The potential serious field of Republican candidates for
president is very, very large. I’m not even including in that
assessment an inevitable number of so-called minor
candidates, most of whom hold no political office, who
will seek, however briefly, the nation’s highest office.
There was a relatively large number of GOP candidates
in the 2012 election cycle, and it proved to be unwieldy,
especially because there were many candidates who took
leads in the polls or won primaries and caucuses. The large
number of debates with many debaters further confused
the Republican presentation to the voters prior to its
national convention and the final campaign that followed
Party leaders subsequently promised to avoid the problems
of 2012 as they planned for the 2016 cycle. So far, they have
indeed created an orderly, if unprecedented, tentative
primary and caucus calendar, and they have reduced the
number of sanctioned debates by half to twelve. Further,
the Republican National Committee has assigned only one
debate each to the mainstream television networks, all of
which proved biased and hostile in the last cycle. The Fox
network, in contrast, has been assigned three debates.
Individual states can, of course, vary the dates past the
initial (and traditional) four of Iowa, New Hampshire,
South Carolina and Nevada. On March 1, 2016, there could
(as of now) be 27 primaries and caucuses on the same day,
including most of those states with the largest number of
delegates. This latter program is presumably designed to
settle the contest then and there, allowing the eventual
nominee to raise funds and set his or her agenda and
public image before the unusually early convention in June.
These new rules are an obvious rational response to the
chaos which occurred in 2012, but they are no guarantees,
especially with the large number of “major” candidates,
that new problems won’t occur. Most states are likely to
observe the new calendar rules because the penalties for
not doing so are so severe (loss of a significant portion of
their delegates being seated at the convention). The reduced
number of debates is intended to make the GOP message
clearer and less unencumbered in November.
It has not been much discussed in the media, however, how
much the new rules and calendar will alter the strategies
of the various candidates.
So far, three GOP hopefuls have emerged as leading
candidates, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush,
current Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and
current Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Marco Rubio,
are expected to run; and Senator Ted Cruz has already
Potential candidates include former Arkansas Governor
Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and
former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Other well-known figures expected to run include Carly
Fiorina, Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
Showing interest in the race is Ohio Governor John Kasich,
a potentially major candidate. Others might soon appear.
It is unimaginable that the first debate on August 20, 2015
would include all or most of these persons, although each
of them is prominent enough to have some claim to be on
the stage. The most likely requirements to be in the debate
will be polls numbers and campaign funds raised, with the
former being most likely standard.
Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina,
Donald Trump and John Kasich have not yet, and might not
by the deadline, have sufficient polls numbers to be in the
debates. Since being absent from the debates virtually
eliminates a candidate from serious contention in the race,
what can their campaigns do to overcome this huge obstacle?
What happens if one of the “major” candidates does not
make the poll number cut in July or August when debate
participants are chosen?
The primary and caucus calendar changes present major
challenges of their own. The early “four” have been
decreasing their influence in recent cycles, especially the
caucus states of Iowa and Nevada. New Hampshire and
South Carolina, however, could have notable impact on the
March 1 “Mega-Primary” Day when, as matters now stand,
so many delegates will be selected on the same day.
Mega-Primary Day presumes that the strongest candidates
will have raised the most money since political advertising
might be the only way to reach so many states effectively at
the same time. Most retail campaigning will be limited to the
early “four” --- although the immediacy of Mega-Primary
Day might easily inhibit the usual one-on-one traditions of
Iowa and New Hampshire.
Presidential campaigns and strategies are now grappling, or
will soon have to grapple, with the consequences of the new
GOP campaign rules and calendar. I suggest that this might
produce a different scenario, and perhaps even different
result, than ones now being projected in the media.
Since most states will hold both their Democratic and
Republican primaries or caucuses on the same day, the
new calendar will also have consequences for the Democratic
presidential field and contest, particularly if that contest
becomes unexpectedly competitive (which is not the case now).
The ideological rhetoric and the ideological divisions within
each party, now front and not-so-center in the early coverage,
could give way to much more pragmatic considerations as
the 2016 campaign approaches its next stage over the summer
and autumn of 2015. That could be the biggest surprise of 2016.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.