Posted on | February 3, 2013 | 39 Comments
It is a mistake for Republicans to look past the 2014 mid-terms, yet much of the current discussion among conservatives is distorted by the attempt to identify a consensus presidential pick for 2016. Because everybody’s playing that game, I’ll indulge speculation briefly.
Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal are the three names currently getting the most discussion. Of these three, Ryan is my favorite for very practical reasons: He’s a young, smart Catholic from the Midwest with an Irish surname and a full head of dark hair.
How many times must it be explained to Republicans that Catholics are the pivotal “swing” vote in national elections? All this post-N0vember “demographic” hand-wringing about Hispanics, women and younger voters is ultimately a distraction. If Republicans nominate a candidate who can win over Catholic voters in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, they’re in the game. Otherwise, they’re not.
Ryan is young and smart, ostensibly so. If Republicans nominate Ryan, an honest-to-goodness policy wonk, they automatically delete the “dumb Republican” stereotype from the 2016 narrative.
Of course, Jindal is likewise brainy, and Rubio is certainly no dummy, but Ryan has already been road-tested in a national campaign, held his own and — hey, did I mention this? — he’s a Midwesterner with an Irish surname and a full head of dark hair. It is a proven fact (I could look it up) that in elections where all other factors are equal, an Irish surname is a distinct advantage.
Ronald Reagan was from the Midwest, had a full head of dark hair and an Irish surname. I rest my case.
Would any conservative object to a ticket of Ryan-Rubio or Ryan-Jindal? I think not, although one could see any number of reasons why that kind of Dream Ticket is unlikely to happen: Neither Rubio nor Jindal brings any military or foreign-policy background to the equation. What would be ideal, to complement Ryan as the 2016 GOP vice-presidential candidate is a military veteran from Florida or Ohio.
Fans of Allen West and Josh Mandel are probably smiling at that suggestion, but we’re getting way ahead of the speculation game. While Ryan’s status as prime contender for 2016 is, I think, beyond dispute, there are two obvious caveats:
- Ryan is a member of the House of Representatives, which is historically a poor base of operations from which to stage a presidential campaign. If he is really serious about seeking the White House in 2016, Ryan will have to consider whether he should announce, sometime late this year or early next year, that he will not seek re-election to the House in 2014.
- Ryan must either “clear the field,” persuading potential heavyweight rivals not to run in 2016, or be prepared to go all-in on Iowa.
The two caveats are related. If Ryan were to announce his retirement from the House — saying good-bye to the Budget Committee chairmanship he’s worked so long to obtain — that would be the kind of “clear the field” gesture that would scare off a lot of people who might otherwise seek the 2016 nomination. And if I were advising Ryan, I’d tell him this: “You need to have a long talk with Rick Santorum, soon.”
Santorum is quite nearly obligated to run again in 2016. Obviously, he’s not going to say so explicitly in early 2013, but after emerging from sixth place to become the top rival to the Establishment choice Romney in 2012, Santorum has every incentive to try again in 2016.
Most importantly, Santorum has a committed infrastructure of diehard supporters in Iowa. Anyone who thinks they’re going to beat Santorum in the 2016 Iowa caucuses is apt to get an unpleasant surprise. However . . .
If Santorum could be persuaded to support Ryan in 2016, it would be the political equivalent of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. With Santorum’s support, Ryan would then become such a prohibitive favorite to win Iowa that other potential GOP rivals would begin their primary campaigns by scratching the Hawkeye State off their “roadmap” to the nomination. And if you begin the campaign by conceding Iowa, you’re likely to be following a roadmap to nowhere.
Maybe someone of Rubio’s stature could win New Hampshire, or Jindal could parlay his Southern connections to make a fight for South Carolina, but beating a Santorum-endorsed Ryan for the nomination would be a long-odds proposition, any way you look at it.
OK, now suppose this elaborate hypothetical scenario developed — Ryan leaves the House, secures Santorum’s blessing, and makes the “all-in” move for 2016 — who would then be Ryan’s chief rival for the GOP nomination? Rand Paul.
C’mon, this is obvious, right? The torch has been passed, and an army of fanatical Ron Paul supporters is prepared to mobilize for the son of their libertarian hero. Rand is a bit more mainstream than his father, and thus wouldn’t get the whole kook cavalcade behind him, but he’d get enough of them to be a significant player throughout the early primary campaign. In fact — and I’m going waaayy out on the hypothetical limb here — Rand might do well enough to force himself onto the ticket as the running mate: Ryan-Paul.
At first glance, that’s stark lunacy. And on second glance, it’s still pretty crazy. But look at it a third time, and the chance to bring at least some of the Paulistas inside the GOP tent makes a certain kind of counter-intuitive sense. While I don’t think it’s what you’d call a “likely scenario,” neither is it something we ought to rule out.
Ever since Pat Buchanan blew a hole in Bush 41’s ship during the 1992 primary campaign, the Republican Party has been dogged by the dissatisfaction of its anti-establishment faction, and the presidency of Bush 43 did nothing to resolve that problem. During the 2009-2010 Tea Party uprising, the anti-establishment faction — including Ron Paul’s supporters — found a reason to get involved GOP politics, and the result was a massive mid-term Republican landslide. A strong 2016 primary campaign by Rand Paul, followed by Rand’s inclusion as the GOP vice-presidential candidate, might finally heal a damaging would in the Republican coalition.
The terms of such a deal might prove difficult to broker, and it may be that the Paulistas are ultimately an indigestible lump, but I still say that a 2016 ticket of Paul Ryan and Rand Paul could be one of those crazy ideas that works better than more ostensibly sane ideas.
Republicans have become too predictable. They can’t win if they keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them lately, because Democrats have figured out how to beat the standard-playbook type of Republican presidential campaign. So while this Ryan-Paul idea is probably crazy enough to make GOP consultants run screaming from the room, that might just be the best argument in its favor.
Anyway, as I say, this is at the far end of a long chain of hypotheticals, none of which are certain and most of which are long-shot ideas.
Speaking of 2016 long-shots, however: Martin O’Malley.
This is a tip I got from Dave Weigel during last weekend’s National.Review Summit. Everybody’s talking about Hillary 2016, Cuomo 2016 or even Biden 2016, but Weigel (who obviously has better Democrat sources than I do) says that the governor of Maryland has been quietly assembling a campaign apparatus and is all but certain to be contender for the 2016 Democrat presidential nomination.
Right now, of course, O’Malley’s national name-ID is somewhere in the range between neglible and non-existent, but the same was true of Bill Clinton in 1989 and Barack Obama in 2005. So if you’re a Republican operative looking forward to 2016, write down Martin O’Malley’s name as a potential Democrat nominee you’ll have to deal with. And by “deal with,” of course, I mean, Swiftboat the hell out of him.
Hack his Twitter account, frame him Weiner-style and . . .
No, just kidding. That was a joke to play on the Left’s paranoia.
But enough of this hypothetical speculation about 2016. Put it out of your minds now, and concentrate on the 2014 mid-terms, especially the need to win back a couple dozen House seats and try to get some good conservative Senate candidates who can win.