2016 Republicans, History

Measuring the Republicans Against History (Part Eight of the Series)

September 20, 2015

Recently, we compared the Democrats possible options for 2016 to their historical antecedents.  Time for a look at the GOP crop.

Same rules.  We’ll concentrate on examples from 1948-present, with occasional prehistoric examples where appropriate.  Stronger candidates will have comps who did better than weaker candidates.  If you haven’t heard of their most similar matches, that’s a sign they shouldn’t plan on redecorating the Oval Office.

It’s interesting to note the historical precedent explaining why this seemingly promising batch of GOP governors is striking out.  Since the Party began nominating presidential candidates in 1856, here is the entire list of nominees with governor as the most recent item on their electoral resume:

Rutherford B. Hayes (1876)

William McKinley (1896)

Alf Landon (1936)

Thomas Dewey (1944, 1948)

Ronald Reagan (1980)

George W. Bush (2000)

Mitt Romney (2012)

Between 1948 and 2012 a grand total of twice.  Meanwhile in that time, Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson twice, Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton.  Three Democrats served as president between the Civil War and World War II.  Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Governors all.

It’s easy to see how we were all fooled.  Many famous presidents were governors.  The biggest modern GOP icon was a governor.  Being a governor therefore is a path to the presidency.  But not for modern Republicans.  Reagan and Bush 43 are the only GOP governors to win the presidency since the 19th Century.

Neither Reagan, nor Bush 43 spent very much time emphasizing their records.  They brought up the executive experience as needed, but didn’t fixate very much.

Republicans are generally the party of smaller government.  If a governor does a lot, they can’t get nominated because they were too activist and/or spent too much money.  If they stayed well within their limits, too provincial or not enough to run on.  With the exception of Landon (the 1936 GOP nomination was an absolute lost cause), and Romney all other nominees from the Governor’s Mansion led very large states, making distinguishing policy achievements less crucial.

For Romney, his distinguishing policy achievement (Romneycare) was the biggest obstacle to his nomination.  If he could have pretended his governorship hadn’t happened, he would have likely had more luck running the way Carly Fiorina is now.

Donald Trump

Traces of: Wendell Willkie (1940), George Wallace (1972), Ross Perot (1992), Pat Buchanan (1992, 1996), Nikita Khrushchev

With three prominent candidates who have never held elective office, the Willkie example is going to come up frequently.  None are exactly like him, but all three have at least one similarity.

For Trump, it’s the change in party affiliation and lack of adherence to many current Republican positions.  Willkie was not a lifelong GOPer.  He actually supported FDR in 1932, but as the New Deal progressed, he found more and mote objectionable items, particularly when it began to affect his company (see below in the Carson comments).

Willkie’s sudden conversion was just as controversial with some Republicans then as Trump’s is now.  While the GOP establishment is in favor of traditional free trade agreements and Trump wants to renegotiate and start over, Willkie was an internationalist/interventionist at a time where the core of the Republican Party was isolationist as WW2 was beginning in Europe.

One important difference is the relative lack of options Republicans had in 1940.  Between 1930 and 1936, the Depression decimated the GOP bench, throwing senators, representatives and governors out of office left and right.  Many of the group that would have come of age in time to run were expelled by voters years before.

Tom Dewey was already the apple in the eye of some Republicans, but he was only 36 and had no foreign policy experience, dangerous with war approaching.  Arthur Vandenberg and Robert A. Taft were stark isolationists, and the party wasn’t willing to go that far in that direction.  Willkie sort of won by default, eventually wearing down the opposition to nominating an outsider.

This year, even if flawed, there are many more choices, including two other non-politicians, either of which are likely more acceptable to the establishment, Fiorina in particular.

As many have pointed out, some of the diseffected voters supporting Trump share similarities with those who backed George Wallace in 1968 and 1972, Ross Perot in 1992 and Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996.

Each of those candidates had different points of emphasis and Trump uses a portion of all.

