Assessing the 2016 Republican Possibilities- Part 2

Continuing an examination of the top possibilities for the Republicans in 2016:

#10. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez: If the GOP was to get serious about a woman AND Hispanic candidate, then New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is the person for the job. In reaction to the 2012 loss, she said that the party needs to listen more and speak less. This “sense of humility” strategy sounds like appeasement to too many conservatives. In fact, she may be viewed as too moderate and unlikely to survive a primary. However, she is a Republican governor in a blue state. She is likely to be dismissed as no better than any “squishy Northeast Republican” who happens to reside in the Southwest.

She also broke ranks with her fellow GOP Governors and opted to start a state-run health care exchange as required under Obamacare. However, on the whole, Martinez is probably more to the right than Brian Sandoval in Nevada. She is up for reelection in 2014. Assuming she wins that election- never a given in a blue state- one should keep an eye on her second term legislative agenda to see if she moves more to the right. That could potentially signal a willingness to consider a run for higher office. Regardless, she is a name worth watching as 2016 draws near.

#9. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum: He held in the longest against Romney in 2012 to the chagrine of some. He tried to, at times, refocus the discussion. Towards the end, he seemed to be flailing around somewhat and his candidacy ended not in flames, but with a whimper. Santorum has already signaled a willingness to try again in 2016. But, every negative running against him in 2012 will be there in 2016 also.

My best guess is that Santorum may very well end up as the next Ron Paul- perenially running, spinning his wheels, and eventually losing on the way to the convention.

#8. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley: What is it with all these qualified women in a party that is allegedly involved in a war against women? Haley has high credentials within the Tea Party movement given her rise to power against the South Carolina Republican establishment. Even a smear campaign could not defeat her. Thus, when it came to primaries, she would definitely receive some consideration especially since South Carolina figures early in the primary season. Besides having the executive experience being Governor, she has the backing of conservatives, ethnic diversity going for her, and the aura of being a true outsider.

Thus far, her tenure has been one of going up against Washington on several fronts. Their voter ID law is under attack from Holder and the Justice Department in a case that may end up before the Supreme Court. Her crackdown on illegal immigrants has likewise caused her to butt heads with Obama’s Administration. And finally, the NRLB/Boeing controversy elevated South Carolina and right-to-work state status to national attention. In short, she is on the front lines of some hot topic, conservative fights. Overall, the jury is still out. Despite her fiscal conservatism, the state still suffers from 10% unemployment and was not necessarily that wealthy to begin with.

Most importantly, Haley is little known outside conservative circles and even less known outside South Carolina. She is up for reelection in 2014 and will likely win. Like her counterpart in New Mexico, Susana Martinez, her second term legislative agenda will be a small inkling into her 2016 ambitions. Unlike Martinez, she already has a higher standing among conservatives.

#7. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell: McDonnell was on the short list of possible Romney vice-presidential picks in 2012. He will be leaving office in 2014 as he is term-limited. That gives him ample time to consider a presidential run. As Governor, he has certainly had successes. The most important is that outlets like CNBC has called Virginia the “number one state to do business.” That is not because of the policies of his predecessor, Tim Kaine. He certainly has the executive experience after being an equally effective legislator in the Virginia Assembly. In between, he was state attorney general which gives him a leg up in legal and constitutional areas.

Perhaps one negative going against him is the fact that he can, at times, come off as too “smarmy” and “your typical politician.” He will have three years to work on that. Also, his tenure as attorney general and Governor have not been without controversy, especially in the social areas. His stance against applying anti-discrimination laws to gays, however, was predicated upon legal reasoning, not an animus towards gays. His declaration of Virginia Confederacy Month angered many African-Americans and liberals. To them, they viewed this as Pro-Racism and Slavery Month. Of course, they also tend to rewrite or ignore history, unless it is to their advantage. Finally, there is the great transvaginal ultrasound controversy which, incidentally, went nowhere. These charges will be trotted out to paint McDonnell as “too outside the mainstream” by a complicit liberal media. As mentioned earlier, he has two to three years to explain away these acts which, at the end of the day, are much ado about nothing. I fully expect Bob McDonnell to test the waters.

