The GOP Field Expands

By the end of the day tomorrow the official Republican presidential field will have doubled, with Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee joining Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio announcing candidacies. With Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham already on the campaign trail with their tongues lolling out, it now seems certain we’ll have a double-digit field, with the only doubtful entrants being the perennial showman Donald Trump, a couple of midwestern governors (Kasich and Snyder), and someone probably campaigning to become Secretary of State, John Bolton. Forgive me if I’ve forgotten anybody; it’s going to happen now and then.

The odds are very high against the appearance of this week’s freshly minted candidates at the Inauguration in 2017 in anything other than a supporting cast capacity. Nobody’s going to push Carson or particularly Fiorina out of the race, even if they are going nowhere fast; with Republicans continuing to rely disproportionately on older white men as their electoral base, having this demographic group’s pieities articulated by an African-American and a woman will be more valuable to the GOP’s “optics” than ever. In Carson’s case, the main question may be whether he can keep the gaffes to one or two a month. In Fiorina’s, it may be whether she can show enough support to justify her inclusion in the debates, where Republicans need her to break up the male monotony while saying things about Hillary Clinton that will inevitably sound piggy coming from anybody else.

Huck may be the candidate hardest to measure at present. An awful lot of people thought he’d eventually give the contest a pass, as he did in 2012. He’s definitely not the man he was in 2008, when he charmed the MSM with humor, a break from the speech-behind-a-podium protocol by way of musical performance, and an occasional hint of what passes for “populism” in the GOP. Now he is a full-on full-time culture warrior in a field full of them, counting on his now a bit superannuated connection with Iowa voters and with the Old Guard of the Christian Right. We also have no evidence beyond his own word for it that he’s overcome his 2008 achilles heel, the inability to raise money. I’d say the thing to watch for with Huck is whether a Super-PAC with an identifiable sugar daddy pops up on his behalf very quickly. Otherwise he’s going to be constantly subject to the suspicion that he’s in the race to build his email list, the better to scam his supporters.

So enjoy all the announcements, but take this particular batch with a shaker of salt.

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.