Wanted: A Top-Tier GOP Frontrunner for 2016
Policy + Politics

Wanted: A Top-Tier GOP Frontrunner for 2016


Jeb Bush, Florida’s former governor, is still deciding whether to jump into the 2016 race. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continues to endure an investigation into whether his administration abused its power by intentionally creating traffic jams.

And Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is struggling to convince conservatives that he is not a foreign policy isolationist while Islamic terrorists run rampant through Iraq and Syria and execute Americans journalists.

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A dozen or more prominent Republicans have been testing the national political waters for more than a year trying to decide whether to make a bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Yet despite their speeches, political trips to key battleground states, high profile fundraising efforts and provocative op-ed pieces, none of these individuals has been able to break away from a largely lackluster pack. 

Nearly all of them have political strengths and experience that might commend them for real frontrunner status. 

Bush has ample policy credentials and a prominent political family name. Christie has a take-charge personality that wins over audiences and has demonstrated broad appeal to moderates as well as conservatives. Paul’s ability to think outside the political box is helping his party broaden its appeal to young people and some minorities. And Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget and policy skills and experience as Mitt Romney’s 2012 vice presidential running mate give him bragging rights within the party. 

Related: Paul Ryan Stakes His Claim As GOP ‘Unifier’ 

Yet for now, Republican voters seem indifferent to the sprawling field of presidential wannabees. The latest RealClearPolitics cumulative polling averages for potential 2016 presidential candidates shows them all bunched together, with approval ratings in the low-teens or single digits. 

Chris Christie, who once enjoyed frontrunner status until the disclosure last January that aides intentionally created traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., to extract political revenge, currently leads with a cumulative polling average of 11.5 percent. 

He is followed by Jeb Bush, with 10.8 percent, Rand Paul with 10.3 percent and Paul Ryan with 9.3 percent. Bringing up the rear are Sen. Ted Cruz, a firebrand Tea Party champion from Texas, with 8.8 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 8.3 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida with 7.5 percent, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with 5.3 percent, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum with 2.8 percent and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal with a mere  2.3 percent. 

Absent a real powerhouse figure, such as a former vice president or a mega political star like Democratic former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Republicans are hoping a GOP leader surfaces who can take them to victory. 

Related: Even in New Jersey, Hillary Would Trounce Christie 

In this vacuum, some are actively urging former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to run again for president after losing twice before. 

“What you have are people who have a fairly high profile but are not at this point commanding a vast array of support within the party,” Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor, said in an interview Thursday, adding colorfully, “You’ve got the Seven Dwarfs without Snow White.” 

“For once, the GOP has no one who is arguably next-in-line – no crown prince – which is the way the party prefers to approach presidential nominations,” University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato told The Fiscal Times. “Just as important, this is a party badly divided and riven by factionalism.” 

Sabato this week conspicuously left blank a list of “first tier” potential Republican presidential candidates in his latest “Crystal Ball” political analysis.

Related: Chris Christie’s Biggest Problem Isn’t ‘Bridgegate’    

Instead, he relegated the current field of Republican hopefuls to the “second tier” and “third tier.” 

“Our Republican friends might object, but deep down, we think they would be hard-pressed to argue for any single name to head this long list,” Sabato and his associates Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley wrote. “There’s simply no one in the field who is clearly more likely to get the nomination than a half-dozen or more others.” 

Sabato contends that Bush, the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush, has the makings of a front-runner and the anointed “Establishment candidate” if he decides to run. 

However,  Bush would not be a shoe-in by any means, because he polls poorly among his party’s hard-core conservatives and has alienated many with his support of liberal immigration reform policies and the unpopular Common Core educational initiative. What’s more, his wife reportedly doesn’t want him to run.

“Bush has done absolutely nothing to suggest that he’s truly interested in taking on the campaign,” Sabato wrote. “So he remains the first name on the list, but is no longer first tier.”

Related: 3 Reasons to Add Rob Portman to the GOP 2016 Short List 

Here’s how Sabato’s “Crystal Ball’ ranks and handicaps many of the potential GOP candidates:

“Second Tier”:

Jeb Bush – Strong gubernatorial resume, Hispanic connections and Establishment favorite, but is saddled with the “dynasty rap,” is reluctant to run and his party has moved to the right of him.

Rand Paul – Has been working hard to reach diverse audiences and enjoys strong support from libertarian and Tea Party wings. But he may be “too dovish/eclectic for GOP taste” and would be a highly unconventional choice.

Paul Ryan – Strong conservative who arguably is “next in line” after running with Romney in 2012, but is not a dynamic campaigner and may be more interested in moving up the leadership ladder in the House than seeking the presidency.

“Third Tier”:

Marco Rubio – Dynamic speaker who appeals to Hispanics and conservatives and who hasn’t spent much time in the Senate. But he hurt himself politically by supporting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and some think his national star may have peaked too soon.

Ted Cruz – Another dynamic speaker and politician with huge appeal among conservatives and Tea Party adherents who like his stinging anti-establishment message. But the freshman senator may be “too extreme” for many and is disliked intensely on both sides of the aisle.

Related: Scott Walker Accused of Campaign Finance Conspiracy 

Scott Walker – Has “heroic conservative credentials” for taking on and defeating the public employee unions in Wisconsin and might benefit if the GOP is looking for someone with strong Midwestern ties. But he faces a tough reelection campaign for governor, is somewhat bland and may be hurt by a lingering campaign scandal.

Chris Christie – Another Establishment favorite who knows how to command an audience and can deflect Democratic and media criticism. But Christie was seriously wounded by the “Bridgegate scandal” and a crisis in the state’s finances. Some worry he comes across as a bully who lets his staff run wild.

Others: Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio; Governor John Kasich of Ohio; Bobby Jindal;  Rick Perry; and Rick Santorum.

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