Having already assessed the political fortunes of eight Republican presidential hopefuls ("First Four Out," 7/9/15, and "Corralling the Candidates," 7/16/15), here is my assessment of four more declared candidates. Though I don't pick them to win in 2016, they bring talent, experience and articulation to the race.
CHRIS CHRISTIE was first elected governor of New Jersey in 2009 and was easily reelected in 2013. Controversial and outspoken, Christie pledges to "tell it like it is." This approach can be refreshing and bold, but the American presidency is nuanced, not subject to brashness in today's media-mad world. Forcefulness bordering on rudeness may be attractive when a governor expresses it before boisterous town-hall meetings, but it becomes boorish and offensive when a president does so to constituents or the press — even though they might deserve it. The "Bridgegate" fiasco in New Jersey will haunt Christie, even though so far he seems legally untainted by it. He interviews well and makes common-sense policy declarations, but it's difficult for a blue-state Republican to be attractive nationally. Christie hasn't glistened in those electoral states necessary for a general election victory.
CARLY FIORINA is the only female Republican candidate. She comes to the presidential race as a former successful Hewlett-Packard CEO and a defeated U.S. Senate candidate in California. But she's extremely well-spoken, articulating policy positions easily and answering complex questions substantively. Talented, tech-savvy and very wealthy, she offers a contrast to the other male candidates and is especially equipped to challenge the likely Democratic Party nominee, also a female. Despite her qualifications, Fiorina hasn't gained broad traction with voters and may not qualify by public support to compete in upcoming national debates — a death blow to her candidacy. Perhaps she sees herself as a Cabinet-level official to a Republican victor. She'd be a powerful and effective Secretary of Commerce, considering her business background, technological capability and common-sense campaign comportment. In spite of her recent strong debate performance, she may be setting herself up for such an offer.
LINDSEY GRAHAM is a pro-military, pro-America U.S. senator from South Carolina. One of the cleverest, funniest and most outspoken candidates available, he supports a strong U.S. bolstered by a robust military and is a close colleague of former presidential candidate and Arizona senator John McCain. He's perceived by some as running to blunt the military and international relations positions of another senator, Rand Paul. Many South Carolinians believe he's too bipartisan and willing to compromise, though he's easily been reelected there. The speculation is that Graham is running to secure a Department of Defense or similar Cabinet post, which he might be offered if a Republican wins in 2016, making his candidacy its own stalking horse for a Cabinet spot. Though perceived as a regional candidate, Graham will remain a popular interviewee, where his humor, intelligence, solution-oriented conservatism and quick wit are attractive.
TED CRUZ is an ambitious U.S. senator from Texas, elected in 2012. Previously a law clerk for former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and a Constitutional law scholar, Cruz, a Hispanic of Cuban descent who has argued cases repeatedly before the U.S. Supreme Court, has been openly and forcefully critical of the court in the aftermath of recent decisions. Cruz is bright, articulate and young (at 44, he's the same age as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal), but he seems to thrive on one-upmanship against congressional leaders and other authority figures. While he may attract conservative voters who are justifiably upset with government in general, he will repel the rest of the electorate, and remain nothing more than an intelligent, outspoken critic. Though he's raised substantial campaign funds, he will struggle to raise all that's necessary from a relatively narrow constituency. A populist, but without staying power, he reaches that narrow constituency by being antagonistic, yet not necessarily solution-oriented. American voters now desire a president who can demonstrate competence, honesty, a coherent worldview and effectiveness working with Congress.
One would expect that of the 12 candidates profiled so far, one would emerge as a common choice, without obvious detriments. But the American presidency requires an amalgam of qualities and traits — sensitivity, honesty, experience, judgment, demonstrated competence and intelligence.
To win the White House in 2016, the candidate at the top of the Republican ticket must have a philosophy of governing that will attract those swing voters who voted for the incumbent president in 2008 and 2012. Watch for my column Sept. 10 for my take on four of the remaining candidates — Jeb Bush, Dennis Kasich, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. ♦