- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

NEWS ANALYSIS:

With the Governors Club members Scott Walker and Rick Perry gone, the bloated Republican presidential field is showing the inevitable signs of radical shrinkage by year’s end, with donors’ reluctance to bet on long shots.

A few more debates and some bad fundraising reports this fall almost certainly will winnow the field, veteran observers say.

“A number of candidates are having a hard time raising sufficient hard cash,” said former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Steve Duprey, a member of the Republican National Committee’s governing body.

“I don’t see any of them following Walker and Rick Perry out of the race at this moment. But after a couple more debates, it’s entirely possible by year’s end more candidates will be forced to suspend their campaigns,” he said.

Added former Reagan White House official Mary Ann Meloy, a conservative activist from Pennsylvania: “It won’t surprise me if the field narrows to five or six or even four by the end of this year — it’s the money, or the lack of it, that will force so many out.”


SEE ALSO: Ben Carson more popular than Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina: poll


The expectation that fundraising organizations would help keep what was once a field of 17 Republican candidates in the race for a long time was dispelled when Mr. Walker abruptly dropped out despite having a healthy super PAC behind him.

With the reality setting in that even the 15-candidate field is unsustainable, Republicans are beginning to contemplate what the Final Four might look like.

Here is a handicapping of who is up and down, and who might not be around by spring.

IN TROUBLE

Bobby Jindal

He can talk policy with the best of conservatives and has an impressive record in Louisiana, but Mr. Jindal just doesn’t seem to resonate as presidential material with rank-and-file primary voters. His parents are immigrants from India who retain their Hindu religion even though their son, the governor, became an evangelical Catholic in high school. He has always been a favorite of Republicans looking for someone who is smart, accomplished and conservative and reflects the diversity of America. But the only thing electric about him as a speaker is the microphone he’s holding.

“Why he’s not getting traction, honestly I don’t know,” said Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere. “He’s kept taxes from rising, defunded Planned Parenthood in this state, changed ethics rules for the better, brought new businesses into Louisiana, led the nation on school choice — and on charter schools.”

Mr. Jindal seems stuck in low gear, registering no better than 4 percent in early-states polling.

Rand Paul

The latest fall for the senator from Kentucky was a big one. Ed Crane, a founder of the libertarian Cato Institute and of a super PAC backing Mr. Paul’s candidacy, has announced that he won’t ask major donors for more money because he can’t justify the appeal on behalf of a man whose commitments to a freedom-first, noninterventionist agenda he no longer trusts.

Time magazine once named Mr. Paul the most interesting man in politics. He went to Israel a few years ago to assure Israelis and their supporters in the United States that he wasn’t to be feared as a presidential contender. A straw poll winner for three years straight at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mr. Paul, 52, was an early favorite, but the endorsement of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentucky Republican, has cost him dearly with many rank-and-file conservatives. His back-and-forth stands in an attempt to sound less doctrinaire than his libertarian father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and his lack of personal warmth have pushed his support into the single digits. Fundraising bumps and an inner-circle gaps only add to his campaign’s woes.

Supporters have seen him waffle on some basics of libertarian conservatism. He told the Detroit Economics Club that he favors county-sized enterprise zones with tax breaks that direct capital to some businesses and away from others. He proposed what he styled as a flat, single-rate tax that turned out to be a single rate for individual incomes but a value-added tax for businesses, even though many on the right despise VATs as concealed licenses to raise taxes.

Mr. Paul, banking on the support of younger voters, is the only candidate prodigiously mining high schools and colleges for February’s first-in-the-nation contest in Iowa.

He has registered 4 percent in a recent Iowa poll, but supporters prefer to think it is actually 8 percent because surveys don’t normally sample people too young to be on voter registration lists.

Mike Huckabee

Polling in the early states in the middle to low single digits, the 60-year-old Mr. Huckabee has done it all before, having been a popular Arkansas governor, a Fox TV show host, a Baptist preacher, a winner of the 2008 Iowa presidential preference caucuses, a second-place finisher in the delegate count behind John McCain and a third-place finisher behind Mitt Romney in the popular vote. Some conservatives in past years labeled him soft on crime — as governor, he pardoned some convicted murderers — and soft on spending and tax restraint. He was the favorite of many evangelical conservatives for years, but they are dividing their vote this cycle mainly among Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Some are staying with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Mr. Paul and almost everyone else running.

George Pataki

As New York governor, Mr. Pataki, 70, never made a big splash. He has not held an elected office for almost a decade and has not made it on the radar screens of voters outside New York. His is not a name that falls readily from the lips of any conservatives anywhere in the U.S.

He can give a good, coherent speech but rarely generates sparks. He has barely registered in any polls anywhere. His popularity extends mainly to his family and friends.

