I’ve had this conversation with a number of people. And just yesterday, a former TPM reporter asked me my thoughts on the GOP presidential primary. So I thought I’d share what I’ve been telling people.
We hear a lot about how the race is wide open and the bench is deep. But I don’t think either is true. I think the field is actually surprisingly thin, and that Jeb Bush – for all his faults in general and faults specific to a GOP presidential primary race – is the big favorite. As I’ve noted earlier, the only other one in the race that I think could be a real contender is Scott Walker. Watching him on the national stage – how he’s stumbled and how he’s brought the rough and tumble polarization of his home region with him – has made me less sanguine on his chances.
I’ve already said that a Cruz or Paul presidency are each, for different reasons, about as close to impossible as politics affords. The odds of their getting the nomination aren’t much higher. (Here Brian Beutler explains some different reasons or a different way of looking at why Paul’s candidacy is likely doomed. If you run a small publication long enough, all the good people used to work for you.)
But here’s something that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Rubio and Paul were both elected in 2010. Cruz was elected in 2012. With the exception of Rubio, who was a player in state politics, they were all political newcomers. And Rubio still was a total newcomer to national politics. This is pretty similar to President Obama. But the point is that President Obama is the exception. By any historical standard, each of these three are total newcomers to national politics and very green for a presidential run. Can it happen? Of course. Obama did it. But he’s Obama. He’s the exception.
I’ve already explained why I don’t think Cruz or Paul have any chance. There’s no huge obstacle for Rubio – at least not of the same sort. He comes from a key swing state. But there’s little we’ve seen of him over the last three years that suggests someone who’s ready to carry a national campaign. And his major play of being the Republican who shepherded through the deal on immigration reform obviously failed spectacularly.
Who do we have after that? Chris Christie, two-term governor of New Jersey, who’s surrounded (if not sunk) by scandal, unpopular in his own state and with a personality that really doesn’t play outside the Northeast unless you’re talking about highly-engaged conservatives who like seeing someone in authority yell at liberals.
So who else is there? Rick Perry, who was the governor of a big state but also a sure-win Republican state. On the other hand, he got laughed out of the 2012 race. And I’m not sure he can come back from that.
I’m not sure there is anyone else.
That leaves us with Jeb Bush and Scott Walker as candidates who are not preemptively ruled out by either being totally unable to put together viable coalitions, or too abrasive and unsalable to a national audience. Rubio is possible but only if he turns out to be a dramatically better politician and candidate than he’s shown himself to be so far. Possible? Totally. Likely? I don’t think so.
The field is big. But it’s not strong or deep. And as weird as it sounds, even this early, it really looks like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.
Addendum: What I may not have made sufficiently clear here is that I do not think Bush is a strong candidate. In fact, a Republican whose opinion I really respect pinged me just after I published this piece and walked me through Bush’s shortcomings and asked whether he can really win either Iowa or New Hampshire. He’s also been out of the game for a decade. All true. But Bush has got the establishment and money support. And critically, absolutely critically, someone has to win and who else on this list can? That’s how I get to Jeb.