How unusual is this year's GOP presidential race?
Consider this: Here's roster of the eleven men who've won Republican presidential nominations going back to 1944: Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Tom Dewey. Seven had previously run for the nomination before winning. Almost all were nominated after substantial time in public office or the public limelight; the two who might be considered exceptions (George W. Bush, who had only six years in office, and Mitt Romney, who had only four) were the sons of a former president and a former presidential candidate, respectively.
Or look at it this way: In the 18 presidential elections going back to 1944 and constituting the voting lifetime of all but the very oldest primary voters, a Bush has been on the general election ballot six times, Richard Nixon five times, and the voters have had a chance thrice to consider, in the primaries and/or the general election, Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan, and a Romney.
So this a deeply conservative party accustomed to the discipline of repetition and the comfort of familiarity. It always nominates a white male, usually middle-aged to elderly, who is well-credentialed, politically experienced and widely recognized by the Republican primary electorate.
But this year has of course been all topsy-turvy. The candidates who'd run before (Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee) haven't fared well. Nor have the "dynastic" candidates (Jeb Bush and Rand Paul), nor the ones with the most years in office (John Kasich, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Bobby Jindal).
Instead, the four who now lead the pack include two men--one of them African-American--who've never held public office, and two young first-term Cuban-American senators. The other two most likely to sneak into final contention are a woman who's never held office and a second-term governor.
Who knows if all of this is good or bad for the party, a welcome change or a dangerous departure? And who knows how the traditional GOP primary voter--an older, white Nixon-Reagan-Bush-oriented fellow--will react when he actually shows up to vote, and there's no Nixon-Reagan-Bush type to default to?
One can construct all kinds of theories. But the truth is, this year much more than before, we really don't know.