Thursday, February 28, 2013

Who the GOP needs and dreads in 2016

The Great Trader Joe's Paradox: Why can't this store be bigger inside, while remaining small inside?

We all know there are differences among, wants, needs, and hates.


My needs: Christ, my wife, my family, food.

My wants: For Barnes & Noble's bargain book section to survive for my grandchildren to know and see and love, for Trader Joe's to be as roomy as Safeway but, paradoxically, remain small and charming, and to watch more videos of injured antelopes outrunning lions.

My hates: When the lion outruns the injured antelope.

Well, when it comes to the 2016 race, the GOP needs some candidates to run, merely wants others to run, and hates the idea of others running.

Why is that important?

Because the field's shape has a huge bearing on the public's perception of the party. The weak 2012 cast of GOP characters damaged the party badly, and Republicans can't afford to run another Gingrich, Bachmann, Perry, Cain lineup.

With that in mind, let's put the current crop of potential candidates into the context of what the GOP needs and dreads.

We'll do it by draping each candidate into the moment of literature that pretty much sums them up.

The GOP needs these candidates to run in 2016

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

The GOP needs at least one candidate in the top tier who comes into the race already popular with centrists and conservative Democrats.


Because one person can have a halo effect on the field, and even if Christie isn't the nominee, his bipartisan appeal is useful for the party's branding (currently, 62% think the GOP is out of touch with the American people, while just 46% say the same about the Democratic party).

In this scenario, it doesn't necessarily matter if Christie wins or loses -- it only matters that he's a central voice in the primary process.

But, besides appealing to centrists, here's another reason why the GOP needs Christie to run.

The real strength of the guy is that he's beloved by the middle and the media, yet actually happens to be pro-life and anti-gay marriage.

Do you realize how unusual that is?

Normally, a candidate with strong appeal to the Morning Joe set and middle is pro-choice (Rudy Giuliani, Condi Rice), pro-gay marriage (Jon Huntsman), or contemptuous of his party's base (John McCain, circa 2000).

But with Christie, the GOP gets a guy who's pretty conservative on social hot-buttons, but well-liked outside the party.

That's very rare, and shouldn't be dismissed lightly.

That's not to say that Republicans would be smart to nominate him; it's just to say that the upside of him being a central voice in the primary process is incalculable.

Christie's great moment in literature -- Black Eyed Peas, "My humps."

What you gonna do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?
I'ma get, get, get, get you drunk
Get you love drunk off my humps.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio

You can ding him for dry mouth, water bottles, and looking young, but in a 2016 primary debate, every minute a young, eloquent, Hispanic is getting screen time and Newt Gingrich is not is a huge win for the party, and a win it desperately needs.

The common scuttlebutt is that Rubio won't run if Jeb Bush does, and party strategists are increasingly calling Jeb the stronger of the two candidates for the GOP.


If you were trying to rebrand the GOP, whom would you choose?

In one corner, you have a 41 year-old, eloquent, and historically talented Cuban-American, and in the other corner, you have a 63 year-old white guy named "Bush".

How's that turning a page? That's not even moving on to the next sentence. That's rereading a disastrous sentence with split infinitives.

But, dear readers, I'm afraid that we have three years ahead of us, populated by pundit after pundit promising that Jeb Bush is the real frontrunner and a much stronger candidate than Rubio.

All there is to say about that?

Tim Pawlenty didn't survive the Iowa straw poll, and Rob Portman wasn't picked for Veep.

Rubio's great moment in literature -- W.B. Yeats, "He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven."

I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

There has to be one, legit tea party candidate for the movement to feel loved, needed, and accepted in the Republican party.

And, note this, that's absolutely necessary for Republicans.

Christine O'Donnell wasn't necessary, but the vast majority of tea partiers and many tea party candidates are necessary. 

There's a false dichotomy that says the GOP can either have the tea party or not have the tea party -- that you have to either be divorcing and marrying the tea party. 

But to win in 2016, the GOP needs the tea party and mainstream Republicans, and that's doable.

The biggest danger for the GOP is if Rand Paul actually won, but he won't. So just give him a seat at the table, and show 'em that you care.

Rand Paul's great moment in literature -- W.B. Yeats, "Father and child."

Being mentioned with a man
That has the worst of all bad names
And thereupon replies
That his hair is beautiful
Cold as the March wind his eyes.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

If Rubio and Paul are necessary symbols, Jindal is a necessary mind, and it doesn't hurt that as an Indian-American, he's also a pretty good symbol.

Jindal can't tell an emotional story like Rubio, but he can tell an intellectual one, and if the primary starts to stray into the Emotional-Ville of Bachmann and "government injections", Jindal can steer it back toward reality.