From Wallace are the dog-whistle statements to make sure his voters know he’s on their side, against the forces of political correctness (not a term yet when Wallace ran), and not anti-racist.  While nobody has conclusively proven Trump is actually even slightly racist himself, he isn’t doing anything to suggest he’s uncomfortable with the support of individuals with views not welcome in polite company.

This is not the majority of Trump’s support, but it is a component, just as it was for Wallace.  By crossing a line many politicians won’t, Trump picks up support from some voters who don’t feel welcome in polite society and tend to normally stay away from the voting booth.  When he gets called out for these things, it reinforces that support.

Like Perot, Trump presents himself as a problem-solving businessman who will bring his unique skill set and inside knowledge to fix the economy, particularly in keeping American jobs from going overseas or across the Rio Grande.

Perot was far more specific though.  He liked charts and graphs and stats about exactly how NAFTA would impact the economy, what would happen if deficits weren’t brought under control, etc.  While Trump is promising plenty of formal proposals, for now, he lacks Perot’s detail and transparency on issues.

From Buchanan, Trump gets the focus on illegal immigration, border control and an even more populist economic message than Perot offered.  While Perot worried about offshoring jobs, his primary issue was the deficit, something Trump mentions but doesn’t do much with.

The bits we can pick up from the Trump commentary indicate more of a Buchanan view of what to do.  Like Buchanan he supports a strong military and extra defense spending, but is opposed to most foreign interventions.

So basically Trump is a businessman fix-it guy like Perot, using an updated version of Wallace’s language to sell Buchanan’s agenda.  There’s one more ingredient though.  Wallace was an experienced politician.  Buchanan was an experienced presidential speechwriter.  Each spoke in ways voters could recognize.  Trump seems completely sui generis.

For an American he is.  But he bears a striking rhetorical similarity to Nikita Khrushchev.  Sure, The Donald is taller and has a hair-like substance on his head, but the bluster, threats and counterpunches are all Nikita.

Much as Khrushchev said and did things that went beyond the pale of what was normally acceptable for the leader of a superpower, Trump pushes the envelope and then crumples it and throws it away.

Like the Soviet Premier, a gust of bluster to start a statement is often followed by a retraction or shift to more reasonable approach in the very same paragraph.  You remember the extreme statement, but sometimes miss the negotiable path.

Whether Americans will or should want to elect someone who evokes the Great Shoe Banger of yore is another topic, but if the comparison is correct, Trump is not down for the count just because he had a rough debate.  Khrushchev was extremely nimble and rarely left himself cornered for long.

Ben Carson

People See: Alan Keyes (2000), Herman Cain (2012)

More Likely a Mix of: Wendell Willkie (1940), Ronald Reagan (1976), Steve Forbes (1996, 2000), Mike Huckabee (2008)

We don’t know what Ben Carson is as a candidate yet.  There’s no direct comparison.  The default is to compare him to most of the non-politicians to run over the past several decades.

Two of those were conservative African-Americans, so it’s a convenient cheat, but neither Alan Keyes, nor Herman Cain sounded anything like Carson.  Keyes was a polemicist, Cain a businessman.  Neither of those professions or backgrounds are remotely similar.

Meanwhile, Carson has spent 20 years building a grass-roots brand for himself, managing to stay under the media and political establishment radar even after a movie about his life story was released.  The campaign claims donations from 500,000 individuals.  There’s at least something going on here.

Wendell Willkie is on the list by default, but there’s at least one connection beyond Willkie’s status as the one person with no government experience to have pulled this off.  As president of a utility company, Willkie was directly affected by the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority hydroelectric power project.

To make TVA happen, the federal government restricted private utility companies and then competed with them.  I’ll spare you the details, but in order to get large sections of the rural Mid and Deep South electrified, FDR’s team broke some eggs.

In Carson’s case, the trigger point was Obamacare, something the surgeon abhors. While he’d spent years becoming more prominent, and hasn’t supported Democrats in decades, this definitely helped push him toward a run.

