers chance, as they say in boxing. Sometimes the candidate that stands out most - which he does, both for being the only African-American in the field, and for unapologetically being a non-politician - can rise to stardom. I suspect though, that his lack of experience and inability to articulate his plans in the soundbite nature of debates is going to derail his bid.
Probability of Presidency: If he is the nominee, he probably has a better chance against Hillary than most. Being an African-American, and lacking the baggage of a voting record for opponents to tear apart, he may strongly pull votes away from the Democratic base.
Forecast: He ends up a flash-in-the-pan who had brief stardom, but doesn't win a state in the primaries.
Carly Fiorina - A well spoken former technology executive who lacks experience, but faired very well in the "consolation debate". Her political star is clearly rising. She received almost universal consensus of having "won" the early debate and has probably positioned herself well enough to be a participant in the next prime time debate.
Strengths: She handled herself well in her first national debate. She is a conservative woman, who gives the female voter another alternative to Hillary Clinton. She has business experience, which Republicans love.
Weaknesses: She has no experience as an elected official. None. This is sometimes viewed as a strength, but what usually ends up happening is these folks get exposed as surface-level policy amateur when the spot light gets brighter (think Herman Cain).
Probability of the Nomination: low-to-fair. She is very much a long shot for the nomination, but could possibly play the spoiler.
Probability of the Presidency: If she got the nod, I suspect her chances would be slightly better than average as compared to the rest of the Republican field, just in the fact that she is a woman which gives female voters a chance to have strong representation and be heard. With that being said, Hillary's savvy and experience may dominate her in a debate and in the ad war.
Forecast: Unlikely to win any states, but may garner enough attention to position herself for a future run at Congress/Senate or even the presidency. Possibly a VP selection.
Donald Trump - We can't ignore the blow-hard of the GOP, can we? Donald Trump is everything that 75% of American's hate; brash, arrogant, self-righteous, condescending, and misogynistic. He is the representation of what the GOP has been and is trying to get away from. In many ways, he is the "rich villain" character that liberals insist on portraying the GOP as. Except its really him. In the debate he was what you expected; Uncivil and completely vague about what he would actually do from a policy perspective to make the country better. He is the court jester of the Republican nominees, taking away the spotlight from more serious and reasonable GOP candidates. Democrats hope he stays in as long as possible, as he damages the GOP brand with every insult, ludicrous idea and sneer.
Through-Line: A wealthy tycoon who is good at business and bad with people.
Strengths: He has name recognition and people that are really angry like him.
Weaknesses: Where do I start? He has no appeal to female voters, minority voters, moderates, independents or undecideds? He is a walking soundbite for negative campaign ads? He readily admits to pay-to-play funding of politicians? He shares vague, bombastic ideas that have no practical value and aren't remotely grounded in fact?
Probability of Nomination: Fair. I would bet on him flaming out spectacularly long before the primaries, but hey, the polls say he's got staying power.
Probability of the Presidency: Less that 1%. Democrats would relish the opportunity to have Trump as the candidate. If he is the nominee, whoever the Democratic nominee is wins by the default of simply not being Donald Trump.
Forecast: All his alienation and insults catch up to him and he crashes and burns before the polls even open in Iowa.
Chris Christie - The New Jersey Gov. has some Trump-like qualities, yet is much more articulate, well-thought-out, and relatable. Christie was willing to touch the 3rd rail of american politics; entitlement programs. And you know what? He laid out a plan that is reasonable, attainable, and concrete. He faired well in the debate, as a whole. He sparred with Mike Huckabee but came out demonstrating that he is the one who has an actual plan. He probably lost an argument with Rand Paul about the Patriot Act, but still came out looking like someone who has good reason to support the legislation. For all his bravado, he actually is a person who can compromise with the left to create policy. His record as governor shows it.
Through-line: A tough talking New Jersian who can cut a deal with the best of them.
Strengths: He is a compromiser who would have fairly good bi-partisan appeal. He has experience as a governor during a period of crisis.
Weaknesses: The same qualities that make him a strong candidate against Hillary make him a liability to get the nomination. Many primary voters will see him as "too moderate" to vote for.
Probability of the Nomination: Remote-to-low. He barely eked into the debate and doesn't seem to be making much headway in the polls.
Probabilities of the Presidency: He is one hell of a debater and would probably give Hillary a run for her money.
Forecast: He gets a little run as "the moderate" candidate, but only wins a state or two in the primaries.
John Kasich - The Ohio Governor is a strong moderate candidate with good experience and a history of working with both parties. He had the audacity to defend his decision to expand medicaid in his state. And he gave real, appropriate justification for his actions. Even in a republican debate he got cheered for his responses. That was pretty remarkable. The problem is, he looked meek, nervous, and overmatched in the debate itself. He is a candidate I would actually consider voting for, but he will never make it out of the primaries.
