Saturday, February 28, 2015

Race for the White House 2016 Volume 9

I have not been too focused on Presidential politics this past week, but for political junkies and media types, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference always is something to follow. That is especially so in the year before the Presidential primaries as a bevy of candidates compete in the annual Straw Poll of Presidential hopefuls. A year like 2015 will be the only one this cycle in which nobody is formally a candidate, but everyone who takes part is sort of really running. In many ways, it is the first test of organization and message of the '16 cycle. Nonetheless, the CPAC attendees do happen to be a whole heck of a lot younger than the average GOP primary voter, and indeed a lot of these kids may not even claim to be Republicans, and in many cases, are far more libertarian than conservative.

When I was in High School and college, I used to watch these every year, inspired by speakers such as Jack Kemp, and I was wished I was there in person. Now, as I have been feeling a bit under the weather the last few days and watching the highlights of this all on C-SPAN, these right-wing kids are coming across as looking pretty goofy. I think in some ways the concept of the "young conservative" might have changed a bit since I was one, but perhaps I am just getting old.

Anyways, the Straw Poll results are now in, and there was not too much of a surprise in regards to the ultimate results. My format this week is to borrow a page from my American Idol coverage and do a run down of the results from the lowest vote getters to the highest. This will in effect involve a broad outline of the nascent or perhaps not overly serious Presidential ambitions of the GOP hopefuls. I will only focus on those who I saw highlights of or the actual presentations. So, while George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, John Bolton, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin all received votes, I do not think they attended, and thus there is nothing else to say about them.

12th- Bobby Jindal

About eight years ago, the soon to be elected Louisiana Governor was considered perhaps the brightest young Republican Star of the Future. His intellect, conservatism, and Indian-American background made him someone to watch for in regards to future national races. However, he was roundly panned a few years back for his State of the Union Address response, and his numbers as Governor have taken a major tumble as he prepares to finish his second term. If Jindal were a more popular Governor right now, he would definitely deserve to be a major part of the conversation, but his hopes come across as a bit desperate and he has seemed in recent months to be going out of his way to sound more conservative than anyone else, without fear of being divisive. He may not be saying anything he does not truly believe, but that was never seen as his "brand", back when he started off as a national figure.

11th- Rick Perry

Now, out of office in Texas, and still facing a bogus criminal indictment, Perry might be longing for the halcyon days of August 2011, when he was the leader of GOP Presidential polls nationally and in some of the early states. Things went sour for the Governor once he got into the race, for reasons including the fact that he was horrible in the debates. Many Republican Presidential contenders have fared better in their second runs, but right now, Perry seems to be have already been written off by many. He may very well have blown his one reasonably good chance. It is hard to believe that he could have only gotten one percent of the vote and an 11th place finish among CPAC voters.

10th- Chris Christie

The New Jersey Governor is another one whose Presidential ambitions were once seen as far more promising than currently constructed. This may not have been his ideal crowd this weekend, but I am sure he would have liked to have done better than 10th. As Christie continues to be eclipsed by both Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, he continues to face some troubles back in his home state regarding New Jersey's economic condition as well as alleged ethical concerns involving his Administration.

9th- Carly Fiorina

It is hard to believe that she would one day finish in front of Perry and Christie in such an event, but the only GOP woman in the field is getting positive reviews for her speeches and the way she, as a woman, is able to go after Hillary Clinton. Nobody expects her to be a major player for the nomination though.

8th- Donald Trump

The celebrity businessman, who happens to also have long-standing ties to Democrats, has been mentioned as a possible Presidential wannabe since 1988. One has to wonder if one day he may actually go for it, before he gets too old, just for the attention. However, I firmly believe he is not going to run and give up his tv show or face calls to disclose his finances, etc. In the meantime, he will relish all the attention he gets, as he goes about being very negative towards everyone else on the national stage, without offering much of a positive agenda to those who actually think he could be President.

7th- Marco Rubio

With each passing week, it looks like the Floridian is prepared to say goodbye to the U.S. Senate after one term to make a run for President, even in a field against the man who was Governor of the state when he was State House Speaker, and whom he once said was his political mentor. I think his showing
here has to be somewhat disappointing. To me, I think he comes across very well as a public speaker, and a lot of observers definitely think the increasing focus on foreign policy issues might work to his benefit. Rubio’s presentation at CPAC though was perhaps most noted for the way he admitted that he made a mistake last year in trying to lead an effort in the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He seems to be wanting to go out of his way now, to get back in the better graces of conservative activists.

