If you look on the surface, one might think that the polls indicate that Donald Trump is the best candidate to go up against the Democrats in the general election. As history has shown, the ability to get support within one’s own party is not always an indicator of ability to win in the general election. In fact, one can argue that either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich were more likely to defeat President Obama in 2012, though we’ll never know.
Before we get into the list of candidates, let’s look at general election “winning attributes” that work in the general election. It’s different than the primaries for a few reasons. First, there are more people paying attention to the two candidates going for the goal than a plethora of candidates vying for the nod. Second, the ability to go head-to-head is different from the ability to stand out in a pack. Lastly, the ability to fend off tumultuous attacks from the other side is imperative and less prevalent during the primaries.
Let’s look at the seven attributes required to win the general election.
- Promises: There’s always a punchline attached whenever people bring up campaign promises, but they resonate. Looking at the campaign promises of the last three Presidents, we can see that many of them were not met despite two terms each, but that doesn’t stop the American voters from holding onto hope that someone will come along who keeps their promises.
- Effectiveness: The Republicans almost had President Obama during the last election based upon ineffectiveness. His campaign was able to spin it to give them another term to achieve their goals. Again, the lack of effectiveness of both Mitt Romney and [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] helped to secure their second place finishes in the general election.
- Upbringing: History counts in the primaries. People want someone who came from humble beginnings, who worked their way to the top and who had experiences that echoed the plight of the average American.
- Skeletons: In American culture, it seems as if the skeletons are more easily forgiven now than they were in the past. The last three Presidents all had skeletons that should have sank them before their second term, but if something the size of John Edwards’ or Gary Hart’s ever comes to light for a candidate, this can play a role.
- Debate Skills: There was hope for the Republicans after the first debate between Romney and Obama. The polls shifted after an excellent performance by Romney compared to a mediocre showing by President Obama. The President turned it around for by the second debate, but one still has to wonder of Gingrich couldn’t have done much better. This time around, the likely Democratic candidates are all poor debaters other than Martin O’Malley, so this particular trait might be able to seal the deal.
- Charisma: Bill Clinton won on charisma. Barack Obama has even more. This can definitely play a role in the primaries, particularly with an electorate that has youthful voters growing in ranks.
- Polarity: Those who polarize the electorate are the ones that usually win. The left knows this. For some reason, the Republican Establishment has failed to grasp this, force feeding us Romneys, McCains, and Doles. George W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama were both polarizing. The more the other side hates you, the easier it is to win.
The Best Shots at a GOP Victory
With all of that established, it’s important to remember the wild card in this equation. I’m not one who believes that Hillary Clinton is going to be nominated and I’m pretty sure Bernie Sanders will fade over time. This means that it’s wide open and the opponent has a dramatic effect on the who would be more effective against them. For example, someone like Ben Carson would fair better against Clinton than others while [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] would be the perfect foil against Sanders. We can’t make decisions based upon this factor, so we’ll have to leave it out.
Here’s how I see the top GOP candidates in reverse order of their ability to win the general election.
5. Donald Trump
Despite his large lead in the early polls, his no-holds-barred style will be revealed as false and his chevalier attitude will be shown to be a front for a man that is little more than an egomaniac. Still, he appeals to the uninformed voters and there are plenty of those out there so he would have a chance. His debate skills are questionable and he likely has several large skeletons in his closet that the Democrats are holding until after the primaries. His shining lights that put him into the top five is that he’s polarizing, effective (in business, at least), and has the type of charisma that appeals to many.
4. [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ]
Rubio seems to be 8-12 years premature in his run. He’s a rising star with a strong upbringing and the potential to be a great debater, but he’s still green. His charisma is strong at first but he seems to wane after you hear him speak a few times. If he can make powerful promises that are achievable, he may be a strong choice, particularly against Clinton or O’Malley.
3. [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ]
If it weren’t for Donald Trump, Paul would be the great polarizing force amongst the candidates. Unfortunately, his reputation may not be as polar as his actual beliefs; of all the candidates his promises and effectiveness might be too far off the map, particularly when it comes to foreign relations. He was a disappointment during the first GOP debate, taking shots at Chris Christie and others that didn’t paint him in a great light. Still, he should have the charisma to win and his upbringing as Ron Paul’s son can be an ace in the hole.
2. Ben Carson
If it weren’t for some skeletons in his closet, he might be the best shot the GOP has. I’m still undecided about whether his soft spoken nature is a positive or a negative. It really depends on how profound his promises are. His biggest upside is that his upbringing is the epitome of the American dream presenting a man from a poor family that rose to greatness through hard work, intelligence, and perseverance. Depending on who gets the nomination, Carson might be the ideal running mate.
1. [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ]
Of all the GOP candidates, Cruz is the most complete package. His early promises are resonating. He has proven that he will take a shot at fulfilling his promises and while he hasn’t been successful, it demonstrates that he can be effective if given the power of the Presidency. His upbringing is nearly ideal, second only to Carson’s as a great story. If there were big skeletons, we likely would have seen them already. With the charisma of a Southern Baptist preacher and debate skills that match any candidate in recent memory, the only other criteria to be checked off is one that he’s known for as Senator. The guy polarizes in a way that galvanizes. That’s why he is the best chance the GOP has of securing the White House in 2016.
Clearly missing is the #2 in most polls, Jeb Bush. He cannot win, not against Clinton, not against Sanders… not against anyone. The Bush family baggage aside, he has such negative charisma that it’s a wonder he’s W’s brother.
Carly Fiorina is interesting and came close to cracking the top 5, but she hasn’t been exceptionally effective. There are a couple of big skeletons in her leadership closet, most notably merging HP with Compaq before laying off 30,000 US employees. Her upbringing could be a negative as well, having attended a private school in London and dropping out of UCLA Law School after one semester.
Scott Walker is a winner but under the scrutiny that comes with being on the national stage rather than just the Wisconsin stage, he looks like someone who would not withstand the barrage from the left if nominated. This is a shame because he has some great ideas, but he’s not the right candidate to put up against the Democrats.
None of the rest really have a good chance of winning.
It’s far from scientific but it’s a thought-out analysis of what we can expect from the candidates. Complacency is the killer in this equation. The presence of weak Democratic candidates is no excuse for not selecting the best possible GOP candidate. The country’s future is hanging by a thread. We can’t afford to lose this one.