Comparing Carson to a two-term governor of a huge state may seem a bit fanciful.  They definitely aren’t clones, and Reagan had important executive experience the doctor lacks.  However, when the end of quarter fundraising numbers come out in a couple weeks, we’ll likely find this is the strongest grass-roots funding operation since Citizens for Reagan back in 1976.

Carson will raise more (even inflation adjusted) and have more contributors, but given the technology available 40 years ago, Citizens is still the most impressive effort in GOP history.  Like Reagan in ’76, Carson is bringing in contributors and volunteers who were often not part of the process before.

Like Steve Forbes, Carson advocates some version of a flat tax.  For Forbes it was the centerpiece of his campaign and entire reason for existence.  In this case, it’s just Carson’s default when someone asks him about taxes.  This differentiates him from Cain’s 9-9-9 plan too, as that was also the whole campaign.

However, Carson is a candidate who has never held elective office who favors a flat tax, so there’s that.  Like Reagan, Forbes and Cain, Carson has policy prescriptions that are not part of current Republican orthodoxy.

Though he has a wider potential appeal and is doing pretty darn well in New Hampshire too, Carson shares comfort with and reliance on evangelicals with the 2008 Huckabee campaign.  A few weeks ago, before the latest polling bump, Carson looked like the Iowa candidate for 2016, following in the footsteps of Huck and Santorum to collect enough social conservatives to make some noise.

However, if he can hold on to most of his current support, Carson is more of a 50 state  nomination candidate than they were.  That combined with a larger donor base makes it more possible for him to have the resources necessary to make a legitimate nomination run.

Debate consensus from talking heads, bloggers and whatnot was that Carson hurt himself in the debate.  Many though he sounded confused, reluctant, unpresidential, not ready for the office.

Until Carson supporters say this, it may not matter what political junkies think, based on what they are used to.  The normal criticism of outsider candidates is that they don’t have enough political experience to get things done and don’t have enough issue background to know what can and should be done.

When called out on his minimum wage position, Carson was far more cogent than Scott Walker.  While Walker repeated normal GOP talking points on the ineffectiveness of minimum wages, Carson had a full solution.

The current debate format is not to his strength.  Unlike other candidates, Carson is not comfortable regularly interrupting.  You get the idea he could really use another 30-60 seconds on each answer.  As the field thins, he will get more time.

You can come up with 100 reasons why Carson can’t get nominated, but none of the candidates are dead ringers for previous successful GOP nominees.  Somebody who doesn’t fit the normal profile will win.

Jeb Bush

Resembles: Tom Dewey (1948), Nelson Rockefeller (1968), George H.W. Bush (1992), Mitt Romney (2008, 2012)

On the bright side for Jeb, most of his comps got nominated.  On the cloudy side, none won that fall.  Worse for him, Republican voters are making some form of this connection.  If you leave strong communication skills out of the equation, the man aspiring to Bush 45 has a strong case, but the same is true of those who lost before him.

Even more negatively, Jeb combines many of the weaknesses of those candidates.  Dewey and Romney were notoriously poor at seeming like regular human beings on the campaign trail.  In Dewey’s case, people didn’t like him much in smaller groups either, where Romney was actually very human without the glare of the cameras.

You get the feeling Jeb would be just fine to have a beer with, but being interviewed, onstage debating, giving speeches, he’s often stilted, not something presidential winners usually have in common.  As people-phobic as Richard Nixon was in private, he was very fluent in public.

The tone thing didn’t stop Dewey from being nominated twice, nor Romney just last cycle.  However, neither ever won the presidency.  After Dewey’s face plant, the GOP turned to the affable Eisenhower.  With Romney fresh in everyone’s mind, this isn’t a fortuitous time for Jeb.

Like Nelson Rockefeller by 1968, Jeb is at least temporarily unacceptable to a wide swath of Republicans.  As of a couple days ago, even the controversial Trump had a 2 to 1 favorability ratio among GOP voters.  Others, like Rubio and Carson are between 3 to 1 and 5 to 1.  Jeb struggles to stay at 1 to 1.

