We shouldn’t be talking about 2016. It’s 2014 and there are obviously important mid-term elections in November. Beyond those, in 2015 there are significant local and state contests across the country, which in many ways are more important than this year’s horseraces. However, discussing the next presidential election has some utility at this point in so far as to point out that the candidates, who appear to already be running, probably aren’t the folks who make it to the finish line.
The smart candidates aren’t acting like candidates. They’re the un-candidates, careful not to look too eager, too calculated, or too ambitious. They’re also not going to allow themselves to be clearly defined this far out from the election. Smart candidates know that high name ID is more a curse than a blessing in this era of “gotcha” viral media. Being overexposed at this point in the game for any reason isn’t go ing to bode well two years down the road.
Un-candidates like Mike Pence, John Kasich, John Thune, Susana Martinez, Scott Walker and others are all taking a different – and smarter path – than the likes of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and to a lesser extent Marco Rubio. They’re all but staying out of sight. They’re at home, doing their jobs and building records to run on.
Here’s the news flash – that’s what the American people want. Americans – particularly the 20 plus million who are out of work – don’t care how many times you’ve been on Meet the Press or Fox News and if you’ve spoken at every CPAC or Heritage Foundation event, that’s probably not a selling point either. Americans aren’t interested in demagogues and arrogance. They’re getting their fill of that with Barack Obama. They are ready for adult leadership.
People don’t like the guy always stumping for a promotion at work and they certainly don’t like that guy (or gal) when it comes to their politics. Gaining some credibility by creating jobs, boosting the economy, balancing a budget or cutting taxes will get their attention when the time is right. Those un-candidates generally, steer clear of Iowa chicken dinners and those New Hampshire speeches this far out.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Perry and Christie get a pass to some degree but for different reasons. Christie arguably needs to be out there more because he has to bolster his conservative bona fides with skeptical primary voters who aren’t sure about the brash New Jersey governor. Unlike Mike Pence or John Thune, his candidacy has been a foregone conclusion in the eyes of most political observers for more than a year and he’s done nothing to dissuade that belief. He’s out there. The early talk of his run made him a target and the bridge-gate scandal has made his candidacy a heavier lift.
As for Perry, he has all the talking points and the long record but his brand is still tainted by his sputtering performance in 2012. Now the longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry continues to preside over an economic boom. His personal story and gritty, yet down-home style could be appealing again, but he too would do well to engage subtly one or two substantive policy issues rather than looking like he’s hitting the launch button too soon. In this game, perception is everything.
Not being an elected official at the present time, Jeb Bush’s strategy has been to avoid any direct discussion of a run while injecting himself into the discussion on a range of issues. Say what you want about the former Florida governor but the Bush name still generates excitement and money. Bush is trying to be a convener of respectful debate and the guy who can get folks to work together. Whether his family name, support for Common Core and other positions will hurt or help remains to be seen but peppering out messages on a range of issues is a smart way of being relevant while not being so transparent about political ambitions.
Then there’s Mitt Romney, who is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence of popularity and credibility as more Americans acknowledge they bought a lemon in 2012. Romney is another un-candidate not to be discounted as someone who could play a critical role in 2016. For his part, Romney says he’s not running, but unlike McCain whose star has continued to fall since his 2008 defeat, the former Massachusetts governor has been proven prescient on a wide range of issues. From Benghazi, to Russia and Obamacare to the economy, Romney’s thoughtful and substantive approach to his role as the GOP’s new elder statesman in the year and a half since his loss earns him a place in the conversation.
Other pretenders to the throne should keep him close and would be wrong to discount him as a candidate, a Vice Presidential heavyweight or a key surrogate who ends up in the Cabinet provided a GOP win.
Romney doesn’t grandstand and the other viable GOP un-candidates don’t either. That’s all part of being an un-candidate and a good thing for the cause of wrestling control of the White House away from the hardcore Progressives and the specter of Hilary Clinton.
The GOP establishment isn’t going away and 2016 is a defining moment for the so-called Tea Party which doesn’t want to be viewed as killing the party’s chances for retaking the White House. Apart from those groups, of course are the American people who are yearning for real leadership that falls in line with their core values and strives to make real progress on our nation’s chronic problems.
The GOP’s un-candidates are the best hope for meeting those needs and speaking to the broadest voter coalition. Despite today’s polls, those are the real frontrunners.