Presidential politics get crazier all the time. With the advent of the 24 hour news cycle, social media, and billion dollar presidential campaigns, it is easy to get lost in the deluge of information communication. During a primary campaign it can be difficult to follow the flow of things because there are typically not two, but multiple candidates to follow and consider. Well, never has keeping up with the presidential field been as difficult as it is and will continue to be for the primary voter in 2016, especially if you are a Republican.
There are, as of this moment, 16 nationally recognized declared candidates for President in the 2016 Republican presidential primary (with more almost guaranteed to follow), including current Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham and former Senator Rick Santorum, current and former Governors Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal,Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, George Pataki and Jeb Bush, famed Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Hewlett Packer CEO Carly Fiorina, and mega-businessman and celebrity Donald Trump.
There are so many significant and semi-significant candidates in this field that the television networks hosting the debates are having real difficulty devising a formula to determine which candidates are allowed to participate in the debates. Who the eventual winner will be on the Republican side is about as unknowable at this stage as the identity of the eventual Democratic nominee seems certain, with Hillary Clinton dominating a small cohort of Democratic challengers in fundraising and polling.
No one can really say who will emerge victorious out of this sprawling smorgasbord of presidential hopefuls, but it is worth it to understand the range of viewpoints they represent, because part of what makes this primary unpredictable is not merely the unprecedented number of major candidates running, but perhaps an unusual diversity of viewpoints between them.
Competing for the moderate and “establishment” vote (think the Mitt Romney vote) we have candidates like former New York Governor George Pataki, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Carly Fiorina (the only woman running and who may derive some advantage because of it), New Jersey GovernorChris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. These are the relative moderates in the race, and though Jeb Bush and certainly Chris Christie have gone well out of their way to declare themselves as conservatives (like Mitt Romney before them) their records as Governors of moderate to liberal states has positioned them to left of many Republicans on issues such as illegal immigration (Jeb Bush favors legal status for undocumented immigrants) and gun control (Governor Christie supports banning assault weapons from private ownership.
Dr. Carson, (with Donald Trump the most atypical candidate in the race), also supports a broad based assault weapons ban but nevertheless finds most of his appeal with the traditional and religiously conservative base of the party, along with former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (an evangelical minister), Catholic former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Each of these candidates has emphasized the importance of defending faith in the public sphere, are outspoken social conservatives (George Pataki on the other side of the spectrum is the races one publicly confirmed social liberal, supporting broad based abortion rights and gay marriage). Ted Cruz however also shares some demographic appeal with fellow Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Both are libertarian leaning, critics of the Federal Reserve system, advocates of drawing down the war on drugs and take as aggressive a stand as anyone in the race towards reducing the size of government.
Between the two of them however, where Cruz is known for pushing the government shutdown to reign in federal spending, Rand Paul has spent more time focusing on criminal justice reform, reducing domestic government surveillance and, importantly, dramatically lessening the United States military footprint across the globe, drawing the ire of Patriot Act advocate Chris Christie, and of North Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, (an aggressive advocate of military interventionism who some believe is in the race solely to block Rand Paul). He is perhaps the only major candidate to have supported President Obama’s lifting of the Cuba embargo.
Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, aspiring to be the nation’s first Indian American Governor, is generally conservative must does not seem to stand to stand out philosophically among the other candidates in any particular way. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a powerhouse in the field owing to his breaking of the public sector unions in Wisconsin and his subsequent triumph over a recall effort, seems to appeal strongly to conservatives who value his principled stand against the unions as well as establishment voters who want to see a strong executive in the White House.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio is young, charismatic, maligned by some Republicans for his failed effort to pass immigration reform by initially pushing for a path to citizenship but praised by others for being tough on national defense. But no one at this point has attracted more attention than legendary mogul and media personality Donald Trump, whose bombastic personality and utter non-concern for controversy have allowed him to dominate the media coverage since his presidential announcement, where he promised to punish China for currency manipulation and Mexico for illegal immigration.
Who will be left standing in this battle royal of GOP contenders is tough to tell…the debates have not started and candidates are still joining the race. But as important as who ultimately wins the nomination is the question of whose philosophy will end up leading the GOP in 2016, and what kind of conversation Americans wind up having about the future.