May 11, 2016
Seventeen candidates began, only one Trump is standing. Usually losing is bad. This Republican contest did not produce a John McCain (2000) or Gary Hart (1984), who exceeded expectations and would expect to enter the next open contest as a favorite. Few of the vanquished sixteen left the contest with more stature than they entered it.
As they move forward licking their wounds, and patching their reputations, we have a few things to consider:
Were their reputations/political strength enhanced or diminished?
Are they all in with Trump, completely opposed, or just putting a toe in the water?
What are the odds of an appearance in a Trump Administration?
I’m scoring each on a +10 to -10 scale. If the candidacy made them it’s a +10, ruined them -10. Chris Christie is a +10 for Trump support. Lindsey Graham is -10. Christie is a +10 to wind up in the cabinet, as a special advisor, maybe even VP. Jeb is a -10.
We’ll show the individual scores, and a total, to give ourselves an idea of who may come out best after all this is over. It’s not exactly scientific, but it’s a start.
Remember, we’re trying to figure out who was/is most helped by the results of the campaign, not which of the 16 has the best future. In approximate reverse order of exit, here’s the list of those who stood and fell:
Ted Cruz 0 Points (+3, -3, 0)
Cruz may have travelled a very long road to wind up where he started. Among second place finishers, he’s more plausible for 2020/2024 than Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee were this time.
He’s not a clear Next Man Up. Some of what he thought was his base fled to Trump. The establishment froze when forced to support him to stop The Donald. Losing Indiana showed his limitations.
He’s hesitating to endorse Trump without taking a firm stand against him, risking the worst of both worlds. He’s resurfaced a bit in the past 24-48 hours as he realizes Paul Ryan could replace him in the hearts of some true believing conservatives if he steps down as convention chair and opposes Trump while Cruz sits on the sidelines and attempts to maneuver delegates behind the scenes.
But Cruz didn’t enter the race as a front runner. He wasn’t an afterthought, but was clearly second tier. He didn’t sell his soul to Trump like Christie, but isn’t stuck as an impotent opponent like Jeb or Graham.
We could still see him on the ticket if Ted thinks it’s in his best interests and Trump thinks it’s necessary. Could Trump nominate Lyin’ Ted for the Supreme Court or hire him as attorney general? It’s not that likely, but would you be shocked?
John Kasich -2 Points (-2, -2, +2)
On the bright side, he outlasted all other governors and exited the race with excellent poll numbers against Hillary Clinton. His Ohio constituents still like him plenty. The quixotic chase for the nomination didn’t ruin his home state life.
On the down side, he’s a punch line.
He’d look good on the ticket but strongly proclaims he’s not interested. He’d fit in a cabinet but may not want to play. Better to have tried and failed than left to wonder, but the past few weeks didn’t help his legacy.
Had he passed on running for the nomination, he’d look great as a third party option. In fairness, that wasn’t foreseeable when he jumped in.
Marco Rubio -10 Points (-5, 0, -5)
He has a future by virtue of having lasted longer than most and remaining more popular than most of his peers. Being Not Ted Cruz has benefits.
He doesn’t have a future because he wouldn’t take enough of a stand soon enough, hoping to become the choice by default. It almost worked, but this isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades.
Rubio isn’t up for a VP nomination. He’s not likely to serve in a Trump cabinet. He says he (wisely) won’t run for governor in 2018. Saying he will vote for Trump, but won’t like it, Marco is continuing to try to have it both ways but risking winding up with nothing.
A year ago, Rubio was potentially the next JFK, potentially not ready for prime time. He was almost ready, but lacks the killer instinct of others his age who went further.
While he didn’t kill his career, Rubio was found lacking. Hopefully he’ll find his time in the wilderness productive.
Ben Carson 13 Points (-3, +8, +8)
If Carson had exited in September, he would have left with almost all GOP voters liking him tremendously. Additional exposure showed him to have no control over his campaign and endorsing Trump bothered a few of his fans.
You don’t enter a presidential campaign to protect your legacy. While Carson risked his standing as a home schooling hero, he has picked up some additional influence. He will have a platform going forward and Trump seems to find his presence useful.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the Doctor choosing Trump over Carson. He will play an important role in keeping as many evangelicals as possible on board for November.
Should he have any interest in serving as Surgeon General, Health and Human Services secretary or some other role in a Trump Administration, it’s likely his for the asking.
Jeb Bush -24 Points (-7, -7, -10)
If this requires explanation, you reached this article in error.
Carly Fiorina -1 Point (+5, -3, -3)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. After her second debate, Fiorina was in better position than anyone could have imagined. Even after exiting the race, she wound up as a VP choice.
Except her tenure as a running mate lasted 6 days. Her time near the top of the polls was similarly ephemeral. The 2016 campaign wound up being one giant tease for Carly Fiorina. One moment irrelevant, the next under the spotlight, then back to the shadows.
If someone other than Trump was the nominee, Carly would belong on the winner’s list. She won’t be a key Trump surrogate, and he’s not likely to pick her for anything.
Chris Christie 17 Points (-3, +10, +10)
To many, Christie is now a joke. Standing behind Trump at various victory speeches created way too many negative memes. Compared to the 2012 version, the current Christie is some sort of pathetic Sancho Panza.
We aren’t comparing him to that version. It’s the post-Bridgegate, negative approval rating in New Jersey guy who struggled to stay on the main debate stage. He lasted a little longer than his late summer poll position would have indicated.
