With the 2016 presidential election in full-swing, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on where we stand and where we might be a year from now.
Right now, candidates are engaged in the “invisible primary,” a period in which they court donors, fundraisers, activist, party leaders, and anyone else with more influence than your average primary-voter or caucus-goer. Basically, they’re testing the waters by preparing for a possible visible campaign in 2016. Below, I have focused on predicting not whether someone will win (much too early) but whether they will still be around for the visible campaign in a year. After each (potential) candidate’s name you’ll see my answer to the question, “Will he/she still be running in 2016?”
First, the Republicans, where there are a whopping 17 people to keep an eye on.
- Former Governors – Jeb Bush (yes on running in 2016) was first out of the gate, announcing an exploratory committee in late 2014. This and other actions ($100 million fundraising goal for Jan-Mar) suggest he’s hoping to intimidate some of his potential rivals with an early start. Among those apparently not intimidated is Mitt Romney (?), who told a group of fundraisers on Friday that he’s considering a third run. I’m undecided on Romney. I don’t think he really has a shot at the nomination but if he convinces himself otherwise (even foolishly), then he certainly has the resources to hang on. My gut told me he’d get the bow-out message, but I didn’t foresee his recent steps toward running. That leaves Mick Huckabee (?) and Rick Perry (no), both also previous candidates. Perry had the potential for a strong run last time but in this crowded field I don’t see him breaking out. Huckabee has a better shot and recently left Fox to explore running. Like Romney, I expect he’ll be invited to leave but that he’s also less inclined to hear the message than others. But he passed on 2012, so maybe he will do so again.
- Current Governors – I think the Chris Christie (no) boomlet is over and that it was going to be a hard climb anyway. I’d say the same for Bobby Jindal (no) and Rick Snyder (no), governors of NJ and MI respectively. Scott Walker (yes) looks solid for the run right now, especially since as governor he’s had the right kind of publicity for conservatives. The two governors to watch are: John Kasich (?) of Ohio, who accomplished similar things as Walker while keeping things more civil. He also appears most aggressive of the little-known governors in positioning himself as a potential candidate. Mike Pence (?) of Indiana, a conservative’s-conservative and successful governor. I think he has the most break-out potential, but I haven’t seen him be as aggressive as Kasich, so he’s still a question mark for me. But again, there’s a reason to call this stage “invisible.”
- The Senators – I continue to think Marco Rubio (yes) has the best shot here. He’s got the right credentials, the right back story, the right campaign skills, and enough recognition to make a feasible run. The question is just whether he’ll be able to break out in the crowded field or whether he’ll get overshadowed by the other senator hopefuls. I don’t think either Ted Cruz (yes) or Rand Paul (yes) have a real shot at the nomination (too many enemies and too many outsider ideas respectively), but I think both will stick in for the long-term, mostly because of temperament. Lindsay Graham (no) also made noises about running a few months ago, but I think that was just for momentary attention.
- The Others – Neurosurgeon Ben Carson (?) could be the Herman Cain of this election cycle – a Black Republican who gets conservatives excited by virtue of his personality and public speaking skills but who really does not have the requisite experience to be president. Like Cain, he could very well stay in the race into 2016. Paul Ryan (no) will keep getting mentioned, but I don’t think he’s going to run. Better to build up his influence in the House than to spend time on a failed run at this point. Rick Santorum (no) may be along for the ride a bit, but I also don’t think he’s got a real shot.
- Hillary Clinton (yes). If she wants the nomination (and I think she does), it’s hers for the taking. In 2008 she started in the lead of a pretty strong field but this time she’s completely dominant. She’ll get less popular as she gets closer to being an official candidate, so expect her to put that moment off as long as possible.
- The Challengers – A few others might make it to 2016, mostly in order to nudge Clinton (and the party) more in line with their issue preferences. Top possibilities include: Former senator Jim Webb (?) who has formed an exploratory committee and could push on foreign policy/military matters along with some populist issues (white working poor). Senator Bernie Sanders (?) who would be pushing hard on financial regulation, civil liberties, and generally liberal big-government efforts. In general, though, I think Clinton’s position is almost analogous to that of an incumbent president – don’t expect any real challenge unless something very surprising goes wrong.
- The Others – Martin O’Malley (no), former governor of Maryland has evidently been planning for this election for some time but is now completely overshadowed. If he’s now running to position himself for 2020, I don’t think it’s worth continuing on to the 2016 ‘visible’ stage, especially because it’s not clear what issues he’d push that would differentiate him from Clinton. I think basically the same goes for Elizabeth Warren (no). Sure, it makes sense to capitalize on the attention now. But no need to potentially upset the party with a visible candidacy, since she need the party’s help in the future, especially if Clinton wins the presidency. Finally, I don’t think VP Joe Biden (no) has any reason to run a lost election.
So, that’s how I read the field. Where am I wrong? Who am I missing? Who am I underestimating? And who do you wish was running (or hope will stick it out to 2016)? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this.