The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The 2016 White House Game, Briefly

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


39 Responses to “The 2016 White House Game, Briefly”

  1. Becca Lower
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

    Last paragraph: “2014 mid-terms”, not 2012. 🙂

  2. Shawn Gillogly
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

    I don’t think Conservatives help ourselves at all by thinking about 2016 right now. The best thing a prospective Conservative candidate can do to make for 16 viability is to invest heavily in winning in the mid-terms. THOSE are the candidates I’m likely to support. Anyone trying to shmooze the base or Establishment who isn’t helping Conservatives win now is wasting our time.

  3. McGehee
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

    The only thing I’m thinking about 2016 is what I thought four years ago about 2012: don’t nominate another warmed-over also-ran from the last campaign.

    They almost certainly will, though. Bad things always happen in threes.

  4. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

    You know Ryan, Jindal and Rubio are Roman Catholic. All have black hair, although some of them have less of it.

    But you are right, the only Irishman is Ryan.

    I think Ryan would be a great choice, but would have no major problems with any of those three. They all are not perfect and have had their establishment moments in the past.

    Rubio is catching flack right now (and rightly so) about his immigration reform plan but I would caution everyone some sort of reform is necessary. This is not about winning over the elusive Hispanic vote (Hispanics who run businesses are Republicans, Hispanics who get benefits are Democrats–that is how it works), but fixing the status quo which is defacto amnesty.

  5. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    Yes that is the focus.

  6. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

    You know who needs to worry about 2016? The candidates who want to run then. Our worries, 2014 and blocking these miserable Democrats from ruining our country.

  7. CPAguy
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

    I’d be OK with legalization with no hope for citizenship unless they go home through the normal process. (I mean..they aren’t actually interested in citizenship to begin with…or they would have followed the legal process).

    The Dream Act is fine as long as the border is enforced, all legalization and amnesty legislation is retroactive, and the “anchor baby” problem addressed.

  8. Bob Belvedere
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

    Our hopes lie in the several states, as they did in 1760’s in the colonies.

    I don’t care about the national government any longer.

  9. Charles
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

    Would Ryan even carry the state of Wisconsin? But just pray it isn’t Jeb Bush.

  10. Dana
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

    Just to get my prediction in early: Hillary Clinton will not run in 2016.

    Why? She’s 65 now, and looks every bit of it. The passing out and conking her head story is almost certainly true, or they’d have had her tripped by something, and that’s the kind of story that tells us that she isn’t in the best of health. Four years from now, I think she’s just not going to be physically fit enough to run.

    The 2008 nomination was hers for the asking . . . right up until she actually asked for it. (See Ted Kennedy in 1980) The nomination process is a grueling, year long run, and she doesn’t look fit enough, even now, to undertake that.

  11. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

    The border (while an issue) is not really the primary problem. We get about 30-40% of illegals from stay over visas (via our airports). The issue is enforcement of penalties on employers who hire illegals. There is no effort there. End the jobs, end the draw to come here illegal. Civil penalties against employers who hire illegals. Not draconian, just high enough to make hiring illegals cost prohibitive.

    I would vote to end anchor babies, but I doubt that will have a chance of passing anytime soon given a Dem controlled Senate and the current WH occupant. I agree we need to make assimilation the goal with all new immigrants and we should be getting the best and brightest from around the world (like Canada, Australia, New Zealand do).

  12. Shawn Gillogly
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

    And I’m not saying they shouldn’t. But they need to prove their merits by helping Conservatives win in 2014 and flipping the narrative as much as possible.

  13. HMSLion
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

    You run for President from a governor’s mansion, not the House or Senate. Bob McDonnell would be a good candidate. Or Scott Walker.

    Ryan couldn’t even carry his own district for Romney. Santorum lost to a man who was whipped by the second coming of Jimmy Carter. If there’s one lesson from 2012, it’s that you do NOT nominate proven losers.

    Rand Paul or Marco Rubio would be good running mates – though I think Rubio would be a fool to take it. His path to the White House runs through the Florida governor’s mansion.

