Republicans in the wild: a spotter’s guide

It’s spring 2015 in the USA, which means, naturally, candidates for an election almost 18 months away have begun jockeying for position. Americans go to the polls in November 2016 to elect the next President. Before then, however, both major parties hold primary elections, where pundits get to salivate over crowded fields of candidates trying to make themselves noticed. While Hillary Clinton seems to have the Democratic nomination sewed up, the Republican field is far more intriguing. The class of 2016 are an eclectic bunch, ranging from union-busting college dropouts to Harvard Law alumni. Here’s what you need to know about each one.

Ted Cruz, Texas Senator

Gage SkidmoreCruz has a glittering resume. At Harvard law school, he was known as a champion debater and “off-the-charts” brilliant, to quote one of his professors. His status as the leader of a government shutdown in 2013 makes him a favoured choice of the Republicans’ conservative wing. In a John Lennon-esque announcement speech at Liberty University in Virginia, Cruz asked his young audience to “Imagine a simple flat tax… Imagine abolishing the IRS,” and imagine numerous other conservative-friendly policies. Amongst the general American public, Cruz is probably best known for reciting Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham on the floor of Congress in opposition to Obamacare. His radical conservatism and abrasive personality (to say he has few friends in Congress is an understatement) may prove to be a difficult sell outside of a Republican primary.

Jeb Bush, Former Governor of Florida

Gage SkidmoreBush, in contrast to Cruz, looks likely to gain the support of more moderate Republican voters, in a similar fashion to Mitt Romney in 2012. Bush is the author of a book advocating for reform to America’s immigration system, and his fluency in Spanish suggests he will make efforts to reach out to Hispanic Americans, who voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. This outreach to minority groups was identified as a priority for the part in report commissioned by senior Republicans after their electoral loss in 2012 Bush’s moderate policies and views seem to indicate that he may be able to aid this cause. The son and brother of former presidents, Bush looks likely to be the ‘establishment’ candidate. His perhaps too-familiar last name may prove to be his greatest challenge, but facing off against a former President’s spouse would certainly help mitigate that factor.

Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin

Gage SkidmoreWalker has both the right-wing economic and social credentials to appeal to voters in both wings of the party. Walker, a dropout of Marquette University, was elected Wisconsin Governor in 2010, and re-elected in 2014. During his first term, Walker proposed and signed a bill that weakened state employee unions. This bill proved to be so controversial that his opponents were able to gain enough signatures on a petition for a recall election (25% of the electorate, per Wisconsin law). Walker made history in 2012 by becoming the first ever US governor to survive a recall. By the end of his first term in 2014, the state’s $3.6 billion deficit had become a surplus, while taxes on businesses were cut by $2 billion. He also rejected federal grants to expand Medicaid, a government-run healthcare program for the poor. He has also signed bills regulating abortion, and defended the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. He currently trails only Jeb Bush in the polls. That being said, Walker is certainly no Obama on the campaign trail, and has often been compared to unsuccessful 2012 candidate Tim Pawlenty. Both are Midwestern governors with strong conservative records, but lack charisma.

Rand Paul, Kentucky Senator

9907113436_237cefaf82_oIn terms of policy, Rand Paul is most certainly the most interesting candidate. Rand’s father, Ron Paul, is a US Congressman from Texas who ran for President in 2008 and 2012. Both Pauls differ from other Republicans in their outspoken libertarianism. Rand Paul has argued that the federal government should not stand in the way of states legalising the use of cannabis, and for substantial change to policing in the USA. Economically, Senator Paul is fiercely libertarian, having sponsored a bill to audit the Federal Reserve, and firmly opposes government regulation. He has also called for the elimination of numerous federal government departments, and the establishment of low-tax “economic freedom zones” in poverty-stricken areas. Paul differs most dramatically from his party in foreign policy, opposing US intervention in the Middle East, and the use of drone strikes. Paul’s candidacy certainly seems to be focusing on young voters; He is the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, to have an official Snapchat account (“senatorrandpaul”).