Through-line: A compromiser who can reach across the aisle, but who lacks the charisma or name recognition to win.
Strengths: Similar to Christie, he has bi-partisan appeal and real, tangible solutions.
Weakness: Of the two moderates, he is the weaker candidate (though I like him better) because he doesn't have the bombast or notoriety that Christie has.
Probability of Nomination: Remote. Just too crowded for someone who lacks magnetism.
Probability of Presidency: Also someone who has some bi-partisan appeal, which is good in the general election but won't ever make it that far.
Forecast: Sadly, an also-ran that had great things to say that no one listened to, a la John Huntsman in 2012.
Mike Huckabee - A Baptist Pastor who's rhetoric has gone from winsome and charming in 2008 to hellfire-and-brimstone in 2015. I was surprised to see the likable grand-fatherly figure of 2008 transform into the religious firebrand of the debate. Perhaps his advisors are suggesting a change in tone. Either way, this is not the 1980s or the 1950s so a person who invokes the "supreme being" being more important than the "supreme court" is probably not going to get much traction in a post-modernist american landscape. Not to mention that I am not the only one who is frightened by a person that wants to run the country as a Christian Theocracy (if not in name, in political ideology). Even me, who has been a practicing Christian for 20 years, believes in a strict separation of church and state. When you start underscoring your policy initiatives as based on "the Bible" (which actually means his dogmatic, literalist interpretation of the Bible) its probably a bad sign.
Through-line: The crusader of the religious right.
Strengths: He will grab the votes of a few of his fellow theocrats-who-don't-know-they-are-theocrats in the populace.
Weaknesses: He has no appeal outside of a small contingent of religious conservatives.
Probability of Nomination: He will get a few states, have no doubt. But that is the ceiling for him.
Probability of the Presidency: Next to none. God would have to provide divine intervention.
Forecast: He will bow out with a couple states under his belt in the primaries and nothing more.
Rick Santorum - The Catholic version of Mike Huckabee. A crusader for the Catholic church who is relatively well-spoken and articulate. Shares many of the same rhetorical devices as Huckabee .
Through-line: the Catholic alternative to Huckabee.
Strengths: He actually finished 2nd in 2008 republican primaries, so he has some appeal to the religious voters as well. He has a kind demeanor that does seem approachable and relatable.
Weakness: Most religious voters are going to go with Huckabee as he has a stronger following and more name recognition from his show on Fox News. Also, some Evangelical Christians are still deeply distrustful of Catholicism.
Probability of Nomination: I don't think he takes a state, as his religious right votes will be syphoned off by Huckabee.
Probability of Presidency: Next to none.
Forecast: He will drop out before super tuesday as an afterthought.
Marco Rubio - In my opinion Rubio easily won the debate. He was intelligent, articulate, relatable, and proposed (some) actual plans for bettering the country. His speaking was electric. His story was powerful. To be perfectly honest, as a Democrat I am shaking in my boots about Marco Rubio.
Through-line: The son of a Cuban immigrant who grew up in poverty, and used brains and grit to rise to the office of US Senator.
Strengths: This guys got it all; charisma, good-looks (which shouldn't matter, but does), a great story, the ability to communicate his ideas well, strong conservative credentials, but also a track record of working with the opposition on occasion (see his Gang of 8 work on immigration).
Weakness: A small amount of experience (but which he still managed to turn into a strength during the debate)
Probability of Nomination: Good. If the republicans go for electability, he will be the nominee.
Probability of Presidency: He reminds me of the conservative answer to Barak Obama; a young, dynamic, likable figure. If he gets the nod, barring a scandal, I think he wins. Thus I hope very strongly that he doesn't get the nomination.
Forecast: See end of the article.
Scott Walker - The Wisconsin Gov. is known for stiff fiscal and social conservative beliefs. One thing I can say for Scott Walker; the guys got backbone. After surviving on onslaught of protests, recalls and general discord during his tenure as Governor, he came out as somewhat of a conservative icon; the guy who stuck to his guns and resisted any concessions or compromises and somehow, miraculously came out with his political career in tact. With that being said, his debate performance was serviceable, but unspectacular. But his cult status as conservative hardass could serve him well in the primaries. Not so much in the general election.
Through-line: A hardline conservative who, for better or worse, won't budge an inch.
Strengths: These type of personas are darlings in the primaries. He's got a record of standing up for what conservatives care about and less of the "he made a deal with the liberals on this issue" baggage that other candidates carry.
Weakness: How does such a hardliner appeal to voters outside his base? Simple; he doesn't.
Probability of Nomination: Good. I would say he is one of 3 candidates I could see getting the nomination based on the overall gestalt of the GOP voters come primary time.
