Especially in relatively slow news cycles, it is very tempting to write articles about the shape of the 2016 presidential field, as Al Hunt has just done for Bloomberg News. I think it’s reasonable to periodically revisit the state of play to see if anything has changed. But the fundamentals haven’t changed. The Republicans don’t have any candidates. Obviously, someone is going to win the party’s presidential nomination. We can try to figure out who that person might be. But there is no one on the horizon who has all the things candidates require (a strong base of support, the ability to raise sufficient amounts of money, media savvy) and that has a message that can both appeal to the Republican base and refigure the electoral map.
If the Republicans want to nominate a firebrand freshman senator from Texas or a evangelical Indian-American governor from Louisiana, they’ll find out that that brand of politics is even less popular up north than the politics of John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Serial-plagiarist Rand Paul’s candidacy will be strong in the exact proportion that it splinters the Republican base on cultural issues and foreign policy.
It seems to be a bad idea to nominate someone under indictment or serious ethical clouds, as would be the case with Governors Rick Perry of Texas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, or Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Most of the remainder of Republican governors are deeply unpopular and at risk of losing their reelection bids.
Ben Carson is prone to saying extremely erratic and delusional things.
There’s a reason that people keep sampling the list of possible contenders and keep spitting them back out. Just as Mitt Romney fell behind every opponent at some point or another only to come out on top in the end, there’s a reason people keep going back to Jeb Bush. He can check every box on the list except the one where the Republican base allows him to win with a message that can change the Electoral College.
Simply put, the Republican primary voter holds a set of beliefs that are nowhere near close to being acceptable to enough states to win the Electoral College. In the past, they’ve fallen in line for candidates like Poppy, Dole, McCain and Romney, only to be disappointed in victory or devastated in defeat. It’s getting increasingly hard to convince them to be practical, especially when the watered-down version of conservatism hasn’t brought them the electoral or practical victories they seek. Why should they believe that Jeb Bush would do better than McCain or Romney did? Why would they support a candidate who promotes Common Core and comprehensive immigration reform?
Throughout recent history, the pragmatic streak within conservatism has won out in these presidential nominating contests, but only by rendering the “practical” candidate unelectable. The obvious answer is to get behind someone who can run less as a conservative than as a traditional Republican, but they are more inclined to test the idea of nominating a fire-breathing conservative who won’t trim their sails. Better to go down swinging that to unilaterally disarm by caving on principles within your own party.
So, these articles can be modestly interesting, but it doesn’t matter if Huckabee might split the evangelical vote and make things difficult for Ted Cruz or if the neoconservatives can find a champion to beat back Rand Paul. It doesn’t matter if Christie’s polls have recovered somewhat or if Marco Rubio is dead in the water. None of that matters unless or until someone emerges who has a plan to change the Electoral College. That means winning some states that no Republican has won since 2004 or maybe even 1992. You’ll know such a candidate has arrived on the scene when you see them taking unorthodox positions and nonetheless getting showered with campaign cash donated by enthusiastic supporters. Rand Paul wants to be that guy, but he isn’t.