Rick Santorum

At 57, Mr. Santorum has won a few races, getting elected to the House and then to two terms in the Senate from Pennsylvania. He finished second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican presidential nomination contest and established himself as a full-menu religious conservative. He has barely registered in Iowa polls — though he won the caucuses four years ago — and he’s been virtually invisible in New Hampshire polls. He has competence and tenacity without dazzle on the stump. His shelf life for the race is considered somewhere between short and expired.

Lindsey Graham

A talented, knowledgeable hawk and superinterventionist, the 60-year-old senior senator from South Carolina is in the low-to-zero portion of the single-digit poll range in the early primary states. He got no lift out of his sharp-witted, entertaining performance in the undercard debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Sept. 16.

He has no political base to speak of and will make an undoubtedly graceful exit soon enough.

Jim Gilmore

Mr. Gilmore, 65, has more resume than performance to his credit and is polling below 1 percent in the early states. This is his second time around the GOP presidential nomination track. He’s not showing signs of improvement. More than intellectually competent in any debate on foreign policy, terrorism (he headed a presidential commission on the subject) and constitutionally protected freedoms, he conveys the gravitas but not the magnetism of a serious presidential contender.

ON THE BUBBLE

Jeb Bush

At 62, the former Florida governor has something of a Scott Walker problem — he isn’t turning out to look and talk like what voters remember when he was in Tallahassee and was thought to be the smartest of the Bush boys. Surprised and disappointed Republicans were saying similar things about Mr. Walker when he quit the contest Sept. 21.

Mr. Bush’s wake-me-when-it’s-my-turn performances on the debate stage and campaign stump and his massive campaign bureaucracy could sink this onetime favorite, but anyone who can raise more than $140 million can’t be counted out yet.

Despite Mr. Bush’s failing aspiration to be the Energizer Bunny, he has a huge advantage besides money. Two generations of voters will go to the polls in November 2016 having lived under at least one president named Bush. Having a third Bush at the nation’s helm will seem only natural and even comforting to many of them.

Rumors have it that even with all that advantage, Mr. Bush faces pressure to start producing in the polls lest major donors start looking elsewhere.

He has had a surprisingly difficult time deciding whether he wants to separate himself from his brother’s eight-year presidency and, if so, by how much. His latest take on all this is that the oceans of blood and trillions of dollars expended for the Iraq War were wrong not because regime change unleashed the bloodthirsty sectarianism now threatening the world but because there were no weapons of mass destruction buried in Baghdad bunkers after all. Regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been unwise in retrospect, but, Mr. Bush notes, his brother did keep America safe.

John Kasich

Mr. Kasich, 63, was a House Budget Committee chairman who managed to bring smiles to liberals, moderates and conservatives. He supported President Clinton’s 1995 assault weapons ban that liberals and some moderates loved. He introduced a genuine welfare reform bill that Mr. Clinton finally signed that had moderates and conservatives beaming. In 1997, he made his biggest splash nationally as what he called the “architect” of a deal with Mr. Clinton that balanced the federal budget for the first time since 1969.

Though unpredictably prickly at times, Mr. Kasich is far more popular in Ohio than tough-guy Gov. Chris Christie is in New Jersey or than the union-slaying but sleepy-eyed Mr. Walker is in Wisconsin. Who cares? Ohio has been a make-or-break state in the general election. Conservatives are somewhere between skeptical and downright hostile to Mr. Kasich for stances such as support for Common Core education standards and agreeing to sales, cigarette and fracking taxes. His temper makes even those tempted to consider him as a vice presidential nominee worry that instead of bringing Ohio to the Republican Party, he would manage tick off enough leaners to sink the ticket in a close general election. He is averaging under 3 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire polls and under 4 percent in South Carolina.

Ted Cruz

Some people say that if you close your eyes and listen, Mr. Cruz, 44, sounds a bit like Ronald Reagan. But with eyes wide open, the senator from Texas seems too caustic and finger-waggingly preachy to be a Reagan replica. Glaringly missing is that all-important Reagan likability factor.

Mr. Cruz has gone to the mat for conservative principles since his arrival in the Senate in 2013. He has been able to do much of what Donald Trump so far can only promise to do. Yet Mr. Trump got instant traction while Mr. Cruz has been stuck in the middle-single-digit range in national polls. But Mr. Cruz has raised more money than most of his rivals. He knows the issues better than almost all of his rivals. Mr. Cruz takes on the fights over principle, but he doesn’t win. He hasn’t shown himself the successful dealmaker in legislating that The Donald has shown himself to be in business.

Apples and oranges? Yes. Who said life’s fair?

Chris Christie

Now 53, the former state’s attorney was for a few years a favorite of some conservatives and many middle-of-the-roaders for his pugilistic directness in speech and nose-punching in action toward teachers unions as governor of blue-state New Jersey. But his office’s ham-fisted retaliation against a Democratic mayor who failed to endorse Mr. Christie for re-election turned off a lot of his fellow Republicans and further convinced movement conservatives that he wasn’t one of them.