It’s one thing to try to squeeze through to a nomination of some are tremendously excited about you and some opposed, but Jeb does not have a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers and small individual contributors.

Like his father when running for re-election in 1992, Jeb has a difficult time getting his full debating points across.  Sharing a bit of a hereditary speech pattern, he’s always at risk of seeming weak or out-of-touch, even if neither are likely the case.

Despite all the negatives mentioned, most people on Jeb’s comp list got nominated eventually, something not the case for most competitors.  In the years where Dewey, Bush 41 and Romney were the early front-runners, they usually after hitting some bumps, figured out how to close.

None of them won on their first try though.  Each (except Rockefeller who never won) needed a second try, and were the clear front runner on that effort, not the first.  We’ll see how much this impacts Jeb.  Looking at his performance so far, you can see why these guys weren’t ready the first time.

Ted Cruz

Most Like: Barry Goldwater (1964), Ronald Reagan (1968), Phil Crane (1980)

There are three paths for the Texas senator.  Like Goldwater, he may take advantage of a fractured party to win nomination as a stronger conservative than is normally nominated.  Unlike him, he might have a chance at winning or making it very close instead of losing in a landslide if he faces Bernie Sanders or an email-weakened Hillary Clinton.

The 1968 Reagan was already a conservative favorite, but just getting started.  Though he was the first choice of many, ultimately some of those supporters settled on Nixon as a compromise to ensure Nelson Rockefeller got nowhere near the nomination.  Whether in an attempt to stop Trump or someone from the Kasich/Christie/Jeb group, it’s possible to see Cruz facing the same fate as voters and conservative donors coalesce around Rubio or Fiorina.

Cruz is well younger than Reagan at the same stage, so he has plenty of time to build toward 2024 or even further in the future if he so chooses.  However, he’s not yet as likeable as Goldwater, let alone Reagan.

The first two examples would indicate many Americans will know who Ted Cruz is/was in the mid-2060s.  If he follows the third path, not so much.  Phil Crane spent multiple decades in the House from a Congressional District to the north of Chicago.  You wouldn’t picture a Goldwater disciple winning elections there now, but a few years before Crane won a special election in 1969 (to replace departing for the Nixon administration Donald Rumsfeld), suburban Chicago was home to then-Goldwater Girl Hillary Clinton.

In 1976, Crane was Chairman of Citizens for Reagan for Illinois, one of the Gipper’s earlier elected official endorsements as he challenged President Ford.  He announced his 1980 candidacy early, in 1978, hoping Reagan would ultimately decide he was too old to run.  When Reagan opted in, Crane didn’t last very long.  Though Cruz isn’t competing with anyone on that level, his support levels compared to Ben Carson show the limitations he may face if things follow the more pessimistic track.

Marco Rubio

On a Good Day: John F. Kennedy (1960), Barack Obama (2008)

Traces of: Tom Dewey (1944), Jack Kemp (1988)

Republicans have never really experienced a candidate like Rubio.  Perhaps this explains why voters have no idea what to do with him just yet.  He consistently does very well in favorability surveys, but is struggling to convert that to polling support, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire.

They don’t usually nominate someone this young.  While Democrats have opted for JFK, Clinton and Obama, the only comparably aged GOP nominees were Dewey and Teddy Roosevelt back in 1904.  T.R. only happened because a Leon Czolgosz bullet found its way into William McKinley’s abdomen and surgical techniques 115 years ago were limited.

It’s highly doubtful he would have won an open nomination, and despite being the most popular politician in the country, failed to dislodge Taft in 1912.  The 4th face on Mt. Rushmore was a historical accident.  Roosevelt was only the proverbial one heartbeat away because New York Republican boss Thomas Platt wanted him the hell out of Albany.

Besides the always mentioned any time for any reason Reagan, the only really sunny-side up candidate to run in a Republican primary was Jack Kemp in 1988.  If you really measure the language and speech patterns, Rubio actually sounds more like a more mellifluous Kemp, particularly when talking about economic opportunity, than Reagan.

