As with 2012, I’m going to go ahead and break down the Lovecraftian horror-show that is the 2016 Republican primaries. I’m getting it out of the way now instead of waiting until my normal Friday post because there’s a good chance that a half-dozen or so candidates will drop out by Friday; the first debate is coming up, and Fox News has excluded a number of candidates on the possibly-unfair-but-not-entirely-unreasonable grounds that many of them have support that is entirely within the margin of polling error. This means, for those of you who skipped statistics classes, that the existence of Carly Fiorina supporters cannot be proved by science.
The main thing to notice, before we go top to bottom of the barrel, is that this is both a very good year and a very terrible year for Republicans. It’s good, in the sense that Barack Obama is constitutionally disallowed from running again, and he was always a ruthless and savvy campaigner who skillfully illuminated his opponents’ weaknesses. These candidates won’t have to run against that. Instead, they’ll get either Bernie Sanders, who is an awesome common-sense politician with a history of supporting populist causes and who will therefore be painted by everyone as a left-wing loon, or Joe Biden, who is a gaffe machine, or Hillary Clinton, who is counting on being such an obvious choice that nobody will dare point out any of her flas.
It’s bad, though, in the sense that politics is a game of the moment and most of these guys have been waiting so long to run against someone who isn’t Barack Obama that they are officially less relevant to the modern voter than Pat Paulsen. (And yes, I’m aware that Pat Paulsen has been dead for eighteen years.) Most of the candidates the Republicans are putting forward are a group of has-beens and never-weres who are either running for the chance to stand on a national soapbox (and collect names of donors for their super-PAC) or whose bad decision-making abilities extend to their ability to determine whether the American people still cares about them. And on that note, let’s look at their chances to win the nomination!
Claim to Fame: Is related to the well-known Bush political dynasty
Strengths: Is related to the well-known Bush political dynasty
Weaknesses: Is related to the well-known Bush political dynasty
Chances: Quite good. He’s extraordinarily well-connected to virtually every single wealthy/powerful Republican and conservative in America, he has the ability to present as a moderate despite decades of enacting extreme right-wing policies, and he’s been out of office long enough for everyone to forget how terrible he was at the actual business of governance. His only problem is that he’s very obviously the frontrunner, which will encourage everyone else to chuck bombs at him right up to the convention, and he occasionally has a habit of not vocally pandering to the craziest elements of his party, which means that the Tea Party Republicans will be trying to find an alternative on the grounds that they’ve spent the last two elections trying to find someone moderate and they wound up losing both times.
Claim to Fame: He’s an African-American who actually sympathizes with the Republican Party
Strengths: Gives Republicans the appearance of not being racist because hey, they found at least one black guy who agrees with them, so what do you think about that, SJW? #notyourshield
Weaknesses: Professional neurosurgeons who disbelieve a fundamental tenet of their field of study tend to have other intellectual blindspots; Republican respect for black people who agree with their position doesn’t actually extend to, y’know, voting for them
Chances: Zero. The Republicans like to have people like Ben Carson around to show that they’re not just a bunch of middle-aged white dudes, and they’d probably even be happy to have him as a Congressman in order to make the group photos look more diverse, but there are too many racists in the Republican Party for an African-American to have a chance at being their candidate.
Claim to Fame: He’s that asshole from New Jersey. No, that other asshole. No, not that one either–you know what? He’s the governor, okay?
Strengths: Stands a good chance of being able to shout without pausing for breath until Americans give up and vote for him just to get him to shut up
Weaknesses: He’s basically Nixon without the philanthropic spirit
Chances: Very low. Four years ago, when he hadn’t yet alienated a lot of the people he needs to win and when he still could make a pretense that he was a moderate…and most importantly, when he wasn’t under the shadow of a looming political scandal, he might have had a chance. But he missed the window, and he’s never going to be as big a deal as he was in 2012.
