New Washington Post-ABC News polling on the 2016 Republican presidential race makes one thing very clear: Every GOPer who has even a hint of ambition for national office is likely to run in two years time. Why? Because the field is remarkably frontrunner-less, meaning that every Ted, John and Rob can make a plausible case to activists and donors that they are going to eventually be the guy.
Check out the field without Mitt Romney, who isn't running, included:
For those of you counting, that's 13 candidates who take somewhere between 15 percent and one percent of the vote. Another 14 percent of respondents -- good for second place (!) behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- want someone else or have no opinion.
National polls of a race whose first vote won't be cast for another fourteen months should be taken as a test not of electoral viability but of name identification. That is, when asked who they will support in a race that is two years and one election away, people tend to choose not necessarily who they will really vote for when the time comes but rather whatever name comes to their mind when being asked the question.
Even though this poll isn't predictive, it is telling. Two of the top three candidates -- Bush and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- are, at best, 50-50 shots at running. (Bush is entirely unreadable; Huckabee seems smart enough to understand that he had his presidential moment in 2008.) The only other person pulling double digits is Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a status due, at least in part, to voters' familiarity with his last name because of his father's two presidential bids in 2008 and 2012.
The simple fact is that this is a historically wide-open Republican field. As Dan Balz noted over the weekend: "For the first time in a long time, there is neither an heir apparent (George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008, Romney in 2012) nor a dominant first-time candidate (George W. Bush in 2000)."
So, if you are, say, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (2 percent), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (4 percent) or Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (0 percent) or really anyone else with an 'R' after his or her name, you should look at this poll and think: I have a decent shot at being the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. Because, you do.
That fact is affirmed by more than just the lack of a well-known frontrunner. Look at the "top" candidates -- and their flaws.
* Jeb Bush: Supports Common Core and immigration reform
* Rand Paul: His views on foreign policy are ripe for opposition research.
* Mike Huckabee: Economic record as governor of Arkansas has made him an enemy of fiscal conservatives like the Club For Growth.
* Paul Ryan: Almost certainly not running.
* Marco Rubio: The face of the Senate's immigration reform bill.
* Chris Christie: Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.
* Ben Carson: Um....
* Rick Perry: You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.
Now, flawed candidates in the eyes of the party base win nominations all the time. Witness Mitt Romney and John McCain in 2012 and 2008, respectively. My point is not that one of the people mentioned above won't be the nominee but rather that all of them have significant hurdles they will have to overcome to be their party's standard-bearer in 2016. No one in this field scares anyone out of it -- with the possible exception of Bush who would likely thin the field somewhat (Rubio would likely get out, Kasich might reconsider.)
The long, long list of potential presidential candidates stretches to 26 names. Now, let's assume that only half that number run. It would still be the largest Republican field in more than four decades. And, the trend line on size of fields is moving toward bigger. In 1980, seven GOPers ran for the chance to take on President Jimmy Carter. In 1988, it was six. By 1996, double digits (10) had been reached. In 2000, 2008 and 2012, 12 people ran each time.
The prospect of a massive field is catnip for political junkies but will strike fear and anxiety in the hearts of Republican strategists -- led by party chairman Reince Priebus -- who have gone out of their way to try to massage the nominating process in a way that will produce a nominee quickly against Hillary Clinton. There is, of course, always the possibility someone in the field -- either a name we already know or one we aren't thinking of -- catches fire and surges through the primary field and to the nomination. But, it's increasingly obvious that such a candidate will have to navigate through a historically large field of would-be rivals, spending money and political capital every step of the way.