He took down Marco Rubio. He has a place in any Trump Administration. Now leading the VP vetting team, he may wind up recommending himself the way Dick Cheney did. Failing at that, there’s a corner office at the Justice Department or Homeland Security with his name on the door.
More than any other candidate, his future is in the hands of Trump. Remember, that’s instead of becoming completely irrelevant. Sometimes selling out pays off.
Rand Paul -22 Points (-7, -5, -10)
People know things went very badly for Jeb. People hear Graham used as a punching bag/punch line. If you add up the scores, Rand fared almost as poorly.
Trump and Bernie completely stole his outsider thunder. He couldn’t retain his dad’s base. If a Libertarian makes a mark this year it will be Gary Johnson as an unexpected third party option/protest vote.
He can’t support Trump without abandoning every last ounce of principle. He can’t lead the #NeverTrump fight without imperiling his re-election in Kentucky.
This did not turn out well. He has more future (mostly due to time) than Jeb and Lindsey. 2016 did prove voters are open to alternative ideologies. There’s some path somehow. But he’ll spend the next couple years trying to locate it rather than confidently striding down it.
Mike Huckabee 8 Points (-2, +4, +6)
Two ex-Iowa winners got obliterated in 2016 as Trump and Cruz picked up where they left off. Huck is the more populist of the two and the one who gets more TV time. His daughter works for Trump.
He didn’t do anything to really harm his future, can resume his TV career if he so chooses and will serve as an unofficial surrogate for Trump without being harmed if things go poorly for the candidate. Like a cat, Huck always lands on his feet.
Rick Santorum -9 Points (-6, -3, 0)
In 2012 Santorum won Iowa. In 2016 he couldn’t finish 10th. Trump has taken his concern for Middle America and Rust Belt factory jobs and run with it. But The Donald decoupled that from Santorum’s social conservatism, winning over plenty of evangelical Santorum supporters.
That leaves him without a place, at least for now. He passed up the chance to support Trump early, instead endorsing Rubio. At the moment he’s either mute, or nobody is asking what he thinks. Neither are good for his hopes of future relevancy.
Jim Gilmore -3 Points (-3, 0, 0)
Gilmore wasn’t important enough to win or lose that many points. He takes a bit of a hit for being a punchline instead of merely a forgotten ex-Virginia governor. Getting 12 votes in the Iowa caucus is worse than dropping out before anyone votes.
If he’s weighed in on a Trump endorsement, it wasn’t visible from a Google search. He wasn’t a likely cabinet choice for any GOP nominee. So, nothing to lose, nothing won.
George Pataki -6 Points (-3, -3, 0)
Pataki had a pretty decent 12 year run as Governor of New York. Staring a presidential campaign headed nowhere didn’t add to his legacy. Though he doesn’t get enough media coverage to join the group of prominent Trump opponents, he’s among those who endorsed multiple losing candidates.
He remains the improbable/implausible VP or cabinet nominee he was when the process began.
Lindsey Graham -26 Points (-7, -10, -9)
Ouch. He entered the race as a longshot candidate with the goal of pushing the conversation about dealing with ISIS in an interventionist direction. Now we have Trump.
He dropped out before his South Carolina constituents had the chance to abandon him in the primary. Then he endorsed Jeb which either didn’t matter, or more likely harmed him.
Eventually, he endorsed Cruz after savaging him. Graham looked stupid and the endorsement probably hurt Cruz. Now he’s going to spend the fall pushing back against his party’s nominee while that individual continues to insult him.
This was a bad year for many candidates, but by a slim margin, Lindsey Graham, his legacy, political future, and the foreign policy he believes in are the biggest loser(s).
Bobby Jindal -8 Points (-5, 0, -3)
He’s looking pretty done. His term in Louisiana ended badly, succeeded by a Democrat. He trails Cruz on the list of evangelical conservative possibilities going forward. Jindal didn’t even make it to the start line in Iowa.
He endorsed Rubio to no benefit. He’s now offering Trump the most tepid of support. That keeps him out of trouble, but doesn’t help his chances of leveraging back into relevance.
If the campaign laid a foundation for a Jindal comeback, it’s currently obscured. Others had a worse cycle because they had more left to lose.
Scott Walker -12 Points (-2, -4, -6)
Could have been worse. Walker got out so early, he might be able to try again in the future. Maybe. He didn’t have a Rick Perry circa 2011 gaffe. His support for Cruz in Wisconsin showed he still has leverage at home. Christie and Jindal show this isn’t something to take for granted.
Still, he underperformed expectations and has no immediate path forward. As a Trump opponent, he can either reverse himself and seem like a sell-out or potentially run afoul of the next president.
It’s hard to picture him in a Trump cabinet and few are talking about him being on the ticket. Jeb would trade places, but few others would.
Rick Perry 6 Points (-2, +5, +3)
Perry entered the race with very little to lose. Attempting another run after bombing out as badly as he did in 2012 was unprecedented. Many candidates give it another try after poor results, but not when they began as a front runner.
Having to drop out months before Iowa harmed his limited remaining political capital. But it’s not like he was headed to further heights. He pivoted to endorsing Trump with more enthusiasm than many of his peers.
That gives him an outside chance at a VP nomination, a partial shot at a cabinet post, and a role as a fall surrogate who can attempt to wipe away some of the memories of previous awkwardness under the media glare.
By the time we’re done in November, he should wind up better off than he started. That’s more than a good two thirds of the people on the list.
So far, only those who have given their future to The Donald are in better shape than they began in. He truly lived up to his own hype. At least as it relates to his nomination opponents.