Claim to Fame: Shut down the federal government in order to extract concessions that he never got, then declared victory despite having achieved nothing. Basically, he’s Vox Day if Vox Day had run for Senate
Strengths: Never gives up on anything ever, which presumably includes Presidential bids; is very popular among a segment of the conservative populace that deeply loves Lost Causes, hint hint; can cook bacon with a semi-automatic rifle, which is a crucial Presidential skill
Weaknesses: Has the most punchable face of all seventeen candidates, and if you have a more punchable face than Donald Trump then you are working at it; would rather lose on any given issue than achieve anything less than a total victory, which may be a problem if you give him the keys to a nuclear arsenal; constantly looks like he’s just planning to foreclose on the Goonies’ house before heading over to an alumni meeting at Omega House and see if he can’t help get those slovenly Deltas kicked off campus; calls a semi-automatic rifle a “machine gun”, which is a hanging offense in his home state
Chances: Low, but not impossible. He’s not well-liked by his own party, which is much more of a drawback than you might imagine, but he makes up for it by having a strong following among the extremists. Given that the Republican Party has done a good job of purging its moderates since 2008, this means he may have more clout than anyone else realizes. On the other hand, he really is quite extraordinarily unlikeable, so he’s going to have to struggle to get votes.
Claim to Fame: Physically exists and occupies space, may be composed of matter of some sort
Strengths: Could commit murder in the sure and certain belief that nobody would remember what he looked like afterwards
Weaknesses: The Doctor implanted a hidden message in the footage of the moon landing with the phrase, “You should kill us all on sight”, so he gets pursued by angry mobs whenever he does campaign appearances
Chances: Zero. This is the classic example of a vanity campaign–his friends and family are all no doubt telling him that he’d make a great President, and he has just enough of a background in politics that he’s able to convince himself that if more people heard of him, they’d like him. But being a former governor of Virginia who hasn’t seen public office since 2002 doesn’t even get you a sniff at the Presidency.
Claim to Fame: CEO of Hewlett-Packard hanging out with a party that gets visible erections around rich businesspeople
Strengths: She’s Donald Trump without the stupid!
Weaknesses: She’s Donald Trump without the interesting!
Chances: Zero. Like Ben Carson, the Republican Party is happy to pretend that she’s an important and respected figure because it deflects criticism of their treatment of women and minorities, but that respect only extends to her insofar as they’re happy to listen to her saying the things they want to hear when they feel like hearing them. Putting her in a position where she’d actually get to make meaningful decisions isn’t really the Republican way.
Claim to Fame: Republican politician from South Carolina since the Clinton era, possessor of portrait that ages while he remains perpetually young
Strengths: Actually vaguely kind of moderate for a Republican, which is even more impressive given that he’s a politician from South Carolina; has been around long enough that people more or less recognize him as “that guy who’s always on ‘Meet the Press'”; able to not take it personally when people are jerks to him, which is an underrated skill in his line of work
Weaknesses: Too moderate for the crazies and too crazy for the moderates; the subject of persistent rumors about his sexuality, which wouldn’t hurt him anywhere but in the Republican Party; if he ever sees his portrait, he will instantly age and die in horrific fashion
Chances: Very low. This is the kind of run that any late-career Senator does, a sort of “no harm no foul” low-key Presidential bid that costs them nothing because they can always go back to their safe Senate seat for four more years before having to stand for another election. It’s usually conducted with all the energy of someone playing slots with the five dollars of free quarters handed out by the casino, and usually ends about the same way.
Claim to Fame: Jon Stewart’s crazy racist grandpa
Strengths: I said it in 2012, I’ll say it again: “Deputy Dawg-esque appearance and folksy, homespun demeanor lulls people into not noticing what an asshole he is”
Weaknesses: Is losing the ability to pull that trick off after ranting about Beyonce, publicly defending a pedophile, and comparing Obama to Hitler
Chances: Almost none. Four years of hanging out on Fox News has dulled his ability to articulate intensely right-wing positions without sounding strident, and he’s also one of the few people on this list who was on the 2012 list. People tend not to back proven losers–2012 was probably his high-water mark.
