Texas Senator Ted Cruz has become the first Republican to eschew the phony “exploratory” phase and announce an actual presidential campaign. Rand Paul is apparently next. But as every political pooh-bah knows, the 2016 presidential contest has been underway for months, maybe even years. As this is written, in fact, several hotly contested GOP primaries already have commenced—primaries that will go a long way toward determining the Republican nominee, despite the painfully quaint notion that the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire will get the “first” say.
Here, then, in no particular order, is a voter’s guide to some of the real 2016 contests—and who is currently leading them.
There are other top radio talkers, but few are more effective in their crusades than Laura Ingraham, the lawyer and best-selling author. She’s both unrelenting and effective, and she has proven unusually influential with a fervent fan base numbering in the millions. Among her previous victims: Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, immigration reform proposals and their supporters, and a growing list of establishment politicians in the GOP. It’s thanks to Ingraham that people have a hard time remembering who Eric Cantor was.
Her newest nemesis is Jeb Bush, or, as she calls him in her typical low-key style, that “crony capitalist disaster.” Already she’s suggested he serve as Hillary Clinton’s running mate because their views are so similar. She’s mocked both his wealth and his wife’s extravagant tastes by asking an audience, “What woman doesn’t like a man who gives her a blank check at Tiffany’s?” and then suggesting that the Bush campaign theme song should be “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Her website features the “Jebbernaut,” a regular tracking of his moves and utterances, and Bush’s latest outrages are a recurring feature on an entirely separate blog on the same page.
Although there are a number of candidates she views favorably, such as Scott Walker, of late she’s been particularly helpful to Cruz, urging him to take on Bush more aggressively, praising him to her listeners when he does so and even outlining the Texan’s path to victory.
The more conservative candidates can use someone like her, since their reception in other GOP-leaning outlets is not always so favorable. As for Bush, the only hope he has of cooling Ingraham’s pursuit is to get the Democrats to nominate Vladimir Putin.
As a general rule, nobody reads political memoirs anymore—not even their authors. But on those few occasions when a political book is well-crafted and does sell well, it can be a telling sign of genuine grass-roots enthusiasm.
Herman Cain’s 2012 book tour was so successful, for example, that many people almost thought he was serious about running for president. His book had the second best title in memoir history—This is Herman Cain!—augmented not only with an exclamation point but also a delightfully delusional subtitle, My Path to the White House. (For those wondering, the best memoir title ever was the ingenious A Book by Desi Arnaz. Who’s going to argue with that?)
So far in 2016, unfortunately, the standard political memoir has proved to be just that. Walker’s effort was deemed a banal dud. Hillary Clinton’s was labeled “a bomb.” Others, like Jeb Bush’s, have also faced lackluster sales.
All is not lost for the memoir, however. Mike Huckabee’s latest is doing better than most. It has maybe the third best title in history—God, Guns, Grits, Gays, and Gravy. Although now that I look at it, I think I added one too many “g” words to that title. Wonder which one doesn’t fit …
Still, the standout so far—and by far—has been Ben Carson, whose new memoir has sold a reported 350,000 copies. (The others average around 15,000-20,000.) Which means whatever he’s selling, somebody’s buying—a phenomenon more puzzling than the Big Mac fitness suit.
Which brings us to …
Book sales aside, every Republican knows—even Ben Carson knows—that despite his remarkable performance in recent polls, the only scenario in which the accomplished neurosurgeon is the GOP nominee begins with: “All the other candidates are in a plane that disappears over the Bermuda Triangle.”
This reality has nothing to do with his race or his not knowing what the Israeli Knesset is, or his stating that his favorite former Treasury secretary was “Andrea Mitchell’s husband,” who, by the way, is named Alan Greenspan and was never a Treasury secretary, or for his uncharitably calling the president of the United States a “psychopath.” Though, admittedly, none of these—shall we call them misstatements?—helped anything but his wallet.