  14. DaveO
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

    Conservatives could be thinking about 2020 right now. Let the Clinton Machine wreak revenge on Obama’s team in 2016. Give Governor Palin the job of turning Blue States Purple and getting more TEA Partiers into Congress.
    Until the RNC, NRCC, NRSC, and state party apparatuses are converted to Conservatism, talking about 2016 is pissing up a rope in a headwind.

  15. Dai Alanye
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    Josh Mandel???

    Didn’t anyone monitor this guy’s campaign for senator?

    Regrettable, perhaps, but NOT Josh Mandel for any high office.

  16. Thane_Eichenauer
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

    I’ll believe Paul Ryan can win and be worth voting for when he does a sit down interview with Rachel Maddow on why honest businessmen should be vaunted and not disparaged. His appearance at the opening of Atlas Shrugged Part III wouldn’t hurt if he has the courage of his convictions.

  17. McGehee
    February 3rd, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

    You run for President from a governor’s mansion, not the House or Senate.

    And especially not the Senate. No more single-digit-IQ presidents, TYVM.

  18. Jimmie
    February 4th, 2013 @ 12:32 am

    Dave Weigel? Pfft.

    I’ve been saying for six months that O’Malley is my odds-on favorite to take the Democratic nomination.

    As for Ryan, based on his sad performance on the fiscal cliff/debt ceiling talks he’ll have to have one serious come to Jesus moment before he gets my vote.

  19. Adjoran
    February 4th, 2013 @ 2:43 am

    Oy. Every four years, this goes on. Every four years, I am forced to bring the reality check that it is very seldom possible to predict either nominee four years out (although it is playing the odds to assume incumbents will be renominated).

    In 1949, it was presumed Truman would be the 1952 nominee. In 1953, no one expected another run by Stevenson. In 1961, they would have laughed at the idea of Goldwater winning the nomination (and even about to January or so of 1964, for that matter), in 1965 Nixon was thought to be political history and Johnson a sure bet for renomination, in 1969 they weren’t talking about McGovern for more than a possible cabinet post, in 1973 those who predicted Ford would be the 1976 nominee included NO ONE (not even Ford, and Betty had money against it), and also no one outside of Georgia knew who Jimmy Carter was.

    Reagan’s age was such a question in 1977 that he attracted a record field of opposition and lost the first 1980 contest, and the Governor who was the next sure bet in 1985 was named Cuomo, not Dukakis. In 1989, Clinton was thought to have ruined his own chances with his ’88 nominating speech. In 1997, everyone expected Bush to run: Jeb, though. In 2005, who was predicting Obama in ’08?

    The point being that it is an exercise in futility to attempt to predict the nominee four years out without an incumbent to reelect. It’s a joke.

  20. Adjoran
    February 4th, 2013 @ 2:45 am

    Every sitting Senator elected President has been a disaster: Harding, Kennedy, Obama.

  21. Adjoran
    February 4th, 2013 @ 2:48 am

    Hillary would have won the nomination easily except that she assumed she would win it easily. She didn’t bother with organization in the “red” states she knew she couldn’t win in the general. But Obama followed the McGovern 1972 strategy of winning the delegates from the states Democrats wouldn’t carry, enough to capture a thin majority.

    But in another three years her diplomatic legacy will be in ashes.

  22. Adjoran
    February 4th, 2013 @ 2:51 am

    We’ve been requiring I-9 identification since the ’80s, that just doesn’t work. e-verify is an improvement if it can be implemented over leftist objections, but is still far from perfect.

    In the jobs these people are really taking, we only make it easier and a better risk for the employers to opt out of all reporting and deal in cash.

  23. Bob Belvedere
    February 4th, 2013 @ 7:48 am

    True…unfortunately some of those ashes may be in an American city.

  24. Bob Belvedere
    February 4th, 2013 @ 7:49 am

    Harding did prevent a major depression – give him that.

  25. Bob Belvedere
    February 4th, 2013 @ 7:50 am

    As Adj has argued many times, Senators and House members often have no executive experience.

  26. Bob Belvedere
    February 4th, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    And he voted for Cryin’ John.

