With each new contender there has been some buzz, a brief poll bump and then a settling back to the status quo. But the race has hardly begun and early polls are less meaningful than other indicators — money raised, retail and large room political skills, qualifications, campaign organization and personality. Why not ideology? Well, it should be apparent that the top contenders are all fiscal, social and foreign policy conservatives. Even on immigration, border-security-first has become the default position. That said, here is how we think the race is positioned.
The race has and will continue to be a contest between Bush and the most electable not-Bush candidate. Bush has the money, the record (it should be evident now how conservative he is on guns, foreign policy and most everything else) and the organization to go the distance. There is, however, real concern about Bush fatigue, whether he has the fire in the belly to ignite crowds and if someone else would be a better match-up against Hillary Clinton.
In the top tier of not-Bush candidates are Walker, Rubio and, yes, former Texas governor Rick Perry. Walker has executive experience, a pugnacious personality, self-discipline (to get up to speed on foreign policy, for one thing), an organization fit for a national contest and enough money for now. He’ll say Rubio lacks executive experience and Perry is of the last generation while he would be a stark contrast to Clinton. Rubio will argue the main issue of our times is foreign policy and there is no one better than he. He’ll paint Walker as too inexperienced on that score and make the case that if you want an eloquent and dynamic contrast to Clinton, he’s the best choice. He will have plenty of money, top-flight advisers and political skills galore. Then there is Perry who bears virtually no resemblance to the Perry of 2012. He’s yet to give a bad performance, has superb retail political skills, can give a stem-winder, has become expert in foreign policy and has arguably the best and longest conservative record in the field. He will say both Rubio and Walker are too untested, less accomplished than he and not yet ready to stand on the stage and compare favorably to Clinton. (As an aside, one factor in his favor is that both Walker and Rubio look younger than they are, which is either a liability or advantage depending on your perspective.)
We will see how they perform, what mistakes they make, how they respond to adversity and new world events, but I believe any of these could be the nominee and any could beat Clinton, whose age, wealth, longevity and poor political skills, in our view, outweigh the benefit of the hundreds of millions she will raise. (It is not unthinkable that a dark horse could pass her in Iowa and throw the race into turmoil.)
What about Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.)? They lack the strengths of the first tier not-Bush candidates in temperament, broad appeal and accomplishments. Paul still wants the administration to keep talking to Iran (haven’t they given away enough?) an thinks there are “good things” in the Iran deal. Those sentiments alone are enough to disqualify him in the GOP race. He is otherwise bedeviled by the rest of his national security record, his prickly personality and his mediocre retail skills (he often appears disengaged and bored, lacking warmth and failing to project real interest in those he is meeting). Cruz doesn’t get that it is not all about him. When he demands to know who else suffered as much as he at the hands of liberals, he asks us to forget that his “suffering” is deliberately calculated to advance his own career. More important, no one cares how much he has been criticized; they care what he has done for them. The answer is virtually nothing. He’s a magnificent gadfly who lacks achievements. That’s not a presidential profile.
Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the rest will need a lightening-in-the-bottle moment. However, one of them, or Rick Santorum or Ben Carson, could upset one of the top contenders in Iowa, thereby knocking that contender from the race.
That’s how we see things at the moment. But we know things literally do change overnight in a crowded field. With many strong contenders and a pack of fiery also-rans it may be the best political show in decades.