2016 - An Outsider's Handicapping

Mitt Romney, John Kasich or Chris Christie, if any of them run, will most likely receive the nomination in 2016.  This is based on an analysis of nominations over the past 60 years and the way the Republican party functions.  How I wish I were wrong.

Presidential elections are similar to long-standing rivalries in sports.  When the Super Bowl started in 1967, over a period of 18 years, the AFC won 12 times.  Then between 1985 and 1997, the NFC won 13 times without a single AFC victory.  Since then, the AFC has won 10 out of 17 chances.  The only certainty in the upcoming Super Bowl of this year is that either the NFC or AFC will win.

The same is true for the 2016 Presidential race.  Either the Democratic or Republican party will win.  No third-party candidate has ever won.  Sometimes they will influence the election, such as 1992 with Ross Perot playing spoiler, but they do not win.

The recent Republican series of victories began in 1952 with Dwight D. Eisenhower.  His election was the beginning of a period of Republican Presidents that occupied the White House for a total of nine out of 14 terms.  By contrast, the Democratic Party had seen a period between 1912 and 1948 where they had won seven out of 10 elections.

The Democratic Party has held the White House for four out of the last six terms.  The odds begin in favor of the Republican Party.  Given that, who are we likely to see emerge as the nominee?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was first approached to run for President in 1943.  Up through 1951, both parties had tried to enlist him to run.  He did not begin to campaign until June of 1952 as a Republican for President.  His primary opponent within the Republican Party was Robert Taft of Ohio, who was considered more conservative.  In political calculus, the Republican Party rejected a more conservative candidate in favor of a moderate with widespread popularity.  Interesting to note is how close to the convention this turn of events occurred.

Richard Nixon was Eisenhower’s Vice-President and lost to Kennedy in 1960.  He then lost an election for Governor of California in 1962 and was thought to be dead politically.  There is a healthy debate among historians as to what revived him, but one of the most common theories is that he was not tied closely with Goldwater’s landslide defeat in 1964 and also campaigned heavily for a number of candidates in 1966 who won and then provided backing to him in 1968.  At least on paper, Nixon had actively built a network and worked his network all the way back to 1962.  He worked steadily on securing key states for nomination and backed candidates who would then back him in return.  That election, his three key opponents were George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan, all governors.

Nixon did not formally announce until February 1st of 1968.  A political flub resulted in Romney exiting and the other two opposing candidates had not formally announced.  After a long summer, Nixon emerged as the nominee considered more moderate than Reagan and more conservative than Rockefeller.  If we look back, he had made the longest sustained effort of the set of candidates running.

Ronald Reagan had already campaigned twice for his party’s nomination for President by the time 1980 came around.  The first time had been less formal, but in 1976 he had run very close against Gerald Ford.  In 1980, his strongest opponent was future President George H.W. Bush.

Ronald Reagan is perhaps the only candidate viewed by the Republican Party as its most conservative nominee to go on and win a general election in the past hundred years.  He started a string of twelve years of electoral victories, considering that George H.W. Bush rode his coattails for one term.

George H.W. Bush started the 1988 nomination season with a large advantage as a sitting Vice-President.  He had campaigned for President before and had a very strong network.  There was never much of a question whether he would receive the party’s nomination.

In 2000, George W. Bush entered a field with 11 challengers and no clear front-runner.  His most serious competition came from [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] and his only threats in any other sense were from Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes, both of whom won delegates or competed successfully in one or more contests.  However, by the time of the primary season, only Bush and McCain were taken seriously within the contest.

And here we are today.  We are about to start the process of having people come in and out and gain steam and lose it and by the time we enter the actual process, we will no doubt have a set of candidates that numbers from three to nine or so who actually show up and try for the nomination.

While anyone can join the contest, based on history over the course of the past six decades, we can eliminate anyone who has not been a Senator, Governor, General of the Army, President or Vice-President from the winner’s circle, which eliminates: [mc_name name=’Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B001256′ ], John Bolton, Herman Cain, Ben Carson, Allen West, Carly Fiorina, [mc_name name=’Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000570′ ], Donald Trump and anyone else who does not have one of those five roles on their resume.

Dick Cheney will not run for a number of reasons, most importantly due to poor health.  Dan Quayle is not going to run for any number of reasons, so that eliminates former Vice-Presidents.  George H.W. Bush is too old and George W. Bush is barred from running.  [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] is not going to run again for President.

We are going to nominate a Senator or Governor, current or former.

There are 20 potential candidates who fit that definition and have either expressed an interest in, or been mentioned as, being a candidate.  Let’s start with the ones most likely not to run.

Sarah Palin is not likely to run.  She would have fared better in 2012 than now and she declined then.  She does go out and campaign for candidates and has strong Tea Party ties, but she has not demonstrated any strong moves toward paying the personal cost to run.  Bob Ehrlich was a governor and he ran Mitt Romney’s campaign, so he has credentials and access, but he was defeated as governor and lost that campaign, so he will not run.  Mitch Daniels did not run when he was an active governor and is now not seen as active at this level.  He will probably not run.  George Pataki keeps getting raised as a potential candidate, but he declined when in a better position back in 2012, so he will not likely run.  [mc_name name=’Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000359′ ] had indicated he might run if re-elected in 2014 to the Senate.  However, his re-election was not too strong and he has been a lightning-rod of controversy, along with lacking a strong national base.  He will most likely not run.