Probability of Presidency: He's got a chance if the energy from the conservative base can flow over to the casual voter. But I wouldn't say he has the charm to entice independents, and certainly not the record of principled compromise to lure moderates from the other side.
Forecast: See end of article
Ted Cruz - As far right as Walker both fiscally and socially, possibly more so. He is the anti-establishment Conservative who thinks his party has lost its principles. Consequently, he is also the most hated man in the Senate, both among his own party and among democrats due to his grandstanding and willingness to throw a wrench in the gears of the government if things don't go his way. He was instrumentalin the government shut down, and while his quixotic quest won him slaps on the back from the extreme wing of the far right, he got clenched fists from everyone else.
Through-line: The hardline, Jingoist, ultra-con who hopes to galvanize the base to go to the polls.
Strengths: Tea-partiers, very-conservative Christians, and other extreme groups within the GOP voting base like him a lot.
Weaknesses: Moderate republicans, minorities, centrists, moderate democrats, liberal democrats, young voters, voters on social security and Medicare, disabled people, and puppies utterly loathe him.
Possibility of Nomination: Its not impossible, but here's the problem; there is a more likable, more well-funded similar candidate named Scott Walker. There is also a more likable, fiercely supported anti-establishment candidate named Rand Paul. There goes most of his voter base.
Possibility of Presidency: There is no way in hell he could ever get a moderate, centrist or independent to vote for him. He would just have to hope that every Baptist church group and business tycoon showed up on to the polls on election day. I would say his chances are only slightly better than Trumps.
Rand Paul - The Libertarian has a rabid cult following of well-organized, highly motivated supporters. Another anti-establishment candidate, but with a strong history between himself and his father, with a clear, consistent message. The challenge his that Paul's Libertarian views are not always in line with the bulk of the GOP; (his unapologetic non-interventionist foreign policy, support for legalization of drugs, and opposition to the Patriot Act, for starters). While a moderate Democrat like me finds this very refreshing, some of the more orthodox conservatives do not.
Strengths: One of these days, the Libertarian message is going to really catch on, and Rand Paul is as good a torch-bearer as any. He doesn't shy away from bucking conservative orthodoxy.
Weaknesses: Like I said, he doesn't shy away form bucking conservative orthodoxy. This can hurt in the primaries.
Possibility of Nomination: He's a long shot, but its not impossible. I'd say its better than Ted Cruz, but not as good as Scott Walker. Other than his very passionate followers, he may struggle to find footing in other voting blocs.
Possibility of Presidency: Very low. It would take a truly transcendent fever, sweeping across the land for a Libertarian to be the president. Though some of his less traditional stances could make him popular with younger voters that wouldn't usually give a conservative the time of day.
These candidates are really not finding much traction:
Bobby Jindal - This is the other youngster not named Marco Rubio. I have to admit this one surprises me. He's got conservative credentials, he's a Rhodes scholar, he has a flashy conversion story that appeals to Christian conservatives, but yet he is barely a blip on the radar as far as the polls go. Of the Also-Rans, though, this is the one that I could see actually making a little run if he fares well in Iowa.
Rick Perry - He's rebranding himself from the tough-talking cowboy to the bespectacled thinker. Honestly, I saw an interview with him where he was talking about policy, and he really was pretty impressive in his knowledge of the nuances of of the legislation. With that being said, no one else seems to be buying it. He will drop out after a few lack-luster primaries.
Lindsey Graham - He is taking the ultra-hawk approach and it doesn't appear to be resonating. Assumedly he will also be on the sidelines after a few states cast their votes.
George Pataki - He is the odd man out in the "Moderate and Electable " pool. He is a fiscal conservative who is socially moderate, which would be a welcome voice in the dialogue, but he seems to be outgunned by other moderates Christie and Kaisch.
Jim Gilmore - I know next to nothing about this guy. Granted, this isn't my party, but with that being said, I keep up on politics at least slightly more than your average bear, and I only know he's been out of politics for years and he used to be Virginia's governor many years ago. If that's all that registers with him, that's a bad sign.
So, what do I think will happen? I foresee one of three scenarios:
The Republican's go "Hardline":
The GOP goes back to its roots and Scott Walker wins the nomination in a primary of competing ideals. He, in turn puts a small scare in Hillary, but ultimately falls short by 75-100 electoral votes.
The Republicans go "Old Faithful":
The GOP goes with name recognition and past experience. It becomes Clinton vs Bush Round 2. The result being the same as '92. Clinton wins by split decision, but without a black eye or two.
The Republicans go "Young, Fresh, and Electable":
The GOP rolls the dice on someone young, dynamic and bright. Rubio denies Hillary's final quest for the White House by a surprising margin a la Obama '08.