While Marco hardly seems weak, he doesn’t have Reagan’s record of confrontation.  For all the Shiny City on a Hill stuff, he got his start running against the Watts Riots and Berkeley protestors, promising to restore order.  He predicted the Soviets would wind up on the Ash Heap of History, called them an Evil Empire and demanded Mr. Gorbachev Tear Down this Wall with a snarl not a smile.

Reagan was the velvet glove over the iron fist, not Mr. Don’t Worry be Happy.  This may explain why GOP voters aren’t all in just yet.  Though Rubio doesn’t hesitate to point out trouble spots in the world, he lacks the record of winning political conflicts, instead being tied to a failed immigration compromise.

In the fall of 2007 many donors were waiting for Barack Obama to break out the brass knuckles and show some toughness, so there’s favorable precedent there, if on the other side.  Like JFK, Rubio is well versed in foreign policy and enjoys talking about it.  Unlike Kennedy he doesn’t get to replace an elderly, if admired president and provide a huge stylistic contrast.

Rubio is both way more appealing than most competitors and nothing like any previous GOP nominee.  Democrats need to pray Republican primary voters aren’t up for breaking precedent.

John Kasich

Inspiration: John McCain (2000)

Resume: William McKinley (1896)

Ohio was more important 120 years ago, but it’s still a pretty decent sized swing state.  Unlike most governor candidates, Kasich and McKinley both spent considerably more time in the House, each serving for well over a decade.  Income inequality and the plight of Middle Americans is a bigger issue than anytime since…….1896.

Though Democrats presided over much of this angst, their 1896 candidate, William Jennings Bryan did a full reboot, acting as though the Cleveland administration had nothing to do with him.  You can see Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren (if she changes her mind) filling a similar role.

The McKinley campaign had to find a way to put itself squarely on the side of small businesses and entrepreneurs who were struggling after the Panic of 1893, without taking drastic action against the largest American businesses, many of which were getting an increasing percentage of their revenue overseas.

With Bryan threatening to completely redefine how the financial system functioned, McKinley was safe harbor.  His American System was a path forward, without the risk of including silver in the money supply.  Though the election was reasonably close, enough change was offered to win a majority.

You can see a similar approach working for Kasich next fall, especially if Bernie Sanders somehow won the nomination, but even against Hillary or Biden.  Even in the primary process, he’s making it very clear the concerns of ordinary working Americans are paramount and leans on his Ohio record to prove it isn’t all talk.

It’s an ideal pitch for 2016, and conservatives and establishment Republicans can find comfort in Kasich’s many years on the Armed Services Committee, his role balancing the budget in the late 1990s and his tenure with Lehman Brothers to conclude he won’t go too far in that pursuit.

So what’s the hold up? Why aren’t Republicans rushing to support the guy with a great resume, years of conservative credentials and general election promise?

Well, there’s the whole nomination thing, and Kasich is sounding more like John Huntsman than a normal GOP candidate would or should.  Several months ago, Jeb said he was willing to lose the nomination to win the general.  This presumably meant he wanted to figure out how he needed to sound in fall 2016 and start with that, rather than doing the traditional protect the base, then run to the center thing.

Due to general communication issues and Trump Trouble, Bush hasn’t followed through on his original strategy, but Kasich is giving it a try.  If it works, he’s in great shape for next year.  But it may well not.

Though he shares McKinley’s resume, he doesn’t share his backing.  Back in 1896, McKinley was the front runner with the large bankroll.  He was supported and managed by Ohio Senator Mark Hanna who had a national political network and plenty of money.

If Kasich had Jeb’s backers, this strategy would have a better chance of working.  There’s a good chance Bush actually intended to run Kasich’s campaign with his resources, but it didn’t happen and now you have two partially viable campaigns, but no very strong nomination contender.

Scott Walker

Goal Was: George W. Bush (2000)

Likely Result: Tim Pawlenty (2012)

Explaining why Scott Walker is a huge long-shot is much less impressive now.  A few months and 15 points of polling ago and this would have really helped.

