The discussion about who might be the 2016 Republican
nominee for president has begun, but it so far has
barely touched on the real ingredients of a successful
In fact, so far the discussion is overwhelmingly about the
personal ideology of the various possible contestants, and
how that ideology fits the current assessment of the GOP
electorate by whomever is conducting the discussion.
I suggest that this is exactly the wrong approach to the
question, and almost certain to lead to wrong conclusions.
First of all, here is my list of prerequisites for any serious
candidate in 2016:
A charismatic and likeable public personality, the ability
to speak well, debate effectively, and generally think well
on his or her feet, without making chronic gaffes.
A broad knowledge of U.S. public policy, critical national
problems and issues; this probably gained from credible
previous experience in government and/or business.
The instinct and the skill to remain on offense at all levels
of campaigning and in all campaign circumstances.
Have as few personal controversies as possible, and to
make the decision to put those vulnerabilities he or she
does have out in public for airing as early as possible.
A national network of political organizers and staff at
local and state levels. For those who have run before, such
a network is probably already in place, and might be quite
large. It might be much smaller for first-time presidential
candidates, but needs to be structured to expand quickly
A fundraising organization which either already has
direct contact with major party funders, or can, if the
candidate emerges as a major contender, make those
contacts quickly. Further, a fundraising effort which does
not use most of the funds to pay for the fundraising.
Close counsel and a working campaign team who think
creatively, can challenge the candidate, and organize the
candidate’s campaign employing original strategies which
take advantage of the contemporary (and not necessarily
the historical) make-up of the electorate, the party’s voters
and their concerns.
A political image which is enhanced by clearly stated
public policy ideas and principles that separate the
candidate from his or her competitors.
A public political personality which can appeal to voters
of the majoritarian center of American politics.
The luck of being able to be the right person at the right
time, and to have unanticipated developments break their
Obviously, no candidate is strong on all these points. Some
of these points have more weight than others. The candidate
and his campaign cannot control some of them The eventual
nominee, if he or she is to win the presidential election, will
fulfill more of these points than will his or her rivals, but the
combinations are not pre-established and predictable.
There will be a very large field initially for the Republican
nomination. Presumably, at this point, the Democratic field
will be smaller, and barring the unforeseen, not as competitive.
It would take a dramatic turn of events for Mrs. Clinton to be
denied her party’s nomination. Mrs. Clinton could surprise
everyone and choose not to run, or Senator Warren could emerge
as the 2016 Barack Obama, but neither of those now seem likely.
Some factors, in my opinion, are quite over-rated. National name
recognition clearly helps in early polls, but can quickly fade as the
contest begins in earnest. Family name, or the legacy factor, was
much demolished in the 2014 midterm elections (Senators Pryor,
Landrieu, Udall, Begich and candidate Nunn all lost in spite of
having popular family forebears). Although the Democrats had
much more money in 2008 and 2014, money was not the
determining factor in those elections. Big-name endorsements are
always tempting for campaigns, but they actually do not usually
shift many votes at all.
Innovation is often a hallmark of a successful national campaign.
This goes back to at least the campaign of Abraham Lincoln, who
only months before the GOP convention which nominated him was
at the bottom of a list of nine, eight of whom were better known
than he was. Employing an unprecedented use of the media and
technology, and having networked in his party for years before,
Lincoln rose quickly. Roosevelt, Reagan, Clinton and Obama
also employed technological and other innovative strategies to
propel them to the presidency.
Presidential campaigns tend to focus on the lessons from the
previous cycle without thinking about new conditions and
factors in the new cycle.
Governor Chris Christie, having skillfully overcome a
potentially serious controversy in his home state of New Jersey,
got himself elected the chair of Republican Governors
Association, and spent the entire 2014 campaign raising money
and showing up to campaign for GOP governors across the
nation. The unexpected success of so many GOP gubernatorial
candidates in 2014 will pay enormous dividends for Mr. Christie
should he become a candidate. Senator Rand Paul also campaigned
strenuously for senate candidates across the country, including
vital support for his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell, now to
be the senate majority leader. Mr. McConnell, not considered to
be close ideologically to Mr. Paul, nevertheless has already
virtually endorsed him for president. Mr. Paul has also carefully
cultivated a broader image of his isolationist and libertarian
Much is now made, in both the liberal and conservative media,
about the difficulty for an “establishment” (translate as more
moderate) Republican figure to win the nomination in 2016.
This presupposes that ideology weighs more than the desire of
most Republican and independent voters of varying conservative
views to win back the presidency in 2016. I made this same point
before the 2014 election about more radical right wing challengers
to incumbents and other solid candidates in house and senate races.
The conservative grass roots wanted to win in 2014; and I suggest
they will also want to win equally or more so in 2016.
The 2016 primary and caucus system lies ahead. Early winners
in these events have advantages, but serious candidates who can
survive to the later series of primaries and caucuses can win
their party’s nomination.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.