It doesn't hurt that he has the most precocious of resumes and a very strong record and story to tell about Louisiana, as well.

The field needs Jindal's mind, his youth, his diversity, and his executive chops.

Jindal's great moment in literature -- Eminem, "Pick the World Up."

My head is swoll up
My confidence is up
This stage is my pedestal
I'm unstoppable, incredible
Hulk, you're trapped in my medicine ball.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

Regardless of whether Hillary runs, the Democrats will field at least one female candidate.

That means the GOP needs to have a strong female candidate, too, and that means your choices are Martinez, Haley, and Ayotte.

Haley provokes too much controversy (some deserved, most not) and Ayotte is too down-to-earth for top tier status, but Martinez strikes a near-perfect balance between strong and sensitive.

Also, she's Hispanic and has a great record by nearly anyone's standard.

So imagine this -- a debate with Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, and Rand Paul, standing next to one another.

That's as perfect as it gets for the GOP. Hey, Erik Spoelstra isn't even that lucky.

Rubio brings conservative to the party, Jindal brings his mind, Christie shows up with centrism, Rand Paul dishes a little libertarian, and Susana Martinez adds gender diversity and a terrific record.

Martinez's great moment in literature --- Brandon Flowers, "A Dustland Fairytale."

Now Cinderella, don't you go to sleep
It's such a bitter form of refuge
Don't you know the kingdom's under siege, and everybody needs you.

Candidates the party merely wants to run

For various reasons, the GOP could benefit from the following running, although they certainly don't need them to run.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

Since Virginia is a purple state, it behooves the GOP to have its popular governor in the presidential field (although he'll have been termed out by that time).

He's also been an unquestionably effective governor, with a strong record, and -- at a minimum -- can try to persuade his former constituents that a Republican president can be just as effective as he was as governor.

Further, McDonnell won't get all moany-groany if he loses, and with all the debates and exposure, he'll go on to be a more polished, effective surrogate in a general election.

Only problem? The word "transvaginal" will probably show up in a debate, setting off a Twitter explosion and descent into a subject that can't do the conversation any good.

McDonnell's great moment in literature -- The Beatles, "Lend me your comb."

Lend me your comb
It's time to go home
I gotta confess
My hair is a mess.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune

There's more to John Thune than just standing there and looking good, but mainly it's just standing there and looking good.

He's a very pleasant fellow, won't make a miserable gaffe (he's one of the most disciplined senators out there) and, like McDonnell, will benefit from national exposure and will bless the debate stage by just standing there and looking good.

And there's a chance that Thune's easy charm and conservative credentials could actually take him somewhere.

Thune's great moment in literature -- The Cure, "The Perfect Boy."

Her heart may be broken a hundred times
But the hurt will never destroy
Her hope, the happy-ever-after girl
One day finds the perfect boy.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte

The GOP might only need one woman to run, but it would be nice for a couple more to run, and Ayotte fills the bill in so many ways.

First, she's a Republican woman from the Northeast and thus speaks to a very different constituency and sensibility than Martinez.

Second, she manages to still be very conservative and won't provoke an intraparty ideological shoot-out like a more liberal, Republican woman could (Condoleezza Rice).

Third, she provides national security heft to the field, which is sorely needed. The beauty of the top tier is that they're nearly all executives, but the drawback is that they don't have much foreign policy experience.

Ayotte, with her position on the Committee on Armed Services, provides a growing amount of heft.

Ayotte's great moment in literature -- Ace of Base, "Life is a flower."

We live in a free world
I whistle down the wind
Carry on smiling
And the world will smile with you.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval

If the GOP wants a pro-choice candidate in the field to broaden the spectrum, Sandoval and not Condoleezza Rice is the one.


Because he won't serve as the perfect fulcrum for an explosive discussion of abortion and the GOP.

Condi, on the other hand, would (even though she wouldn't want to).

So if Sandoval enters the field, he brings at least one pro-choice voice to the fore so critics can't say "Every single person on that stage is pro-life", but abortion itself won't become a major topic of conversation because the pro-choice guy, Sandoval, isn't a threat to win.

Second, Sandoval is Hispanic, which means the GOP can field two Hispanic candidates at the presidential level. That's two more than the Democrats can field, and it should stir plenty of headlines in the Hispanic media world -- headlines that at least get Hispanics rethinking the GOP again.

Third, he's from a western state and, thus, brings geographical diversity to the field

Fourth, Sandoval is 49 years-old and looks like this.

Sandoval's great moment in literature -- U2, "Where the Streets have no name."