As it turns out, Republicans don’t nominate candidates like this.  While donors and journalists criticize Walker for various missteps, we should have never expected him to contend.

Though he looks like a Central Casting GOP candidate, his background doesn’t match the historical record.  Consider the following:

1. Republicans almost never nominate younger candidates (see Rubio notes).

2. Republicans don’t usually nominate governors, especially from small to midsize states (see introduction)

3. Republicans rarely nominate career politicians.  Bob Dole and Richard Nixon didn’t get started as young as Walker, both getting law degrees and serving in WW2 first, but you can count them.

Most GOP nominees waited until into their 40s to take public office.  While some tried while younger, they had business or military careers before their second or third act in politics took off.  This problem impacts Rubio and Jindal as well, though Walker is the absolute worst offender.

When Walker entered the race with the goal of being the establishment candidate that appealed to grass-roots conservatives or the conservative fighter who appealed to establishment-types it made perfect sense.

There’s still a good chance the eventual nominee is someone who can pull that off.  Walker doesn’t have the depth.  Though George W. Bush may not have succeeded at very much before he turned 40, he did have a wider range of experiences.

Between age 40 and his presidential run, he participated in his dad’s presidential campaign (one more than Walker has seen), was the managing partner of the Texas Rangers, beat incumbent Ann Richards in a brutal campaign for governor, and led a major state for as long as Walker has governed Wisconsin.

Many historians would say Bush 43 was less qualified than the average president, yet there’s a wide gap between him and Walker. Scott is incredibly qualified to govern Wisconsin though.

When Tim Pawlenty, another promising conservative Midwestern governor fell apart during the summer of 2011, it was surprising.  On paper, he looked ideal, but he just didn’t sound quite right.  Somehow he wasn’t big enough for the office.

Pawlenty has a very similar resume.  He did spend a few years in the private sector before running for state legislature, but spent his entire life domiciled in Minnesota, almost entirely in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  Very similar, very limited range.

If a similar candidate crops up for 2020 hopefully we’ll know better and not consider that individual a contender.

Carly Fiorina

Mix of: Herbert Hoover (1928), Wendell Willkie (1940), Harry Truman (1948), Chuck Percy (1968), Hillary Clinton (2008)

Fiorina’s mix is different than Trump or Carson, and is potentially the most promising.  She’s extremely well situated to make a run and has as much in common with previous successful candidates as anyone in the race.

The normal caveats apply.  Willkie is the only no-military, no-public office candidate in 200+ years, and he didn’t get elected.  Losing a senate race is not normally the path to the White House.  It worked for Abe Lincoln, but it’s doubtful students will read the Fiorina-Boxer Debates 150 years from now.

Herbert Hoover was one of the few presidents with no military leadership or elected office background.  He did serve in the Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce, arguably taking responsibility for more projects than anyone in that role before or since.

Still, the majority of his experience was from outside of formal government channels, having begun as a mining engineer and having made a small fortune in business.  Later Hoovet would manage and organize the U.S. effort to keep Western Europe fed during and after World War I and lead relief after the 1927 flooding of the Mississippi River (a mega version of Katrina).

Hoover was able to put his business background to productive use in governmental and quasi-governmental roles, something Fiorina is seeking to emulate.  When she rattles off a list of prescriptions, she’s channelling her inner Hoover.

Unlike Carly’s ongoing effort to fight off criticisms of her tenure at HP, Hoover’s pre-presidential work was widely well-regarded, so he had a much easier path.

When she goes on the attack, be it against Hillary or Trump, Fiorina has something in common with Give em Hell Harry, the hero of the 1948 election.  Though Truman was an incumbent, looking for the 5th consecutive term for Democrats, and Carly is running as an anti-politician from the out party, there’s a lot of stylistic similarity.

Attacking isn’t easy.  Some voters prefer a more positive approach.  Other times, as Trump is showing, you can make a big splash and earn tons of attention, but have a hard time building a majority because you offend many.

Few have succeeded in playing the fighter as well as Truman, but Carly shows as much promise as any candidate in generations.  She’s shown the ability to rally Republicans without offending moderate Independents.

