Here are three propositions about the 2016 presidential race after a weekend in which 18 Republican candidates spoke to a crowd of party activists in New Hampshire and Hillary Clinton returned home after treading water and avoiding the press in Iowa.
One, the Republican field of candidates (and potential candidates) is far superior to the field of Republican candidates four years ago.
Two, the GOP candidates are fresher, livelier, and less touched by scandal than the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.
And three, the Republicans have more credible rationales for seeking the presidency than does Clinton.
Encouraging as these sound, they don’t guarantee Republicans success. My one political rule: The future in politics is never a straight line projection of the present. Events intervene. The first televised debate among Republicans is four months away. The first contest, the Iowa caucuses, is nine months away. The New Hampshire primary is a week later.
That Republicans are better off than they were in the last presidential cycle is indisputable. Remember businessman Herman Cain and Representative Michele Bachmann? They were prominent candidates in the 2012 race. Each led the Republican field in at least one national poll.
This time, 10 current or former governors and four U.S. senators are in the mix. When Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination last week, the Economist wrote, “The Republican presidential field grows more crowded and more impressive.”
In his new book 2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America, GOP pollster Whit Ayres provides a “checklist” for candidates. Among the items: a candidate must be optimistic, have held a major office, have an agenda that deals with the economic anxieties of middle class voters, can unite the factions of the Republican coalition, and appeals to minorities, blue-collar white voters, and young people. A Republican who meets most of these criteria, “stands a very good chance of being competitive against the Democratic nominee,” Ayres writes. A dozen or so Republicans qualify.
Best of all for Republicans, they won’t have to run against President Obama again. Clinton lacks Obama’s appeal as a candidate. At the moment, she is bent on keeping a strong rival out of the Democratic race. This is why her advisers boast of raising $2.5 billion for her campaign, a figure designed to scare challengers from running.
She is also tangled up in the three scandals: Benghazi, her deleted emails, and the matter of donations to the Clinton Foundation by foreign governments while she was secretary of state. No Republican candidate is beset by anything like this.
One upshot is that Clinton keeps the media at bay so she won’t face questions about the scandals. Republican candidates, in contrast, were bombarded with questions from party activists and reporters at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit here.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was asked about his support by the party elite. “I don’t see any coronation coming my way,” he replied. “I will have to earn [the nomination]. No one if going to give it to me.” Bush insisted he has a conservative record, not “a Republican in name only” record. He called himself an “I’m-not-kidding conservative.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said voters “don’t just want a fighter” as president, “They want someone who fights and wins.” When he took office in 2011, he said he decided to be bold. If “we nibbled around the edges and were just a little bit better than the Democrats, the voters would throw us out.” In 2012, Walker won a recall election and then a second term in 2014.
John Bolton, the ex-United Nations ambassador, said President Obama’s foreign policy of weakness and retreat has become “embedded in the Democratic party… There is no Scoop Jackson wing in the Democratic party. There isn’t even a Joe Lieberman wing.”
Rick Perry, the ex-governor of Texas, said a “few good decisions and a leadership change at the top” would revive America. His appearance impressed Rep. Steve King of Iowa, an observer at the Republican event. Perry, who ran poorly in 2012 presidential race, “has upped his game in depth, knowledge, and style,” King said.