6th-  Rick Santorum

I also thought he might have gotten more votes and finished ahead of at least the person who came in 5th. Like Perry, the former Pennsylvania Senator is also hoping that 2016 might be better than 2012 turned out, but with the field considered “deeper” this time, that might be tough to accomplish. There is no question that social conservatives continue to admire Santorum, but his time may have passed. He made a joke from the podium this weekend about how Obama is so bad as President that Kenya is trying to prove he was born in America, that went over like a lead balloon with the audience, and I felt was absolutely cringe-worthy.

5th- Jeb Bush

Now, as a former George W. Bush and Mitt Romney supporter, I have to admit that it is different to have the candidate I would have voted for come in as far back as #5 or receive only eight percent of the vote, but all things considered, this is a far better showing for the former Florida Governor than many, including myself, might have anticipated. I thought he might very well come in last, with only a handful of votes, among those who actually showed up.

Bush indeed did show up, despite the irrational distrust and disapproval that many in the crowd have against him over the immigration and Common Core educational standards issues. He held his ground though on those issues and appeared more energized and focused in his remarks than he has in other recent appearances. A few in the crowd symbolically walked out and there were boos as well, but the Bush team apparently bussed in some supporters to the Maryland event (and they certainly also voted in the Straw Poll), and they managed to drown out the booers with cheers. This is certainly not unheard of or discouraged at CPAC or straw polls in general and has to be seen as a sign that the Bush campaign does indeed have the organization and gumption to make the best out the situation. It might be a very long time before the conservative grassroots warms up to Bush, especially since he seems intent on running a pander-free general election campaign from Day 1, but his Establishment support means he is going to be more formidable than many want to admit.

4th- Ben Carson

The former neurosurgeon and first time Presidential candidate came in where I expected him to (and the same can be said for the "Top 3" as well.  Many on the right truly love the first time candidate and see him as a potential President. The fact that Carson is African-American only helps him in the same way that Herman Cain might have benefited in the last cycle. I was not overly impressed by Carson's oratorical skills at CPAC though. I have no doubt that he is a highly intelligent, perhaps even brilliant man,  but running for office, let alone President, is an entirely unique thing to do, and he may have some moments when he struggles as a candidate. To his supporters though, that is unlikely to matter.

3rd- Ted Cruz

Finishing just a bit ahead of Carson, was the Junior Senator from Texas. I did not really hear what he said at the conference, but I have no doubt he said what he wanted to well, and impressed a lot of people. He seems to be a bit less active than the others though in putting together a campaign and it is quite possible that he will not run, at least not this time.

2nd- Scott Walker

The biggest winner of the weekend (besides perhaps for Bush with the expectations game) was Walker, who finished a very strong second, and who continues to make a name for himself in the first couple months of his first national race. The Wisconsin Governor gave extremely well-received remarks to the crowd, but also received some criticism around the country for the way he compared his taking on union protesters in Madison with the way he can take on ISIS terrorists around the world. It may have been a spontaneous comment, and Democrats certainly are far from blameless when it comes to their misguided comparisons, but Walker should have thought better in the moment.

All this goes along with other headlines from the past couple of weeks involving the Governor invoking principle and refusing to say whether or not he believed Barack Obama was a Christian, as well as the hubbub over comments made by former New York City Mayor and past Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani at an event featuring Walker, in which Giuliani said he did not believe that Obama loves America. Walker did not to anything to counter that statement made by "America's Mayor" then or since.

The more that the media attacks Walker though, the more that conservative voters may be taking to him though. It remains to be seen how this will all play out, as there will be many ups and downs along the way for all these candidates. Things continue to look good for Walker, but as we get closer to actual voting, he is going to have to demonstrate that he can be an effective player on the big stage. Some conservatives online act as if Walker is already the nominee and that the battles of Wisconsin have prepared him for anything.There is nothing like running for President though, and he may not even be conceiving the kind of attacks he is yet to face.

1st- Rand Paul

Well, no surprise that the Kentucky Senator won the Straw Poll, considering he did last year, and that his gadfly father won it previous times as well. It is probably a bigger story that Walker came as close as he did, or that Cruz and Carson also had significant support among the kinds of voters who might otherwise consider Paul. Like his father though, it may be reaching his point where a Paul for President campaign is nobody's second, third, or even fifth choice. 

Senator Paul will continue to have his supporters, but with all the headlines about international terrorism though, his somewhat isolationist brand of foreign policy might be falling more out of favor with Republican voters who could have previously been open to him. Paul has political skills and has given good speeches in the past. However, the "deeper" the field is considered to be, the more he may fade into the background, and as a Republican, I definitely welcome that development.


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