In some respects, Fiorina is comparable to Chuck Percy, ex-Bell & Howell CEO who as a new senator from Illinois was considered a decent prospect in 1968.

Though Percy ultimately didn’t go all-in on attempting to fight Richard Nixon and others for the nomination, he was taken seriously despite having less than two years experience in elected office.  It’s an example of previous openness to someone with a similar resume.

Finally, you can’t avoid making a comparison to Hillary Clinton, the only other female presidential candidate to get any traction.  Though others (Pat Schroeder 1988, Elizabeth Dole 2000, etc.) have given it a try, Fiorina is already the second most serious female candidate.

While they share few policy overlaps, it’s worth noting that Hillary had some of her best electoral performances in 2008 when she was no longer playing it safe as a front runner and was sounding a little more like Carly.

A good amount of this success came from white, older, blue collar voters.  Though it may not match the stereotype, these voters apparently respond to combative women.  This gives Fiorina a good chance of appealing to Trump voters later in the primary and Rust Belt Democrats later.

However, she will need to show her improvement since her 2010 senate run extends to her ability to fight off attack ads on her HP record.  Unlike many other GOP candidates, Fiorina has several comps who got nominated and a couple who got elected.

Some are Republicans, giving her a chance at nomination, others are Democrats, helping later.  Can she continue to spin HP?

Mike Huckabee

Most Like: Mike Huckabee (2008)

Traces of: George Wallace (1972), Pat Robertson (1988), Pat Buchanan (1992, 1996), Rick Santorum (2012)

Huckabee is significantly friendlier sounding than his most similar candidates of the past.  Still his audience is a combination of older, protectionist voters and evangelicals.  His voters (and/or their parents and grandparents) did vote for some or all of the names listed above.  Even if Donald Trump was still confined to firing apprentices and running beauty pageants, Huck would still face the challenge of getting nominated without expanding his supporter group.

Once upon a time, these voters were Democrats, now they aren’t.  Often, they’re an important part of a governing coalition, being on the winning side from the New Deal until 2008.  They are not an end in themselves.  Nobody wins elections without educated Democrats or pro-trade Republicans.

Rand Paul

Traces of: Ron Paul (2008, 2012)

He follows in the philosophical footsteps of his father, but isn’t all that similar as a candidate.  Where Ron Paul was a bit of a libertarian Bernie Sanders, Rand is closer to being a conventional politician.

The hope/plan was to retain the Paul brand, retain the outsider/insurgent image, chase after non-affiliated voters, Independents, younger voters and irregular voters, while being just acceptable enough to mainstream Republicans to get nominated.

You can argue he was attempting to build a completely different GOP nominating coalition.  While his positions are very different, there are similarities to the attempts of Teddy Roosevelt, Hiram Johnson and Robert LaFollette to pull Republicans toward the Progressive Party 90-105 years ago.

The McKinley coalition of 1896-1900 and the majority that elected Warren Harding in 1920 and Calvin Coolidge in 1924 by landslide margins were quite different from what a Progressive Republican Party would have looked like.

Paul’s Libertarian Republican Party would be as big a departure, with major adjustments regarding foreign intervention, personal privacy and deficit/debt control.

Current polling and lack of momentum indicates a big push in this direction will need to wait another 4 to 8 years, if it gets any oxygen at all.

Rand was right to think it was a possibility this year.  His (at least temporarily) failure is due to the superior communication and marketing skills of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who are both busily constructing new coalitions.

Paul knew there was no GOP precident for a nominee like him and hasn’t been as able as a few competitors to break out of the box.

Chris Christie

Most Resembles: Nelson Rockefeller (1964), Rudy Giuliani (2008)

Christie suffers from two prominent maladies.  First, 2012 was his window.  Second, he’s to the left of his party and has a mixed record in New Jersey.  These issues are inter-related.  Just over 100 years ago, a candidate was elected Governor of New Jersey.  Immediately he became a national sensation, the possible route for his party back to the White House.

