The Republican Field: A Preliminary Analysis

Party SymbolTexas Senator Ted Cruz yesterday became the first declared candidate for president. Many others, on the Republican side, are lined up to make their declarations soon. Who are the viable candidates? Which ones have the greatest chance of turning the White House back to Republican control?

Today I’m going to run down the list of those eager to run and provide a short—and I mean short—analysis of the strengths and challenges for each one. Two caveats: I will not include those who I think have no chance at all of getting the nomination, even if I like them personally—some that I will comment on are almost in that category, but for now they are included; there are friends and acquaintances who are already publicly supporting some of these candidates, but my quick analysis will be as objective as possible. By the time I’ve finished, I hope I will have been fair to each potential candidate and I hope to still have friends.

Let’s do this in alphabetical order, to avoid the appearance of bias on my part:

Jeb Bush: has a strong track record as conservative governor of Florida; also has a lot of financial backing among establishment Republicans; his support of a path to citizenship for illegals and for Common Core will make it difficult for him to get the nomination if the party’s conservative base shows up in the primaries; if he gets the nomination, the general public may not be enthused about him simply because of his last name.

Ben Carson: man of great achievement as a surgeon; his distance from political battles has an appeal to those sick of traditional politicians; solid Christian with impeccable personal life; may draw more African Americans to the Republicans; concerns about anyone jumping from no political experience straight into a run for the presidency; has a lot to learn about foreign policy, in particular, as revealed in a recent interview; a novice at dealing with the national media.

Chris Christie: strong personality; not afraid to tackle hard tasks as governor and let people know what he thinks; concern over his basic philosophy—is he really a conservative?; alienated many with his embrace (both figuratively and literally) of Obama right before the 2012 election when seeking federal aid after massive storm Sandy; his strong personality can also be abrasive, which may be good for a New Jersey politician, but not for a general election nationwide.

Ted Cruz: another strong personality; his in-your-face tactics have thrilled many on the conservative side; he’s a very smart man with a commitment to the Constitution; also has the potential to unite Tea Party and evangelicals (some overlap there) into a unified block; should be outstanding in debate; those tactics that thrill conservatives have also alienated other Republicans he will need to unite the Party; speculation that his appeal may not extend to the general electorate.

Mike Huckabee: devoted Christian with emphasis on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage; excellent speaker and good in debate forum; extensive executive experience as Arkansas governor; has potential just by his down-to-earth folksy manner of drawing independents to his side; opposed, though, by key groups on the Republican side like the Club for Growth, which has criticized his tax and spending policies; has been on both sides of Common Core, but now says he is opposed; also concerns about pardons for criminals when he was governor and whether his faith will repel some voters.

Bobby Jindal: executive experience as governor of Louisiana; strong opponent of Common Core and outspoken Christian; his Indian (as in India) heritage lends itself to Republicans showing they are a Party inclusive of minorities; his biggest drawback is lack of name recognition nationwide; conservative vote in primaries so split that he falls farther down in the polls.

Rand Paul: committed to less government interference in Americans’ personal lives; promotes private property and free enterprise along with his limited government appeal; may be able to bring more African American voters to the GOP; may be too libertarian for traditional conservatives on issues like marriage; those who want the U.S. to take a strong stand in foreign policy are wary of his near-isolationism and whether he is a solid enough supporter of Israel.

Rick Perry: has been a strong governor of Texas for many years; takes stand on the rights of states to oppose federal government interference; on his watch, Texas has become one of the freest states in the Union; in his personal life, he is a committed Christian with Biblical values; unforced errors on his part in 2012 debates destroyed his chances that year; many are concerned he won’t be able to get past that history; many also feel that electoral success in Texas won’t translate into the same nationally.

Marco Rubio: he has many positives: excellent and inspiring speaker, solid conservative basis for his political philosophy, devoted Christian, defender of Israel and for strong foreign policy stance; hurt himself with the base when he supported a comprehensive immigration plan, but has since backed off that approach; has potential to attract voters with his enthusiasm and youth, but getting the nomination after his immigration false step may be daunting.

Rick Santorum: superb personal story and committed Christian; runner-up in the primaries in 2012; works best as an underdog who is too easily dismissed; can appeal to the blue-collar voters with his emphasis on reaching out to the common man; main problem is how to overcome the more charismatic appeal of other candidates and the feeling that his time has passed.

Scott Walker: has come from the back of the pack to surprise the establishment; at or near the top of the polls at the moment; has shown great courage and determination as Wisconsin governor with his unyielding stand against the public sector unions; the state has prospered under his leadership and he has withstood a recall attempt by Democrats; winning three elections in the past four years is quite an achievement in a traditionally Democrat state; Christian who could unite evangelicals, Tea Party, and establishment; has to overcome charges of flip-flopping on some issues; will need to establish foreign policy credentials.

Well, there you have it, my first thoughts on the potential candidates. I’ve tried to be as fair and impartial as I can, pointing out positives and negatives, at least from my perspective. Let us pray (and I mean that literally, not just as some pious phrase) for the right person to rise to the top, for the sake of our nation’s future.