  27. Eric Ashley
    February 4th, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    This is true. Can you admit that supporting the Establishment is also a proven loser?

  28. Eric Ashley
    February 4th, 2013 @ 10:01 am

    Santorum would be a good play. The question is, will the alliance of Libertrians and RINOS decide to lose yet again? The Conservatives should find out, and if they decide to Palinize him, the Conservatives should pull out and go third party.

  29. McGehee
    February 4th, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    Every four years, I am forced to bring the reality check that it is very seldom possible to predict either nominee four years out

    Except that the GOP has a long history of nominating the candidate whose “turn” it is, especially when the party’s “nonexistent” Establishment wing is in charge. If they do it again in 2016 they will lose again.

  30. McGehee
    February 4th, 2013 @ 10:23 am

    Unlike JFK and the little god-king, Harding had held an executive office prior to becoming a Senator.

  31. WJJ Hoge
    February 4th, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    Reynolds/Green 2016

  32. Handicapping the 2016 Presidential Filed | hogewash
    February 4th, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

    […] the 2016 Presidential Filed Posted on 4 February, 2013 by wjjhoge Stacy McCain has a post up about possible candidates for president in 2016. I’m not sold on any of the candidates he […]

  33. G Joubert
    February 4th, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

    Ryan is a member of the House of Representatives, which is historically a poor base of operations from which to stage a presidential campaign

    I agree it’s too early to start looking at 2016, but if and when we do I’d say best place to look is amongst the sitting Republican governors, historically a good place from which to launch a presidential campaign.

  34. Mike Rogers
    February 4th, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

    Interesting piece, and a lot of interesting comments, but we’re missing something, and someone.

    First of all, if the governor’s mansion is the best starting place for a run for president, neither Paul Ryan, nor Rick Santorum are well positioned right now. Likewise, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio would both be well advised to look at governorships before hitting the presidential trail themselves, otherwise they run the risk of looking more like Dennis Kucinich than Ronald Reagan.

    Based on that argument, Rick Santorum may be a great ally, a potential kingmaker, and a decent veep, but a full-frontal run at the White House won’t work for him.

    Now, the someone that’s missing from the discussion:

    In 2010 and early 2011, a famous conservative congressman was making the rounds, speaking to all the Tea Party and Christian groups, wowing the students at Hillsdale, and the attendees at AFP’s summits, showing up at all the best parties in NH, etc. Maybe it was the crowded field, perhaps it was the realization that a governorship was an important building block that he needed in his resume, but he vanished. Today, that principled Christian conservative is a governor, of Indiana. A man who combines the politics of Reagan and the empathy of Clinton, and delivers a mean speech with pauses in all the right places. I am not alone – CFIF agrees with me that MIKE PENCE is playing the long game, and he’d make a great president, as noted here:

  35. Lola Lee Beno
    February 4th, 2013 @ 10:45 pm

    Martin O’Malley? Yuck. And, yuuuuucccccckk. He’s pulling down my state down further into the red hole.

  36. K-Bob
    February 5th, 2013 @ 4:29 am

    A) it’s never too early to get a campaign ready, so that’s why the discussion never ends, never will.
    B) so far, Rubio is another Romney. Until and unless he decides to fix that, getting behind him is like setting fire to your campaign contribution money.
    C) Jindal has no telepresence. None. Michele Bachmann looks positively Kennedyesque compared to Jindal. So let’s not waste time on the otherwise excellent Governor J.
    D) Santorum will never overcome his weakness for getting mired in defending socially conservative positions. He’s proven impervious to advice on that score, so no hope for Santorum 2016.

    Here’s the deal for me: if a candidate is not a Restoration guy or gal, I will absolutely not vote for him or her. This last election was the last time. I promise it will never happen again.

  37. K-Bob
    February 5th, 2013 @ 4:30 am

    Or business experience.

  38. K-Bob
    February 5th, 2013 @ 4:35 am

    If it looks like they are heading down that road, I will ignore anything else they do. I certainly wouldn’t consider anything as stupid as voting for them.

  39. K-Bob
    February 5th, 2013 @ 4:37 am

    Hey, Scott Brown is available.