#6. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: Jindal is probably best remembered for his handling of the BP oil spill, unlike his Democratic predecessor’s reaction and handling of Hurricane Katrina. Jindal’s term is up in 2016 which has only fueled speculation he will make a run for President. To many, the image of Jindal may be his lackluster state of the union response a few years back. As an early supporter of Romney, he hit the campaign trail and his performance was the opposite of that earlier public performance.

His tenure has been scandal free which is important given the fact that corruption is common in Baton Rouge. By most metrics, his tenure has also been successful. His willingness to stand up to Washington has excited the conservative base and he has command of the issues. Most importantly, he has been a very outspoken critic of Obamacare whose provisions will be in full effect come 2016. Thus, his experience in the health care field will only enhance his standing. He also hails from an energy-producing state which will also help.

The biggest knock on Jindal is the perception that he is lackluster. One website describes him as “Christie-lite,” blunt but more diplomatic than his New Jersey counterpart. However, there is just something about the sound of a President Jindal that will turn some people off. He may be a better choice for a cabinet position than Commander-in-Chief.

#5. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul: The main question for Rand Paul is: did he burn too many bridges, or did he burn the correct bridges? No one can call him an establishment candidate. From the time he announced his candidacy for the Senate seat, he has drawn fire. In many ways, he is the anti-McConnell, his fellow Kentuckian.

Rand Paul would certainly appeal to the libertarians within the Party and he could always tap into his father’s fundraising apparatus with ease. Ron Paul spent over 20 years in the House trying to enact legislation to decrease the size and scope of government with little to show for it. Rand Paul has been in the Senate now for going on three years. On the controversial issues, he tends to be antagonistic. While that may endear him with the Washington outsider crowd, it also can become a major distraction from the issues at hand.

Also of consideration is the fact that he is up for reelection to the Senate in 2016, a more likely victory than surviving a presidential primary and general campaign. He would certainly be an interesting “outside the box” choice for a candidate, but also more likely to run in 2020 should a Democrat win the White House in 2016.

#4. Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan: No matter what side you are on, there is general agreement that Paul Ryan is one of the smartest, most fiscally aware members of Congress. After the Romney loss, Ryan quietly returned to Congress, rolled up his sleeves and got back to work. The biggest negative against him and his policies is that he may appear “heartless,” but he held up very well against those same charges in 2012. In fact, he came out of that campaign on the losing end largely unscathed.

Ryan is young and articulate and well in command of the fiscal issues which will still dog this country in 2016. He will likely attract two demographics- independents and young voters. With the latter, it is motivating them to the polls. His relative youth will help there especially if he can articulate the need for entitlement reforms now to make sure certain programs are there in the future for today’s voting youth.

Wouldn’t it be novel to have someone in the White House unafraid to tackle the big issues with innovative reforms? Wouldn’t it be novel to have a President of Ryan’s intellect? Wouldn’t it be great to have a President with principles?

#3. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: After eight years of Obama, the question is whether Bush fatigue has worn off. It is a shame since Jeb Bush is his own man and should be judged on his merits, not that of his brother. When he left the Governor’s office, he left a popular one. Much is made of the inroads he made with Hispanics. To win, the Republican Party does not have to win the Hispanic vote overall, just make gains over the levels in 2008 and 2012. That does not necessarily mean the GOP should suddenly become the party of amnesty, but it does infer that some of the more incendiary rhetoric be toned down.

Bush can also tap into a large cadre of donors nationwide which would give him a leg up in any campaign. During the 2012 cycle and afterwards, Bush was the voice of moderation, perhaps too moderate for GOP primary voters. However, one of the major considerations must be electoral votes. Republicans desperately need Florida and Bush can most likely deliver that state into the Republican column.