His ceiling in polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina has been 3 percent. As a presidential aspirant, he seems to have gravitas but more from build than presence. That leaves a lot of hill-climbing for Mr. Christie to do quickly before donors stop huffing and puffing with him.

THE PROJECTED FINAL FOUR

Donald Trump

The Great Deal Maker, 69, is included in the Final Four for all the unconventional reasons. He successfully defies conventional wisdom about who may run — and how — for the top office in the major leagues of politics. He started out with the name recognition of a big-time entertainer. He talks with supremely self-confident disjointedness and occasional non sequiturs that hit his more-scripted candidates just right.

He also has more money to spend in the expensive media markets of the biggest states than all the other candidates and their super PACs combined.

Mr. Trump is the toughest, most forthright candidate in the field on dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States and on virtually sealing the southwestern border. What makes him the weakest of the projected Final Four is the tarnishing of his image. He began what a few analysts thought would be a downward slide to oblivion when he apologized on the Reagan Library stage to Carly Fiorina for remarks critical of her looks.

On what he calls the “stupidity” of launching a war to remove Saddam Hussein in Iraq, his arguments are at least as firmly enunciated as those of Mr. Paul. The most-feared billionaire turned nonpolitician politician in America, Mr. Trump — even interviewers and news anchors revealingly use the honorific in front of his name — has begun talking more diplomatically in general, sounding to some perked-up ears like the scripted pol he had successfully ranted against.

But the latest polls suggest those who think the wheels have come off the Trumpmobile might want to think again.

Ben Carson

In the year of the anti-politician, a likable former pediatric neurosurgeon who can raise boatloads of money is likely to stick around, even if his policy pitches sound inexperienced and his stage presence at times seems sheepish alongside bigger personalities.

His popularity stems from his obvious intelligence and his ability to learn the crux of campaign issues quickly — but not thoroughly. He is new to the politics craft in a way Donald Trump is not. Mr. Trump dealt all his life with politicians — “buying” them and their favors as he puts it. Until recently, Mr. Carson has stuck to his Bible and to performing near miracles surgically on infant patients. He has disappointed some of his enthusiasts by retreating from or clarifying the clarification of a few of his more contested statements, including his disapproval of a Muslim as president.

A sizable number of the estimated 90 million or more evangelical Christians are predisposed to reject Mr. Carson because they see his Seventh-day Adventist faith as marginally Christian at best and a cult at worst. This is similar to the negative predisposition some evangelicals had toward former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 for his adherence to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.

Carly Fiorina

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO, the most fluent and fluid of stump speakers in the Republican field, got the mother of all bounces in the Reagan Library debate by rocketing from low single digits to 15 percent in the CNN postdebate poll. That put her second only to Mr. Trump’s 24 percent score.

Ms. Fiorina has been talked about in the press and in political circles as likely to run circles around most of her rivals, including, eventually, The Donald. Though still in the low double digits to high single digits in Iowa and New Hampshire polling, she is expected to climb well into the double digits after the third Republican debate.

Commentators in both parties say she has already shown she has the right stuff when it come to intellect and style. Ms. Fiorina, 61, answers all questions without a pause, in complete, grammatically perfect sentences that contain facts and nuance.

A millionaire but far from a billionaire, she has kept her expenses to a minimum, with a staff of only about 20, though she is ramping up staff and spending now that she is in the top tier of the field.

Her sometimes stern, serious countenance and Iron Lady composure make her a potential American Margaret Thatcher, which many Republicans and independents say would fulfill their dreams that this nation finally elects a woman who can make it great again.

Marco Rubio

Mr. Rubio, 44, has lots going for him. He could satisfy the yearning of the Republican Party to attract the make-or-break Hispanic vote. He has never been shy about reminding audiences that his parents immigrated from Cuba.

(OK, Mexico might have been more electorally useful, but a pol’s parentage is what it is, and Mr. Rubio does speak Spanish.) Polls and focus groups are showing that he brings out the motherliness in female voters — a big, unalloyed plus. He talks like a man possessed of more than just a passing acquaintance with the issues that trouble America. But some think he sounds scripted, especially when he is teleprompting his wisdom and insights.

For all his youth and attractiveness, the senator from Florida is still polling in the middle single digits among likely Republican voters in early-state caucuses and primaries, and there are some vulnerabilities in his record.

“If he starts to gain traction, rivals will attack him over his misuse of that state GOP-issued American Express card when he was Florida House speaker,” said former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen.

“He used the card many times for personal expenses instead of just party purposes and not just the one time he claimed,” Mr. Pullen said, nothing that former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer went to the slammer for credit-card-related hanky-panky.

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