Really Weird and Intense Gaming Out of the 2016 Republican Field

December 11, 2012|Stephen Markley

The best part about the end of the presidential election other than the end of a presidential election is speculating about who will run in the next presidential election. In the wake of their sound defeat at the polls, the Republicans are especially interesting because everyone who will likely run is already running. The dynamics are just too interesting to not get into it, and I warn you, this little game I’m about to play is going to be intense and weird.

By 2016—in all likelihood—a popular two-term Democratic president will be retiring, and conservatives will be hungry for a candidate who can take back the White House. Other than Franklin Roosevelt winning four terms, recent history gives us only one example of a party holding onto the executive branch for three consecutive terms: George H.W. Bush following on Reagan’s heels.

So history tells us the Republicans have a good shot, yet as 2012 demonstrated, all the demographic trends are moving in the other direction. The electorate is getting more racially diverse, more liberal, and the Electoral College map now heavily favors Democrats who can contest more states. Meanwhile, the Republican electorate is moving farther to the right, which should make for an intense primary. Poor economic circumstances could certainly aid the GOP, but in all likelihood the top contenders will not be able to run as far to the right as Mitt Romney did in 2012 and expect to have a chance in the general. Here’s what I’m thinking:

• Rick Santorum is for sure running. I know this because after I spoke with him in Michigan while I was tripping on mushrooms, I ended up on his mailing list. This guy spent basically all of 2012 in Iowa. He hasn’t left Iowa since the end of the election. He’s writing op-eds on everything. Trust me, the dude’s running. He also has no chance in hell of actually winning. The Republican Party has a crazy, cracker-ass base, but it also has a strong establishment, and as in 2012, that establishment knows it will have an electoral bloodbath on its hands if Santorum is the nominee. Young women just helped deliver a resounding victory to the Democrats and Santorum makes Mitt “Binders Full of Women” Romney look like Betty f***ing Friedan.

• With Ron Paul claiming 2012 was his last rodeo, many are predicting Kentucky senator Rand Paul will take up the libertarian mantle. I could hardly care less. Rand will fail for the same reason Ron did, which is that a crucial part of the Republican Party’s tent includes the military-industrial complex, which has no interest in his isolationist positions. Maybe he can get the same crew of pot-smoking “Atlas Shrugged” fans to show up and heckle.

• Paul Ryan will benefit from the GOP’s tendency to nominate “the next guy in line.” The party has highly hierarchical tendencies, which is basically how Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, H.W., W., John McCain, and Romney all got their nominations. Now Ryan fills that role, and of the non-dark-horse candidates, he’s clearly the front-runner. He’ll still be young and will immediately raise a boatload of money. His right-wing politics are generally hidden beneath an affable enough demeanor and excellent communication (read: obfuscation) skills. On the other hand, there are plenty within the party who were underwhelmed by his performance in 2012. Unlike Sarah Palin, he came out with no rabid following. He’s never won a statewide contest and even had an uncomfortable margin of victory in his congressional district this November. He also suffers from whiteness. You can take it to the bank that the GOP will extract the wrong lesson of 2012 and attempt to appeal to minorities with superficial tokenism rather than, you know, addressing problems that affect their communities. Ryan is really, really white. Like Son of Romney white. No one’s stock fell farther than Ryan’s in 2012, but he has four years to make repairs.

• Let’s dispense with all the dark horses here: Indiana Governor Mike Pence, South Dakota Senator John Thune, Virginia governor Bob McConnell, and Ohio Senator Rob Portman all suffer from whiteness, and like I said, the heavy-hitting white guy will already be Ryan. At best, one might be able to make a case for getting on the ticket as VP.

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