Republican Presidential Field Best in 40 Years?

Posted on July 30, 2014 by


John Dickerson, over at Slate, has written a piece on the emerging field of GOP presidential candidates. In it, he labels the crop of candidates as the party’s best in forty years. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and Bobby Jindal are all rising stars in the party, and Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie are still lurking on the fringes of possibility. Interestingly, Dickerson ignores Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney only gets mentioned negatively.

What do you think of Dickerson’s list? Is it a strong slate of possibilities or just another slew of wannabes? Maybe more critically, which of the potential candidates can take their ideas and communicate them in an appealing way that makes sense to voters? In many ways, this is the heart of modern campaigning.

Here is a quick look at recent history in the GOP:

1968, 1972-Richard Nixon–former member of US House and Senate, VP of the United States, and GOP nominee in 1960.

1976–Gerald Ford–US House member/Republican Minority Leader, VP of the United States, short stint as President

1980, 1984–Ronald Reagan–movie star, President of the Screen Actors Guild, two term Governor of California

1988, 1992–George H.W. Bush–US House member, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, “Ambassador” to China, Director of Central Intelligence Agency, VP of the United States

1996–Bob Dole–US House, US Senate/Majority Leader, VP nominee

2000, 2004–George W. Bush–two term Governor of Texas

2008–John McCain–US House, US Senate

2012–Mitt Romney–businessman, Governor of Massachusetts

Granted, these are just the people who WON the party’s nomination, but it is a pretty impressive group. Nixon and George H.W. Bush were supremely qualified to be President given the sheer variety of their experiences. One other thing to notice, governors have done well recently, so Washington, D.C. experience is not required.

Let’s compare these party nominees to the crop that Dickerson extols (and a couple of others).

Marco Rubio–US Senator (first term), Speaker of the FL House of Representatives

Rand Paul–US Senator (first term)

Bobby Jindal–Governor (two term), US House, Secretary Louisiana Health and Hospital System

Paul Ryan–US House (Chair, House Budget Committee), VP nominee

Rick Perry–Governor of Texas (two terms), Lt. Gov. of Texas

Jeb Bush–Governor of Florida (two terms)

Scott Walker–Governor of Wisconsin (first term), member of Wisconsin General Assembly

Chris Christie–Governor of New Jersey (two term), United States Attorney

Not a single candidate on this list matched either Nixon or H.W. Bush in background and preparation to be President, though they do compare, on paper, to Reagan, W. Bush, and maybe Romney. Both Dole and McCain had longer careers in Congress than any of these possible candidates, but that longevity actually weakened them as presidential candidates. They were both creatures of the capital as opposed to strong national leaders with a clear vision for the future.

Naturally, this is all potentially irrelevant. Experience is only one element of leadership. Abraham Lincoln was not an experienced politician before he became president, and neither was Barack Obama. Becoming president can be as much about the right person hitting the right note at the right time as opposed to the perfect candidate showing up and simply winning.

There is also the unofficial requirement that has nothing to do with background or experience–television presence. Romney struggled to be genuine on camera. Frankly, I don’t care about this factor, but most Americans do, so it has to be considered. Perry and Jindal are weak on television, while Rubio and Christie seem to have the most potential. Ryan is experienced on tv, but he is not a natural on camera, though he is improving. Rand Paul appears flaky. Bush is, well, a Bush. He is actually a much better natural politician than either his brother or father, but that will not be enough to rescue him if he runs. I have not seen enough of Scott Walker on tv to comment.

If you had to predict now, who will win the nomination? Why?