On the personal side, Jeb saw the abuse his father and brother took in their presidencies. That may lead him to simply forego a run for that office. He has been on the talk show circuit of late and in the aftermath of the election, so he is not shying away from a high profile with educational reform being his signature message. Most likely, whether he even decides to run or not will depend on what other potential candidates do in 2015. In reality, 2016 will be his last best opportunity for the race. Should no clear cut front-runner emerge early on, he may move to fill in that gap. The question is whether Republicans are brave enough to nominate another Bush for the top job.

#2. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: I know, I know, so save the vitriol. As I have mentioned now on numerous occasions (and a message some readers may not have gotten), Chris Christie is a fine Republican Governor for the state of New Jersey. However, he would likely make an unmitigated disaster as a national candidate. Right now, he is concentrating on winning reelection in 2013 and given his approval ratings, that should be a breeze at this point in time. But, a lot can happen between now and November 2013 so it is not a given he will win. Christie has shown some political deftness by negotiating the political minefield that is New Jersey politics. He has to deal with a Democratic legislature and entrenched public worker unions in Trenton and a near-socialist, liberal state supreme court hovering over the entire process. His way of negotiating that minefield is like taking a front end loader through it. Although that strategy may play well in Trenton, it would likely wear thin on the national stage. He would give new meaning to the phrase “bully pulpit.” And although it would make for an interesting campaign, it would not play well among many segments of the voting population.

Christie has been wrongly maligned by conservatives on certain occasions. One needs to evaluate the circumstances before jumping down his throat. And at this point, the obvious fat jokes about Christie from liberals and conservatives alike is getting to be old news and just a tad infantile. Among Republicans, there seems to be little middle ground when you mention his name: you either hate him or you love him. But, if you are a Democrat, you simply despise him, so he must be doing something right. Also, it needs mentioning that New Jersey, despite the needed reforms started by Christie, is hardly an economic role model for the country.

If I was Christie’s adviser, this would be my advice: Run for reelection in 2013 so that you can complete what you started in 2010 after being sworn in. Continue you path towards reform and build up your resume, standing and perception among Republicans. Assuming you can maintain decent approval ratings, groom a successor along the way. This will take you into 2017. By then, it will be the perfect time to challenge Robert Menendez for his Senate seat should he decide to run again. If not, all the better. Chris Christie is a better fighter and advocate for New Jersey than he is an advocate and fighter for conservatism and the Republican Party. I cannot see Chris Christie as president and certainly not as vice president.

#1. Florida Senator Marco Rubio: The early front runner is also my personal choice. Young, articulate and principled, he is increasing his profile recently through speaking engagements and policy statements. He will likely be a Republican point man for any immigration reform package or strategy. However, I have to make a point here regarding Rubio and the Hispanic vote. The increase in the Hispanic population is attributable to the growth of the South and Central American population, mainly Colombians and Mexicans. Because they share a language with Cubans would not translate into a sea change of Hispanic thought and loyalties for the GOP.

Rubio would enter the race with Tea Party backing. Like Bush, he might possibly carry Florida for the Republican Party. He is young, a fresh face, articulate, polished, innovative and photogenic. There is a certain charisma around him and coupled with principled ideas, Rubio is probably the closest to the total package in the Republican fold. He will likely make the personal connection with voters that a Mitt Romney could never achieve in his dreams. Plus, with his tendency to buck the establishment on occasion, he does it not in an antagonistic way like Rand Paul, but in a way that only adds to his political aura. A perfect example was a recent exchange with a liberal reporter and one of their “gotcha questions” about the age of the earth. His handling of the question without offending anyone while respecting opposing views and turning the question back on the inquisitor was political dexterity at its best.

The downside is that like Rand Paul, he is up for reelection to the Senate in 2016. Depending on the dynamics on the other side of the aisle, Rubio will have to possibly take a calculated risk in a presidential run. If it appears that there is no strong Democratic front runner emerging, then he will likely take the plunge. He may even take the plunge if a beatable opponent emerges. The good thing about this whole scenario is that should he forego a 2016 run, he is young enough to consider 2020 or even 2024. In fact, even if he runs and loses, he will be there in 2020. Marco Rubio will be around in one form or another for the remainder of this decade and will likely represent the best hope for the Republican Party during this period.