Paging Reality: 2016 Republican contenders

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It has been nearly a whole year since the last presidential election, so naturally, Washington types are already buzzing about the next one.

There are only three years to go, but hopefuls are already making convenient excuses to go to Iowa. Polls of New Hampshire, as well as the nationwide primary electorates of both parties, come out with some frequency. Governors, senators and congressmen are all taking bizarre and symbolic stances on issues, signaling they’re gearing up for a run.

Gratefully, things have slowed down since the final months of the 2012 campaign, but not by much. The popular saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” And so, nearly two and a half years before any real votes are cast, I’m reluctantly adding my breakdown of the potential Republican primary field, adding the caveat that much of this is subject to change. Next week, I’ll explain why some pretenders didn’t make the list.

Unlike the 2016 Democratic primary, which is likely to have a favorite in Hillary Clinton, the GOP primary is still wide open. This has made some real contenders slow down, while pretenders try to earn credibility by “considering” a run.

Rep. Paul Ryan – He’s never won a statewide race, but he is a respected name throughout Washington. Until Mitt Romney selected him as a running mate, I’ve even heard some Democrats admit they were impressed with him and agreed with some of his ideas. His name is synonymous with his oft-slandered budget plan, which could cause some issues. However, I’m still of the opinion that a person with a plan generally beats someone who doesn’t have one. Given a couple more years for our national debt crisis to look worse and worse, the Ryan plan is going to look more and more reasonable. I think Ryan absolutely has the potential to be president and is one of three people on this list who could become a transformational president.

Sen. Marco Rubio – Senator Rubio is an impressive speaker. I’ve never heard someone articulate the American Dream like him. In a world where Republicans are regularly running to the most eloquent person in the room, Rubio is an option. It remains to be seen how much his support for immigration reform will hurt him with the GOP electorate. My guess is that most will forget by election season.

Sen. Rand Paul – The word “polarizing” doesn’t quite do Paul justice. He’s hated by much of the GOP foreign policy establishment. The question is whether he can keep his father’s followers while still moderating his positions enough to win a general election or even a Republican primary. So far he’s done well at threading this needle, but things will get tougher in a presidential election. Moreover, his inherited hardcore fans were never known for their willingness to accept compromise.

Gov. Jeb Bush – His last name is really the only problem. He is a commonsense moderate conservative who can fire up the base. His wife, Columba, is a Mexican-born American citizen, giving him the ability to reach out to the Hispanic community as no Republican but Rubio can. In addition, Bush is known as a wonk and has done a lot of research on education reform. I doubt his last name still carries too much baggage among gettable voters, but I’m not sure the Bush family wants to go through this again. If he were to win, Bush has the highest ceiling of any potential president from either party. He would almost certainly be a transformational president.

Gov. Chris Christie – There are still some hard feelings toward him in Republican circles regarding his handling of the 2012 election, but Christie’s record is the best of any candidate not named Bush from either party. He has governed as a fiscal conservative in deep blue New Jersey, using the sheer power of his personality to overcome objections from the Democrats who control both houses of the state legislature. The big question is whether he can make peace with Republicans. If he can, I suspect he would win the general election in a landslide and have the potential to be a transformational president.

Gov. Scott Walker – He has turned around Wisconsin, beating big labor in a nasty recall fight. The dire predictions about his moves haven’t happened, and he has proven that fiscal conservatism can fix debt and financial issues. He has decent name recognition, but he doesn’t have the experience or network of any of the above candidates.

Check back next week for my list of pretenders.

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