Claim to Fame: Governor of Louisiana, one of the few people who looked at the 2008 drubbing the Republican Party took and said, “Hey, maybe the problem is that we’re all idiots!” (He has since walked this back.)
Strengths: Actual sitting governor, which is practically like being a rockstar in this crowd; is also a member of the #notyourshield gang, which means he is deeply beloved among Republicans so long as he understands he’s not allowed to disagree with them; can drink prodigious amounts of water
Weaknesses: Prone to dangerous bouts of extreme thirst in critical situations, which could be disastrous if it happens during a national crisis; treats his home state more as a sort of useful campaign prop than something to actually govern, which bodes ill for the United States if “President of Earth” ever becomes a thing; looks just enough like Jimmy Carter to trigger PTSD flashbacks among elderly Republicans
Chances: Very low. Jindal has a bad habit of pandering to the lowest common denominator in his own party in ways that are crushingly obvious to moderates, and he’s done and said a lot of things in furtherance of this aim that are very hard to walk back. Add this to the previously-described tendency of Republicans to support minority candidates with words and not deeds, and you probably won’t see him stick around long.
Claim to Fame: Governor of Ohio, white man in a party where that’s so very distinctive
Strengths: Could easily masquerade as three or four other candidates in order to pick up their votes
Weaknesses: None of the three or four other candidates he’s impersonating have any support either.
Chances: Almost none. His candidacy was a late-stage decision in an already-crowded field, there’s nothing in particular to distinguish him from any number of other candidates on this list, and about the best thing you can say about him is that he could conceivably appeal to moderates, except that’s not a positive trait in the Republican primaries and there are still about three other people on this list that do it better.
Claim to Fame: Running gag on the Letterman show
Strengths: He’s a Republican who can get elected in New York, albeit not recently
Weaknesses: He’s a Republican from New York, which makes him a traitor in the eyes of at least a third of his own party right from the get-go
Chances: Almost none. As with Gilmore, this is pretty much a vanity run from someone whose political star has almost entirely faded; it’s more or less a retirement party that he’s convincing some well-heeled conservatives to fund. Expect him to drop out before the first primary.
Claim to Fame: Ron Paul’s slightly-more-hinged son
Strengths: Younger than Ron Paul, but still appealing to the same people who masturbate to passages from ‘Atlas Shrugged’; cannot be out-right-winged, even by Ted Cruz; has the kind of love-hate relationship with Rachel Maddow that will someday make a really hilarious biopic
Weaknesses: 52-year-old man who still has temper tantrums when reporters are anything less than utterly deferential to him; may or may not have mastered the skill of properly attributing things he didn’t say to the people who said it; is only considered reasonable when compared to his own immediate family
Chances: Very low. Rand is another Senator playing with house money (as opposed to House money)–he just got elected in 2014, meaning that he can piss away the better part of a year being stupid in public and failing to get the Republican nomination and still have four years for people to forget everything he said and did. It’s a decision that was arrived at by strategic weighing of the risks, not by a realistic assessment of his chances, and he doesn’t really care whether he wins or loses.
Claim to Fame: Former governor of Texas, former Presidential candidate, and the third claim…I forget the third claim. Oops.
Strengths: Amazing hair; glasses make him look all smart and stuff; and the third strength…I forget the third strength. Oops.
Weaknesses: Has been out of politics for too long to be seen as relevant; joins Huckabee in the “previous loser” club; and the third weakness…I forget the third weakness. Oops.
Chances: Zero. This is the perfect storm of vanity runs–take every single reason mentioned elsewhere in this list, they all apply to Perry. He’s out of office and no longer relevant in politics, he’s already run one campaign and lost, and he flared out by making a public idiot of himself in one of the most memorable fashions conceivable. His only real reason to run seems to be to rehabilitate his reputation, and that’s not going to happen because they won’t even let him sit at the adults’ table this time out. He may be gone by the time I finish typing this sentence.