That leaves 15 potential candidates who could conceivably receive the nomination.  Of those 15, let’s sub-divide them into two groups: those who have actually run versus those who have not yet, but could.  Let’s start with those who have not, as often times those who have not, will not.

[mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ], Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ], Mike Pence, [mc_name name=’Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000449′ ], [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ], Scott Walker, John Kasich and Rick Snyder have not run before.  All have backers of various stripes who, for various reasons, feel that their candidate is the best candidate or the winnable candidate, or both, against the other side.  Candidates win elections based on money or principles.  No candidate can win on the national stage without plenty of financial backing.  The most business-friendly candidate has the edge.  You can win primaries without financial backing, but only a small number.  There are many campaigns left in the graveyard because they could not sustain a complete campaign from start to finish.  On this basis, I don’t think that [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ], [mc_name name=’Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000449′ ], Mike Pence, or Rick Snyder have a viable long-term capability to secure the nomination.  I could go into details on each one, but suffice to say they have weaknesses that will hamstring them in a national contest.

That leaves Cruz, Christie, Bush, Jindal, Rubio, and Walker in the group of never-rans.  Let’s come back to them in a paragraph or two.

There are five potential candidates who have prior experience: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, and Rick Perry.  I strongly believe that if Huckabee runs, Santorum will suffer the biggest loss in terms of support.  I do not believe Santorum can sustain a campaign and while he might run, I see no path to victory for him.  That leaves Romney, Huckabee, Kasich and Perry.

Of this set of 10 potential nominees, who will win is partially dependent upon who runs.  Some of the candidates will split their support with other candidates, but will not if they drop out or do not run.  Tradition favors prior experience, so Romney, Huckabee, Kasich, Perry and Bush have an advantage.  Bush has an advantage because his brother and father have both been Presidents and will no doubt share with him their donor and support infrastructure.

Of those five, if one of them runs, they will have an advantage that is difficult to overcome, based on history.  National parties tend to favor prior candidates.  There are multiple exceptions, mostly with the Democratic Party, but even these exceptions show that the candidate with the best strategy for an early knock-out blow won.

All ten of the remaining potential candidates have paths to victory through their strong ties to various national organizations.  A shrewd politician, though, does not run unless they sense an opportunity and therefore some of these names will not end up on the list in Iowa.  If Cruz or Rubio runs, I believe it would be only one and not both, because their personal histories and their political histories are somewhat similar.  There are contrasts, but for potential donors, I think that support would coalesce around one of them quickly, and my bet would be on Rubio, due to the nature of his experience in Florida and his political favorability.

Walker and Kasich also have a fair degree of overlap and, if you add Christie and Jindal to the mix, you have four active governors with a national presence for different reasons but who share a fair amount of overlap in their base, outside of their geographical headquarters.  Of these four, my sense is that Christie and Kasich would come out on top with Walker third place.

Bush, Huckabee, Perry and Romney are former governors and they are the last set.  The Republican Party has nominated a failed candidate twice in the past and Romney cannot be counted out.  He won the nomination and that means he knows how to do it and has a network of endorsements in the pipeline.  Richard Nixon refused to debate in 1968 and was elected President, so Rick Perry is not excluded just because he gave debate performances that were panned.  If I had to rank the odds of these four, I would think that it would be Romney, Perry, Bush and then Huckabee, in that order.

If you put Rubio, a Senator, up against Christie, a Governor, and Romney, a former Governor, then I can see a Romney nomination.  My sense of the current electorate is that we are going to nominate someone with prior candidate experience over someone new.  I think that it will be an election placed in the hands of a Governor.

However, which Governor or former Governor it will be depends entirely on their competition.  Each of these ten have weak spots and spots where they will split their support.  But if we throw out Cruz, Rubio, Huckabee and Jindal, we are left with the final six of Walker, Kasich, Christie, Bush, Perry and Romney.

A lot will happen between now and January of 2016.  We may have new issues come to the fore or have issues that are hot today cool down.  I think that the three active governors would come out Kasich, Christie, Walker.  The former governors would come out Romney, Bush, Perry.  And woven together, I see the final six going Romney, Kasich, Christie, Perry, Walker, Bush.  So who will win I think depends on which, if any, of these six runs.

This prediction has absolutely nothing to do with my own wishes.  I almost never get the candidate I want to win.  I had to suffer watching Malloy and DeLauro get re-elected this month and that hurt!

Let’s check back in 2016 and see how far off I ended up.  In order to have another Ronald Reagan, I believe we need to coalesce support around someone like Rick Perry or Scott Walker now and push very hard against Romney, Kasich and Christie running.  I realize there will be some fences to mend in terms of Perry on immigration, but Romney and Christie would likely be far worse.  Kasich is very popular, but he also is against repealing Obamacare.