August 11, 2015
Rand Paul is taking on water. Rick Perry has no money. Welcome to Shake-Out Season. Many candidates wait until Iowa and New Hampshire voters have their say before hitting the eject button, but in many cycles, prospective presidents bail out early.
2012’s early casualty was Tim Pawlenty, who was a 9/10ths scale Scott Walker. Much like the current Wisconsin Governor, Pawlenty was a two term gov from a light blue state in the upper Midwest.
Much like Walker, his goal was to impress the establishment as a serious choice and activists as a committed conservative. When that strategy works, you’re at or near the top of the heap (as Walker currently is). When it doesn’t, you’re too unproven for the big shots and too squishy for the grass roots.
To the insiders Mitt Romney was more proven, Perry more promising and Pawlenty too shaky on fundraising. To the Red Staters, Michele Bachmann was more aggressive, Herman Cain more compelling.
After wimping out in a debate when called out on comments he’d made about Romney, Pawlenty finished third behind Ron Paul and winner Bachmann at the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll.
Immediately after, Pawlenty exited the race and endorsed Romney, who retired $400,000 worth of Pawlenty campaign debt in return. Except for light speculation when Romney was picking a Veep candidate, he hasn’t been heard from since.
Later events indicate this was a mistake. As mediocre a candidate as Pawlenty was, his credentials were fairly good. Every other candidate in the race (excepting Jon Huntsman) got a shot (or two) as temporary front-runner.
Many of those candidates (Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Cain) were similarly poorly funded at first. As he punched out in August, Pawlenty had no idea the lead horse would change so frequently.
Once Romney opted for Paul Ryan, there was no future path to the presidency for Pawlenty. He’d already chosen to forego a 3rd term and having run so poorly in 2012, a 2016 run against a stronger field was out of the question.
Had he stuck it out several more weeks, Pawlenty might well have wound up as the leading Romney alternative, at least putting him in position to try again.
The vultures are already circling a couple candidates and will visit others after the mid-September CNN debate at the Reagan Library. Any candidate still stuck outside the Top 10 after that round is in jeopardy, as is the candidate who loses his seat at the big table to Carly Fiorina.
Who should fight to the bitter end, and who should exit as soon as the odds are very slim?
Rick Perry: He’s the first of the carrion candidates. Stories today noted his South Carolina staff is now working for free. His campaign is already almost broke. Iowa offices are being funded by his SuperPAC.
His calculated (and probably smart) attempt to gain notice by attacking Trump failed. A decent debate performance was overshadowed by Fiorina. Already embarrassed in 2012, why stick around?
Why not? He’s no longer governor of Texas. He does have a solid record and decent qualifications. He does sound better than last time. Perry needs more than an inside straight to win, but there’s nothing to lose by hanging in at least until early 2016.
Chris Christie: Most will say he should have run in 2012. Christie maintains he wasn’t ready, at this point it’s moot. What is relevant are his New Jersey poll ratings which are low and pension obligations which are high.
It’s very unlikely Christie runs for a third term in 2017, so he might as well spend time in New Hampshire instead of trying to pacify his angry constituents.
Being focused on the Granite State is relatively economical and Christie still has a few deep-pocketed Manhattan donors. He’s at least showing a pulse there and if he should get relegated to the mini debate next month, the smaller stage may give him an easier opportunity to make a mark.
John Kasich: Many pundits thought he did well in the first debate. Many of those pundits aren’t conservatives or Republicans. The first post-debate poll in Iowa had Kasich at 3% with no forward momentum.
Only one data point, and Kasich is focusing his attention on New Hampshire anyway, but with Marco Rubio apparently making progress, Kasich might find himself temporarily obstructed there too.
Though a couple others are at greater risk, it’s possible Kasich could find himself downgraded at the next debate. Regardless, he’s not going anywhere. Unlike some of the other candidates, he’s still building name recognition.
Unlike some of the other active governors, his constituents are seemingly untroubled he’s seeking higher office on their dime, at least for now. Kasich is already north of 60 and if a Republican wins this time, would be past 70 in 2024.
He dropped out of the 2000 contest in 1999, so will not want to concede this early again.
Rand Paul: He may stay in, but if he can’t reverse course soon, it’s time to retreat to fight another day.
Paul likely ranks as the biggest disappointment of the 2016 field as his current numbers are well shy of where his not-housebroken father was four years ago.
Trying to retain his dad’s base, while adding some voters who would prefer a slightly more conventional candidate, the goal was a Libertarian version of Walker. Inspiring enough to freedom activists, intriguing to party elders who look at his polling matchups against Hillary.
Instead, he’s got Pawlenty Disease. Too flaky for establishmentarians who have many choices, a sell-out to some activists. Plus, Trump, Cruz and Carson are crowding him out.
The above, combined with being young enough to give this another shot in 2020 or 2024 when the GOP might be desperate to see who Paul can drag into the tent is reason enough.
Beyond that, as Politico pointed out today, there’s the issue of his Senate re-election in Kentucky. Unlike some states, Kentucky does not allow candidates on the same ballot for multiple offices.
If he wants to run in the May 2016 Republican Primary for president, he can’t run for senator. Paul campaign officials are in negotiations to have a separate presidential caucus in March. However, there’s a cost to running an extra election and Kentucky Republicans want Paul’s cash-limited campaign to pay for it.
Seems like a lot of trouble for a candidacy with major viability issues. It’s not like Paul has any chance of being somebody’s VP.
Bobby Jindal: No sense in disappearing tomorrow, but if he hasn’t made any headway over the next couple months, it may make tactical sense for the still very young (44 this year) Jindal to punt.
Not only does he have plenty of time to try again in the future, but his campaign lacks a differentiating message. If a Republican wins in 2016, a cabinet position is a virtual certainty.
If not, his sub-par approval ratings back home will improve the minute his term ends in the next year, as Louisianans are reminded how ineffectual and corrupt their normal leaders are.
If Jindal wants to hang out for a bit in the Senate in a couple years, he probably can. If not, 2020 will appear on the horizon before you know it.
DON QUIXOTE AWARD:
Rick Santorum and George Pataki: Nothing to achieve by staying in, no pride to salvage by getting out.
Lindsey Graham: Hopefully his delivery improves at the next debate. If you are a one issue candidate, at least discuss your supposed passion with some vigor.
The others are all either temporarily above the cut line, or Jim Gilmore, who was the 17th guy when CNN sent out 16 debate invitations today. When they invite Pataki to the party and don’t have room for you, it’s a signal.