Claim to Fame: Republican Senator from Florida
Strengths: Hits the sweet spot for Republicans of having an ethnically and culturally diverse background while looking like a preppy white dude; parents were Cuban immigrants, which earns him credit among the people who still have deep-rooted hatred for an 88-year-old man with no political power in his home country; is just bland enough that people not paying attention assume he must be moderate because he hasn’t said anything interesting enough to be called a gaffe
Weaknesses: Turns out that his parents were the boring kind of Cuban immigrants, not the politically valuable kind; primarily known for representing a state that is going to be underwater by 2025 and insisting that climate change isn’t a problem
Chances: Almost none. This is one of the few cases of someone running too early, rather than too late; Rubio just doesn’t have enough national exposure to get anyone interested in him, and he doesn’t have the kind of personal charisma and campaigning savvy that Obama had to overcome that problem. Again, he’s running mainly because it’s something he can do with no cost to himself personally or politically, not because he thinks he can win, and because it gets his name out there for 2020.
Claim to Fame: Google it
Strengths: Gives the “crazy religious” wing of the Republicans someone to cheer for; has sweater vests
Weaknesses: No longer relevant in contemporary politics; has no support beyond the “crazy religious” wing of the Republicans; keeps catching himself halfway through blurting out racial slurs on camera; name is literally synonymous with “oily sack of shit” and that’s not an unhappy coincidence
Chances: Zero. He knows it too, which is why he’s currently blasting Fox News for the failures of his candidacy. He’s got the same problem Huckabee had, only he was worse at hiding his mean-spirited stridency to begin with–he’s got no chance, and this is probably his last stab at political relevance. Look for him to become a regular on either Fox News, the 700 Club, or both.
Claim to Fame: Unceasing attempts to force himself onto the American public stretching back for over three decades
Strengths: For what it’s worth, he’s the only Republican candidate willing to give his open, honest opinion to people
Weaknesses: His open, honest opinions are all garbage and he’s a terrible, racist shitbag whose sole achievement in life is turning the pile of money he inherited into a slightly smaller pile of money while lying through his teeth about it
Chances: Zero. Yes, zero. For all that he is polling high at the moment, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will translate into absolutely no success in Iowa or New Hampshire, and once he loses two primaries, either he will quit in a huff or else the media will latch onto the winner of those primaries and suck all the air out of his candidacy with a new narrative about “Trump in freefall after shattering losses”. I cannot imagine he will survive to the convention. Even the fringiest of the fringe Republican voters are going to, in the end, put their weight behind a proven extremist like Cruz or Paul, and everyone else hates his guts.
Claim to Fame: Turned Wisconsin into West Mordor
Strengths: Has absolutely no shame; willing to do whatever his donors want in order to stay in their good graces and keep the money train coming; is utterly ruthless about crushing his opposition, no matter who they are or how inexpressibly cruel it is to go after them
Weaknesses: Has managed to, in just five short years, shed thousands of jobs and crater the Wisconsin state budget without producing any kind of measurable success that he can present to the American public by any metric you care to name; pretty much looks like a weasel wearing a cheap suit; is probably going to be in jail by 2016, which will make campaigning difficult and governing the country even harder
Chances: Actually pretty good, depressingly enough. All of his failures as a governor have been ideological successes–he’s fucked up Wisconsin catastrophically, but he’s done it by following every tenet of the Republican philosophy, so he can coast during the primaries in the sure and certain knowledge that anyone who calls him on it will be hurt more for violating ideological purity tests than he will for being utterly incompetent at his job. Short of an indictment coming down during the campaign, which is actually kind of possible, he’ll be in it for the long haul.
So there you have it–Bush 3.0 or Walker as last man standing, with Cruz or Paul as the acceptable protest candidates. Kind of makes the next twelve months sound a little dull, doesn’t it?