I prefer to avoid writing about politics, despite spending far more time thinking about it than I would like to admit. They are usually not happy thoughts. You see, when it comes to our society and our culture, there is a light in the darkness. In people there is hope, because in people there is Christ. The best one can wish for in politics is an incremental decrease in corruption and dysfunction, or a gradual increase in goodness and sanity. Government is not our salvation. It is not a force for good in the world. As our Founding Fathers well understood, government is a necessary evil that always carries the potential of becoming an insufferable one.
I wish I didn’t care who won the 2016 presidential contest. I wish it wasn’t going to dominate the news for the next year and a half. I wish the outcome wasn’t going to affect my life and the lives of my children in real and meaningful ways. I wish this election wasn’t going to determine whether America rights itself in time to stave off disaster or slides inextricably into decline.
Presidential elections matter far more than they should. If we still had a true system of federalism where the states retained control over most matters of domestic policy… if we still respected the constitutional limits of the executive branch… if technology did not so greatly increase the state’s ability to encroach upon individual rights… if we did not live in a dangerous, volatile world with the likes of Iran, Russia, and ISIS… maybe then, it wouldn’t matter. But the regrettable truth is that it does. So we might as well get used to it.
On that hopeful note, here’s my analysis so far of the 2016 Republican primary race.
Let’s start with the obvious questions. Yes, there are too many Republican candidates. Yes, Donald Trump is hurting the GOP’s 2016 chances. If you don’t believe me, I strongly suggest you read Thomas Sowell’s piece in Investor’s Business Daily.
How is it hurting the GOP that there are 17 presidential candidates, including one bombastic egomaniac? For starters, consider the upcoming Fox News debate. Carly Fiorina, the first serious female candidate in GOP history and a successful business leader, will not be on the stage. Bobby Jindal, the first Indian-American candidate and a successful governor, will not be on the stage. Instead, we will get to hear from the likes of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie. If it weren’t for the inclusion of Ben Carson, and to a lesser extent Walker and Rubio, I would boycott this debate entirely.
How were the lucky “top” ten chosen? By an average of available polls. But when there are seventeen candidates, many of whom are unknown, what do the polls really reveal at this stage? Two things: who is already well known, and who is the most differentiated from the rest of the field. Neither of these measures is any guarantee of success. Name recognition may be a sign that a candidate’s time (or in the case of Jeb, his family’s time) has passed. Being different is also not a clear plus, as it may indicate a weakness in uniting the various factions of right-wing America.
The most frustrating thing about this whole situation is that never before have there been so many great Republican candidates. 2008 and 2012 did not have any great choices, or even good ones, and the results were disappointing in both cases. John McCain? Mitt Romney? Boring, uninspiring moderates. Both were honorable men, but neither could persuasively articulate a compelling vision for the future. Neither could convincingly claim the mantle of Reagan conservatism—a growing economy, a strong foreign policy, and a commitment to human life. Neither could reach out beyond the traditional frontiers of the Republican Party at a time when middle-class white men comprise a shrinking slice of the electoral pie. The best thing that could be said about either of the previous GOP choices was that they were better than Obama, which is a pretty low bar to clear. Whoever the GOP chooses will be better than Hillary, but for all her weaknesses and scandals, this will not be enough. So let’s take a closer look at the field.
Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki know they will not get the nomination. They know they will not be president, now or ever. Maybe they are hoping to garner some national attention, or see their names included on an important list? I don’t know. But they should do everyone a favor and drop out now. Let the serious candidates debate.
The Long, Long, Long Shots (A.K.A. the Tricky Ricks)
Neither Rick Perry nor Rick Santorum made the debate stage. Both seem to be good people who have some good ideas and have achieved decent results. It’s easy to see why Rick Perry in particular thinks he would make a good president, after what he has been able to do for the economy of Texas, a rare beacon of growth in the Obama years. They each had their moment in 2012, mainly due to the weakness of the field. They should both move on and accept that their time has passed.
The Sure Losers of Moderate-land
Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush are moderates who would lose to Hilary Clinton. Conservatives were briefly infatuated with Chris Christie in 2012, back when he sounded like a real straight-shooting reformer. Then came the bizarre embrace of Barack Obama days before the 2012 election that stopped just short of a French kiss. Then Bridge-gate. Now most conservatives have moved on, myself included.
When it comes to Jeb Bush, I tend to agree with his mother—America has had enough Bushes. Jeb may have done a decent job as governor of Florida, but he is no conservative. He walks and talks like a moderate, and would no doubt govern as one, if he ever got that far. It should tell us something that he and Clinton are courting the same donors. Reports that he helped direct money to Planned Parenthood as a director of the Bloomberg Family Foundation are sure to fire up social conservatives in the wake of its ongoing scandal. But for all his moderate mushiness, the bottom line is this: we have already had two President Bush’s. Two presidents is enough for any family. America is supposed to be a democracy, right? The presidency is not something you inherit. Fairly or not, this would be the perception. Let the Democrats be the party of yesterday by offering up another Clinton. Republicans need a new name and a fresh face.
After Donald Trump’s bizarre announcement of his presidential candidacy in which he instantaneously alienated a key segment of the electorate, my husband told me that Trump would surge to the top of the polls based largely on his celebrity status. “No way,” I replied. Well, honey, if you’re reading this, here is one of those rare “you were right” moments.
