By Joe Moresky
The thunderous monsoon that is the presidential election cycle kicked up dust over recent weeks with the announcements of several candidates. Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State under the Obama Administration, was undoubtedly the most consequential announcement (albeit the least expected) as she is widely considered the clear-cut frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. However, noise was made across the aisle as notable Republican figures officially dove into the fray, eager to take their brand of politics straight to Pennsylvania Avenue.
The first to announce overall was conservative firebrand Ted Cruz. A grassroots favorite, Cruz will likely attempt to consolidate support from Republican voters of all ideological stripes who have become disillusioned with a GOP establishment that served up winning candidates like John McCain. The persona of a credentialed conservative, with such incidents as the 2013 filibuster that caused a government shutdown spun as badges of honor, will be crafted to distinguish Cruz from a litany of other right-wing contenders. Cruz’s theatrical resume will also act as a double-edged sword, with many establishment donors (and mainstream voters) being turned off by his style.
This is reflected in polls that place Cruz at the end of the spectrum in early primary states. An early poll conducted by Quinnipiac University showed that Cruz only garnered 5 percent support among Iowans. Similarly, a recent poll of New Hampshire residents conducted by Reach Communications placed Cruz at only 9 percent. Although he is not dead in the water (Real Clear Politics currently places him third nationally), a strong showing in the early primaries is essential for Cruz if he has any hope of building consistent momentum and overcoming a “flavor-of-the-week” stigma. A quest for the White House may prove quixotic even if the Texan captures the Republican nomination, as he trails Hillary Clinton by 24 percentage-points according to a CNN/ORC poll.
Another candidate who fares much better in a hypothetical match-up with Clinton is Rand Paul. The libertarian-leaning freshman senator from Kentucky, who officially declared his candidacy on April 7, trails Clinton by only four points according to a PPP poll. Paul seeks to broaden the base of the GOP and fully embrace the “Big Tent” philosophy that often feels forgotten in the modern Republican Party and has striven to make inroads with youth and minority demographics. His unorthodox stances on policy issues like prison sentencing reform or the role privacy ought to play in national security practices make him a genuinely different choice. The 2016 election can be a defining moment for the GOP, one that has the potential to influence its direction for the foreseeable future — and Rand Paul hopes to be its ideological standard bearer.
While Paul himself might be ready to change the nature of the GOP, the rest of the Party may not be willing to sign on just yet. Paul’s lack of foreign policy experience is a red flag to many, especially in light of growing crises abroad like the emergence of ISIS or the devolving situation in Yemen. His more easy-going personality also turned off deep-pocketed members of the Koch donor network back in February who have since gravitated to Scott Walker. While grassroots funding and access to his father’s political infrastructure should give Paul enough money in his war chest, allowing an influential class of donors to drift over to another candidate comes across as amateurish.
Finally, the most recent candidate to declare was Florida Senator Marco Rubio who launched his campaign in Miami the day after Hillary Clinton’s announcement. Rubio seeks to define himself as a consensus candidate who can bridge the seemingly gargantuan divide between conservatives and the GOP establishment, while providing a much needed dose of youthful energy to the crowded contest.
Although a dark horse, Rubio is one of the few candidates that can truly draw stark contrasts with Hillary Clinton. He is a young, fresh-faced Cuban-American with a family history fit to invoke the fabled American Dream and a grandiose vision for how the United States ought to proceed in the 21st Century. The fact that Rubio hails from the swing-state of Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, is also attractive to a Party that is starving for victory.
However, there are still chinks in Rubio’s armor. For example, undeclared frontrunner Jeb Bush served as Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and is primed to poach many of the same donors that would otherwise back the younger, untested Rubio. The Senator’s participation in the drafting of a comprehensive immigration reform bill unfairly damaged his standing with the very conservative base that propelled him to Washington during the 2010 Tea Party wave and his lack of concrete accomplishments causes hesitation among others. A CNN/ORC poll also puts Rubio behind Clinton by 14 percentage points, which draws into question his ability to go the distance should he win the nomination.
The 2016 election is still in its infancy and while most of what will unfold remains a mystery it is undoubtedly certain that the contest has officially begun. Will the GOP be able to reclaim the White House after eight years of being left out in the cold? Only time (and the American public) can tell.
Joe Moresky, FCRH’17 is a Political Science Major from East Meadow, New York.