Still, the simple fact is that Carson will not be the first person since Dwight D. Eisenhower to win the White House without ever having served in any other public office. And General Eisenhower, if memory serves, happened to have had a few achievements under his belt that showed his management expertise.
But because Carson has energized a not-insignificant segment of Republican voters—who apparently don’t care that he compares America to Nazi Germany—all the other GOP contenders will go to great lengths to court him, praise him and hopefully win over his supporters when he eventually drops out. This is, in its way, a compliment to the neophyte candidate. After all, no candidate is going to ever worry about courting George Pataki.
Note to Readers: This will be the first and last time you see anyone write the following in 2016: Lindsey Graham is winning a primary.
Most media types don’t think much of Graham’s foreign policy views, but they love someone who seems to be having a good time—and at other Republicans’ expense. To date, Graham has proved to be a South Carolina Soupy Sales—charming, self-deprecating and always leaving reporters laughing. At a recent New Hampshire breakfast, for example, he poked fun at Ted Cruz’s place of birth. “Cruz couldn’t be here because he’s building a fence up on the Canadian border keeping his family out.” He then told the audience that they should be glad the well-heeled Jeb Bush wasn’t present “because it would [cost you] $10,000 a plate.”
Basking in the love of the D.C. media doesn’t usually help a Republican candidate. Their favorite in 2000 was John McCain, who, of course, lost to George W. Bush. In 2012, it was Jon Huntsman, who fell behind Michele Bachmann and None of the Above. But it can help a candidate get more attention and respect than he might otherwise receive as an also-ran. And there are always those who say that, well, you never know, with his genial smile and his penchant for laughs, lightning could strike for the South Carolina senator. (It won’t.)
Every four years, some bored pollster goes to regular people and asks them stupid questions that are supposed to be relevant to their choice for president. I think this whole thing started in 1996, after Bob Dole suggested that parents might not trust their kids with a scandal-plagued Bill Clinton, so why trust him with the presidency. (Valid point.) Voters then were asked if they’d rather have Bill Clinton or Bob Dole babysit their daughters—and Bill Clinton won! (Second place was probably Woody Allen.)
These days, the big question is usually some variation of “Which of these candidates would you rather have a beer with?” The idea apparently being that people vote for the candidate with whom they seem personally most comfortable.
Personally, I prefer my presidents the old-fashioned way: aloof, imperial and not remotely interested in “slow jamming the news” with Jimmy Fallon.
As pertains to the 2016 crop, the most obvious answer is that you wouldn’t want to have a beer with any of them, unless you enjoy conversations over a cold one on amendments to appropriations bills, the yarn Chuck Grassley shared during an Agriculture hearing, or the latest hijinks on C-SPAN.
I don’t know quite what it says about 2016 that, so far, the salt-of-the-earth candidate I’d be most interested in sharing a Miller Lite with is Donald Trump. Just be sure to bring a birth certificate. (Yes, he’s back on that again.)
Few truly understand the inner workings of the inscrutable and influential Matt Drudge—which is just fine by him. By all accounts, Drudge does not care one whit about appeasing the chattering classes of the nation’s capital. Indeed, the more that candidates and their flacks try to ingratiate themselves with him, the less he seems to like it.
In 2012, the Drudge Report was merciless on some of the GOP contenders, highlighting, for example, allegations against Newt Gingrich by an ex-wife on the eve of the South Carolina primary.
So far this year, one candidate seems to be in the Internet impresario’s cross hairs—the aforementioned Mr. Bush—while another (Walker) seems to have won positive attention.
But don’t count on either of those lasting for long. Or do count on it. Who knows?
And, of course, every year, there are candidates who improve their standing by not running at all. Past winners of that title have included Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Jeb Bush (ironically enough) and Donald Trump. (Just kidding about that last one.)
This year, as he continues his whenever-he-feels-like-talking media tour, Mitt Romney is the man to beat for the candidate most people wish would run. Will this change his mind about the race? Stranger things have happened, like tying a dog to the roof of a car. But I digress.