We're beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust
I'll show a place high on a desert plane
Where the streets have no name.

Now, here are the candidates the party would hate to see run.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

It's not just that Condi is pro-choice, it's that, as I said, she's pro-choice and the perfect fulcrum for a drawn-out media explosion over the "battle for the soul of the GOP."

The narrative would go like this: On one side, you have the female, pro-choice, eminently-qualified Condi Rice, and on the other side you have the party of white men and their stingy opposition to abortion.

Will their stingy, intolerant opposition to pro-choice nominees scuttle the party's strongest possible nominee?

People would drive this narrative before every debate and on every cable news show, whether Condi wanted to talk about abortion or not (in fact, she'd probably rather not talk about it, thanks to the fact she's underplayed her views on abortion when it's even come up).

The downside to a Condi run is just too severe for the GOP to risk.

Other pro-choice Republicans can run -- ones that are less ideal to serve as that flashpoint for a media-driven discussion about abortion. Someone like Brian Sandoval and not one of the most famous GOP figures around.

And one more thing -- Condi might bring diversity to the party, but we've already seen how black activists react to her. And it's ugly. If you pick her solely on the basis of currying favor with the black community, it's not going to work.

Condi's great moment in literature -- Jack Prelutsky, "Super Samson Simpson."

I am Super Samson Simpson
I'm superlatively strong
I like to carry elephants
I do it all day long.
I pick up half a dozen
and hoist them in the air
it's really somewhat simple
for I have strength to spare.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

Jeb would threaten to overshadow Republicans' attempt to remake the party with younger, fresher names at the top.

No, he wouldn't just threaten it; he'd downright torpedo it.

If it's a choice between running a Jindal headline or a Bush headline, which do you think editors would choose?

If it's a choice between a meme about Susana Martinez or Jeb Bush, whom do you think the internet will choose?

And even if Jeb is perfectly harmless to the party as a primary candidate (which is a massive and improbable "if"), what if he actually wins?

What if the new, fresher GOP picks a "Bush" to be its figurehead? There's an old 8-track of Marty Robbins in your grandpa's car that's more relevant.

Political consultants, pundits, and donors like Jeb. As such, he could be a Default Nominee, and would have been so in 2012.

But not in 2016.

Jeb's great moment in literature -- W. B. Yeats, "When You Are Old."

When you are old and grey and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

It's painful for the GOP to wish Haley off the stage, but South Carolina politics have taken their toll on her, and we learned from Sarah Palin that controversial local disputes will follow you onto the national stage.

And Haley, unfortunately, has both provoked and been buffeted by controversy since even before she became governor.

Most of it, as I've written, is undeserved, but some of it comes from her penchant for confrontation and disinterest in soothing bruised egos. She keeps it real, but politics is surreal, and it sadly demands that she play accordingly.

The GOP needs a few female candidates in 2016, but Martinez and Ayotte are much stronger bets than Condi or Haley to expand the GOP's reach without compromising and risking all-out war over their ideology or record.

Haley's great moment in literature -- Neil Tennant, "I didn't get where I am today."

I didn't get where I am today
without getting in someone else's way
I live my life on a stage
put it down on the page
I didn't get where I am today
without writing a resume.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan

I hate putting him in here, but it's hard to see much upside to a Ryan run. Jindal is already the intellectual in the field and doesn't have the baggage of being a congressman and Romney's former running-mate.

Ryan didn't prove to be terribly dynamic on the stump, and couldn't deliver his homestate or even make it too close there.

That being said, conditions on the ground may change by '16 (the deficit might get so enormous that everyone understands you have to have severe entitlement reform that hurts), and if they do change, Ryan suddenly becomes more relevant and attractive.

Ryan's great moment in literature --- Jay-Z "Coming of Age"

It's time to come up (and hold my own weight, defend my crown)
Gots to lock it down and when they rush (stand my ground)

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum

There's no stopping him from running -- in fact, he and Rand Paul will probably be the first and second to declare their candidacies.

And thus, Santo and his dutiful benefactor, Foster Friess, will be fixtures in the field throughout the coming years.

So why doesn't the party want Santorum to run?

I'm not sure an explanation is necessary, but just remember, he said birth control is "harmful to women... I don't think it's a healthy thing for our country."

And in 2011, he promised, "One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country."

So again, those two sentences are explosive enough that it overwhelms the GOP's remake, and at the very least and worst, it will inspire more debate questions about contraceptives that Republicans want to put to bed.

Santorum's great moment in literature -- Eminem, "Cold wind blows."

Ya'll are sitting ducks, I'm the only goose standing.


And with that... there's the field as the GOP wishes it.