Though more conservative than his state, which was controlled by the other party, he was more progressive than the southerners in his own.  Almost everyone in his party liked how he sounded, and thought he was a winner.  Despite limited executive experience and being early in his tenure as governor, he won the next available presidential nomination, defeating an incumbent from the other party.

The year was 1912, the New Jersey Governor turned President-Elect was Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  He didn’t wait for the inevitable gap between his sudden popularity and actual results and moved up while the window was wide open.  Had he waited until 1916, who knows?

When Nelson Rockefeller defeated incumbent Averell Harriman in 1958, he became an immediate presidential prospect.  With VP Nixon in the way for 1960 he didn’t give it a full effort.  By 1964, Rocky was way more controversial among Republicans.  He never had another clean shot.

If Rudy Giuliani could have run in 2004, closer to his post-9/11 boomlet among national Republicans, his relatively socially moderate views could have vanished as a concern with enough voters to grab the job.  He wasn’t about to challenge W in the primaries, so not an option.  By 2008, window closed, bars over the windows.

Christie suffers both from needing to accommodate the voters of a blue state and the difficulty of measuring up to the hype.  When Christie has a good debate moment or says something fun on the stump you remember why he was a big deal, but the moment has likely passed.

Bobby Jindal

Traces of: Tom Dewey (1944), Ronald Reagan (1976), Phil Crane (1980), Michael Dukakis (1988)

He’s young and accomplished like Dewey, governed as conservatively as he reasonably could like Reagan, running far to the right with little traction like Crane and has the policy chops and data from his tenure to play Red State Dukakis.

I’ve made several hyper-critical comments about Jindal’s strategic choices over the past few months, particularly his debate approach this week.  He sounds like Crane 2.0, not the New and Improved Gipper.  My thought was he needed to hammer on his Louisiana record (even if his approval rating is down), to make the point that he’d accomplished locally what many voters want to see nationally.

His two signature achievements are greatly limiting an entrenched culture of corruption and legitimately shrinking the size of government.  John Kasich may have a better jobs record, Scott Walker fought the unions, but on two points of constant anger, he has results.  I still maintain this was the correct course, but the historical view shows this approach does not have precedent on the GOP side.  Ronald Reagan spent 1980 railing against Jimmy Carter, not fixating on California stats.

But Jindal needed to do something unprecedented to win.  He’s conservative and wonky, not super charismatic.  If he ultimately succeds, in 2016 or later, either he comes up with an innovative approach or way to package himself, or almost everyone else falls apart.  A candidate unlike anyone to precede him can’t use an off-the-shelf strategy.  Time to see a campaign tailor.

Rick Santorum

Most Like: Rick Santorum (2012)

He’s heavier on promoting manufacturing jobs and lighter on grandstanding about social issues, but most of the Huckabee comments apply here.  For the past few decades, Republicans have usually nominated the guy who finished second last time.  Barring a comet taking out the rest of the field, this doesn’t seem likely.  The last few in this place (Bush ’88, Dole ’96, Romney ’12) were the consummate “safe” choice.  If Jeb finished second in 2012 instead of Santorum, you’d have one normal candidate instead of two exceptions.

The striking feature of the 2016 Republican field is how unique the candidates are.  Several don’t have a very clean historical comp.  Others have plenty of trace elements of previous candidates, but combine them in a new way.  When reviewing the Democrats it was much easier to find clean historical comparisons.

Already, the size of the field, presence of huge PAC money, insurgent-favoring feel, and TrumpFactor made this a hard election to forecast, but lacking past analogues complicates it further.  Every cycle pundits claim something amazingly unique and important will happen.  Maybe this round winds up following a more normal script too.

If nothing else, we’ve shown the underperforming candidates are likely failing because they don’t fit any profile of previous GOP success.  It’s too late for them to change their resumes, but they can adjust their strategies to compensate and make their case.

The first candidate acceptable to mainstream conservatives who fully recognizes and executes the idea they’ll need to build a coalition with no direct precedent has a crucial advantage.


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