Marco Rubio, Florida Senator

16470387237_589bd6b8ef_oRubio styles himself as the embodiment of a new generation of Republicans. Elected in 2010 with Tea Party support, his charisma quickly invited comparisons to Barack Obama. TIME magazine proclaimed him in 2013 as “The Republican Saviour’. As the youngest candidate in the field, and a Hispanic Republican, Rubio bucks his party’s trend of being predominantly populated by older whites. Rubio portrays himself as a forward-looking leader who represents America’s future. Despite his Tea Party beginnings, Rubio became a member of a group of moderate senators known as the ‘Gang of Eight,’ who were instrumental in ushering an immigration reform bill through the Senate. His candidacy has some issues, however. His role in securing the passage of the immigration reform bill led to a backlash from the Republican conservative base. Moreover, unlike Cruz, Rand Paul or Jeb Bush, Rubio has no natural constituency for which he is the natural choice– which perhaps explains why he currently has lukewarm support in polls.

The also-rans:

16048857933_f0f0a4b251_oChris Christie, the larger than life Governor of New Jersey, an early favourite who has seen his reputation fall due to corruption and scandal.


16475420268_ae2da0126d_oDr Ben Carson, the famous African-American neurosurgeon and arch-conservative who has never held elective office.


Rick_Perry_by_Gage_Skidmore_1Rick Perry, former Governor of Texas, best known for an infamous gaffe in a 2012 debate.


RGage Skidmoreick Santorum, former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 runner-up, a right-wing Catholic who holds strict views on moral issues.


None of these four currently poll higher than 8% in the polls and as such are unlikely to win the nomination. That being said, a little-known Senator from Illinois was able to come from virtually nowhere to be elected the leader of the free world in 2008. Who knows what the next 17 months will bring?

2 thoughts on “Republicans in the wild: a spotter’s guide”

  1. Nice piece Sam, solid round up of the candidates. It would
    be interesting to see whether Cruz would pull a Romney and be the crazy
    Republican in his natural habitat during the primaries and then do his best
    impression of acting sane in the general election.

    I’d like to get your thoughts on which candidate you think
    would be best placed to take on Clinton? I think it’s a straight fight between
    Bush and Walker but my money would be on Bush. Even though his surname is a
    drag, he is more likely to be seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’, and I think
    Americans have a propensity to play it safe when it comes to picking Presidents.

    • Thanks Matt.

      Re Cruz, I think it’d be extremely difficult for him to move to the centre a la Romney following the primaries. Sure, there is a parallel.In 2008 Romney attempted (without success) to stake out a position as the most conservative candidate, a similar position to where Cruz stands now. In 2012, he ran as a business-friendly establishment Republican. In the general election, Romney at least had some more “sane” credentials. He was a Republican in Massachusetts, the most Democratic state in the nation, and had to work with a Democratic-dominated legislature as Governor. Cruz, on the other hand, has staked out arch-conservative positions on pretty much every issue since he arrived in the Senate, and by all accounts is a hard-core ideological warrior who’s not for turning. If he managed to win the primaries, it’s hard to see him suddenly running as the sort of moderate that he castigates regularly in public.

      As for the general election, I have to agree with you there. Bush and Walker are by far the most “safe” candidates, with solid records as governors. Rubio has a lot of charisma, but Clinton would be able to play the ‘experience’ card and portray herself as the safe choice. Paul and Cruz have narrow support bases, and would get beaten comfortably by the Clinton juggernaut in November. Bush has the money, the experience and the name recognition. As much talk as there is about the drawcards of political dynasties, Bush will play well with Republicans (and probably others) who want an older ‘safe pair of hands’ at the wheel, rather than another Obama. One potential dark horse to keep an eye on is Ohio Governor John Kasich, who hasn’t launched a campaign yet but is a potential rival to Bush and Walker as the ‘safe pair of hands’ pick.

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