I don’t even know where to start on this one, so I’ll keep it brief. Trump is not a conservative. He’s not even much of a Republican. He is pro-choice and pro-socialized medicine. He has praised Hilary Clinton and given lots of money to Democrats. He has already accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists, disparaged John McCain’s war service, and admitted that he doesn’t ask God’s forgiveness. He might be a nice guy in person, but in public he comes across as a loudmouth egomaniac whose favorite subject is himself.
The Democrats could not have devised a more perfect nuclear bomb to set off in the middle of a promising Republican race. While few believe Trump will get the nomination, his controversial candidacy has kept the media attention off of Clinton’s missteps and his better-qualified but lesser-known GOP rivals.
Stretch Break/ Interlude
Well, we’ve already cut nine of the seventeen candidates. I feel a lot better; don’t you? The remaining eight are all acceptable choices, but not all are good or inspiring.
The Acceptable Candidates—but Likely Losers
Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee are all okay in their own right, but I highly doubt any will win the primary or could win the general. I like a lot of the things Cruz says, but I just don’t like him personally. He doesn’t come across as genuine. He also doesn’t seem capable of playing nicely with other Republicans, which any successful GOP candidate will have to do. Mike Huckabee had his moment in 2008 as the only conservative left standing against John McCain, gaining national attention that helped earn him a job at Fox News. But he is not the right person to reach out beyond the white, Southern, evangelical Christian conservatives that form his support base. There are better, more inspiring choices this time.
Rand Paul is intriguing as the somewhat toned-down version of his libertarian father. I love his tax plan, which I think is the best so far, and I respect his concern for individual liberty. I love how he is trying to reach out to traditionally Democratic-voting groups, including low-income families, young people, minorities, and urban-dwellers. But he loses too much on foreign policy, having previously stated that we have nothing to fear from a nuclear Iran. I’m sure he’ll try to beef up his rhetoric after the recent Iran “deal”, but with the rise of ISIS and the perception of dwindling American power, his anti-interventionist streak risks appearing weak. He also doesn’t seem to really want to be president or enjoy campaigning.
Scott Walker and Marco Rubio seem like good, solid-across-the-board candidates. Their appeal lies mainly in their ability to unite both the conservative base and the more risk-averse establishment. I am very confident that both could beat Hillary and win the general election in November. Rubio in particular is an excellent communicator and a happy warrior, someone who can unite and inspire. In some ways he is the Republican version of 2008 Obama, but with the substance, experience, and ideas to back up the hype. The problem is, he’s not the only Hispanic, nor is he the only Floridian in this race. As a freshman senator, he messed up on immigration reform. Cruz and Bush are likely eating into his support, and his criticism of Trump doesn’t seem to have helped his case.
Walker won three tough elections in a blue state, and is a true conservative. His appeal lies mainly in his Middle America, everyman charm. On the stump, he is guaranteed to look a lot more relaxed in jeans than Mitt Romney. Walker is like the basketball player who can rebound, shoot, pass, and score well; he doesn’t have any major deficiencies, but doesn’t necessarily stand out as the star. Still, everyone wants him on their team.
I have grouped together Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, and Ben Carson not because they are the token minorities in the field—far from it. All are serious, appealing candidates. The fact that none are white males is a coincidence, although it could help them broaden the appeal of the GOP brand.
Carly Fiorina has been nothing short of impressive so far. Everything she says is spot-on, from the economy to abortion to foreign policy. Her weaknesses are largely fixed and out of her control: she has never won a campaign, has low name recognition, and was fired from her previous job as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina probably won’t get the nomination, but either way, her voice deserves to be heard.
Bobby Jindal is a successful governor, a solid conservative, and a great American immigration success story. But for a man who seemed to have unlimited potential in 2008, Jindal hasn’t yet proved capable of inspiring a national audience. He’s on this list because he has inspired me, as someone who follows politics closely and appreciates his optimistic vision. Unless he sharpens his attack and finds a way to raise his profile, he will have a difficult time breaking out in this crowded field. Being left off the debate stage doesn’t help.
Finally, I have been impressed with Ben Carson ever since his famous speech at the National Prayer Breakfast—you know, the one where he systematically destroyed all of Obama’s failed policies while standing approximately five feet from Obama. As a former brain surgeon who has saved children’s lives, Carson is a breath of fresh air from the career politician lawyer class. In temperament, he is the opposite of Trump. Not loud or brash, not in your face. Rather, he is a confident but humble man who rarely raises his voice, but speaks from a reservoir of deep faith and strong convictions.
Going into the race, Carson’s biggest perceived liability was his penchant for being politically incorrect, but he seems to have moved beyond this. He actually answers questions with honesty and nuance in a way that is more likely to persuade than to overpower. While social and racial tensions have intensified under Obama, Carson’s message of education and opportunity could unite white and black America. It doesn’t seem that Carson particularly craves the title of POTUS, having been drafted into the race by his many ardent supporters. But this should be a good thing. Remember that George Washington guy? He didn’t crave the office either, but he used his faith and common sense to lead our nation through a trying time.
So there you have it, folks: Round One of the Republican Presidential Primary. In 2016, we have the chance to select a great candidate, a good candidate, or a loser. I pray we choose wisely.