Has the Republican Party learned nothing from losing the past two presidential elections?
After a long and ugly 2012 primary battle that produced a battered, weak presidential candidate, the Republican National Committee vowed to improve and shorten the process.
Yet in 2016 the GOP looks poised for a repeat of 2012. The growing list of possible 2016 GOP candidates makes what should be a field of dreams look like an overcrowded fraternity house.
It includes: Govs. Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, former Govs. Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush, Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Carly Fiorina, the only woman. I’m sure I’ve missed a few.
To date, the list is still very much speculative and a moving target, as only Cruz has officially announced his candidacy for president, and Paul and Rubio only are rumored to formally kick off their campaigns in April. Still, the question isn’t who’s running, but who isn’t, on the Republican side. Many are running again who never should have run the first time they chose to — because they’re unelectable. And some like Carson and Cruz play to fringe groups, and should run only for presidents of their own egos — because they don’t have a chance at winning the nomination.
Instead of sitting on the sidelines and helping the party win the White House with a small, electable candidate pool, Republicans are threatening to dive into 2016 like spawning salmon. This poses numerous problems.
First, a crowded GOP field will give the media lots of ammunition to mock our candidates roundly — because let’s face it, the party is gaffe-prone, not immune. Second, many GOP contestants may be tempted to hang on ’til the bitter end, like they did in 2012, failing to win primaries, yet unwilling to concede failure. And that would unnecessarily turn the process into a contentious, litmus test for conservatism.
With the recent announcement of his candidacy, you can bet Cruz will be the one injecting the divisive tone into the GOP contest. Not only will Cruz take joy in being the most “severe” and unelectable conservative among the group, he’ll shame the other candidates publicly for their lack of conservatism.
As he’s done during his first term as senator from Texas, Cruz will be the candidate of NO, not running for something but against everything — his conservative peers, conservative ideas, Obamacare and Obama (even though Obama isn’t running).
When the Republican nominee finally emerges in the middle of 2016, the public’s perception of him or her will be negative, like it was of Romney, because the candidate will have had to defend against accusations of being a RINO (Republican in Name Only) from ideologues like Cruz. This is a recipe for losing.
In contrast, Democrats are playing a wiser game. They might be the donkey party, but Democrats aren’t making asses of themselves prematurely hinting or flirting with the idea of running for president in droves. Potential candidates, who have ruled out running, such as former Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Sen. Jim Webb, are thinking very carefully about whether they have a chance against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee, because Democrats like the White House winning streak they’ve been on and don’t want to screw it up.
Even though Hillary looked “unready” to lead during her email controversy press conference, she and her party are in a stronger position to win in 2016. While a few other candidates may decide to challenge Hillary, I doubt we’ll see tons of Democrats running for their party’s nomination just for the sake of running. Democrats know better and they like winning.
Democrats also realize that more candidates fighting for the nomination makes the whole process uglier, producing a nominee vulnerable to attack and weaker in the general election. I’m still trying to figure out what the Republicans’ presidential game plan is: Born to run — but never to win again?