With Rick Perry and Scott Walker dropping out of the race, and some other developments, it is a good time to briefly revisit our categorization of the current GOP candidates. We will modify our approach to this task just slightly from our early August attempt in the following ways: 1) As unfortunate as the “undercard” mass media scheme has been, it loosely reflects reality, and as a result we will not consider candidates who do not qualify for the major debate, and 2) We will identify our assessment of a likely standard bearer for each camp.
Ted Cruz – Ted is not making waves, and delivered an almost forgettable performance in the last debate. He often seems to be one step ahead or behind the popular issue of the day, and he is working the evangelical angle pretty fiercely, at the expense of a broader appeal. Ted waves the flag for this camp based on his commitment to conservative principles across the board, and on his record, simply having more proof than any other candidate of fighting both parties in Washington. Since he is the best in his camp, and he isn’t wowing anyone, he will need to step up his game quickly or constitutional limited-government conservatives will not have a champion this time around.
Rand Paul – Paul appears to be the candidate who knows the constitution better than any other. He also does not shy away from a fight and appears to mean every single word he says. Unfortunately, his negative and quirky demeanor tend to turn people off. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and the people really do not seem to want the unfiltered truth.
Mike Huckabee – Along with Christie, it would seem an appropriate time to throw in the towel. Huckabee maintains a strong base of southern evangelicals, but appears to have very little ability to appeal to anyone else. The world has passed this good man by.
Ben Carson – Carson had a surge in the polls right before the debate. Unfortunately, his soft soft-speak and flat jokes make him a horrible debater. Throw in his comment on a Muslim president this week, and his days might be numbered. His mistake was not so much the merits of his comment, but more so that he answered a stupid question with a serious answer. Even Donald Trump knows you can’t do that.
John Kasich – We move Kasich into the Establishment camp. In August we called him a moderate. His performance during the past month of campaigning has been consistent and predictable, with a positive message that often sounds like a broken record. He avoids hot-button issues and food fights. Because he is the most conservative of the three establishment candidates, because he delivers the most positive message and because he has flashes of energy resembling something like leadership and inspiration, he waves the flag for this camp.
Jeb Bush – Currently leads in the polls for this camp. Entirely dull and uninspiring. The only candidate to openly embrace the hispanic and immigrant communities as a political strategy. Sadly, Jeb may be a nice man, but voters from all points on the spectrum should be opposed to Bush on sheer principle. Representing the very worst dimension of the establishment, a vote for Bush is a vote for family dynasties and complete and utter corporate/Rovian domination of national politics.
Chris Christie – Hanging on for dear life, Christie is very likely to be the next first-tier candidate to drop out. You can only go so far with cheesy melodramatic temper tantrums and head nods to 55 year-old construction workers. Not enough conservatism, not enough substance.
Carly Fiorina – With what most referred to as a clear victory in the most recent debate, Fiorina jumped to 2nd or 3rd in national polls, depending on your choice of poll. In reality, she probably should share the moderate flag with Rubio, but based on the debate alone, we grant her the honor for the time being. Fiorina demonstrated mastery of foreign policy knowledge down to the specifics of how many battalions must be maintained in a healthy Marine Corps. While this information is the type that may be memorized and rehearsed, she also exhibited more spontaneity and emotion in her remarks on Planned Parenthood.
Marco Rubio – We move Marco from the Establishment to the moderate category, after giving due respect to his short tenure in office, and his defeat of a true establishment candidate to gain the same. Rubio has the conservative version of the Obama factor, in that he is a young, smooth talking up-and-comer, who might be able to hypnotize less detail-oriented voters to fall in love with him despite some shaky bona fides on substantive issues.
*Note, this camp is interesting. This is the camp that does not satisfy any of the ideologues or hardliners, but differs from the establishment in that there is at least something about the candidates that makes them conservative. In addition, short terms in office or relatively little time spent in politics tends to land a candidate in this group. For the record, Romney probably would have fallen into this category.
Donald Trump – It is difficult to define Trump’s camp, but he clearly owns it. No one will overtake his throne with this segment, and this segment is unlikely to defect to any other. The one position that Trump has made clear, and the one that has propelled him to undisputed leader status, is the issue of immigration. His largest supporters are primarily middle/working class Americans, and the focus on borders, language, and culture, along with appeals to American exceptionalism, lead us to brand his camp “Populist/Nationalist”.
The next logical step for these updates would be to collapse the support for each camp to one number, and see where the chips fall. Then we might compare the standard bearer for each camp against the Democrat competition. But this we’ll save for a later date. There is so much time…