Typecasting the ’16 Field

It’s natural, and even rational, to deal with a messy presidential candidate field like the one Republicans are threatening to carry into the 2016 cycle by relating the candidates to those we know from the past. Sometimes candidates even do that themselves; apart from the constant self-comparisons of GOPers to St. Ronald Reagan, they may well compare their rivals to a RINO or even a Democrat. (I distinctly remember a 1970 gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who so wanted to make it clear he was a George Wallace Man that his stump speech began with typecasting of the whole field: “Carl Sanders is yo’ LBJ candidate; Jimmy Carter is yo’ John Kennedy candidate; Hal Suit is yo’ Richard Nixon candidate… and I, McKee Hargett, am yo’ George Wallace candidate!”).

But today at The Upshot, Brendan Nyhan tries to compare today’s candidates to yesterday’s by two measurements: one subjective, and the other via an algorithm that compares candidates “based on census region of origin and highest office attained, and also on similarities in age, favorability ratings, name recognition, estimated ideology and party presidential vote in their state.”

Nyhan gives these dual assessments to a mere six of the dozens of GOPers more or less running for the presidency. But interestingly, the only comparison that yields a predeccessor who made it to the White House is the subjective assessment of Scott Walker, a guy who Nyhan thinks could wind up being a Bill Clinton figure if he could just beg, borrow or steal himself some charisma (if he had some ham he could make a ham sandwich, if he had some bread). Tellingly, the algorithm suggests Walker’s doppelganger is actually Tim Pawlenty, who similarly looked great on paper if you discounted, you know, the actual campaign.

I think my favorite comparison is the algorithm’s matching of Jeb Bush with John Connally–a candidate who set new records in 1980 for scary-high dollars-to-votes ratios which stood until they were demolished by fellow Texan Phil Gramm in 1996. Since Jebbie was born in Midland and lived (with the exception, of course, of his boarding school days in Massachusetts) in the Lone Star State until his late 20s, he could well have the same affliction of thinking money votes as well as talks, which is only partly true.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.