It’s been 6 months since our last Presidential rankings, and things have changed. Chris Christie was poised to take the top spot, but a scandal within his administration prevented that from happening as his main reason for being nominated (cross-party appeal) vanished overnight. A Year ago, Rubio held the top spot before stumbling on immigration. He is steadily regaining momentum and, perhaps eventually, the love of grassroots conservatives. But the top spot remains in Rand Paul’s hands for now. He’s avoided media traps. He hasn’t boxed himself into a corner in a way Ted Cruz sometimes seems to. He also seems to understand rule #1 in Republican politics: Loose Lips Sink Ships.
In a recent tea party event, Paul noted that “There are times, and I don’t think it is our movement, but there are times when people are using language that shouldn’t be used… I’m not saying that’s our problem, I’m just saying there are people out in public who are taking away from our message and let’s try not to be a part of that. … Our message has to be a happy message, one of optimism, one of growth.”
Paul is right. Conservatives – and especially tea party conservatives – do not have the luxury of a media who will cover up for them. The media is already going to lie about the things conservatives say anyway, why give them more ammo? Republicans do not get breaks. And i you think they do, google George Allen or Rush Limbaugh. The media and Democrats are waiting for any mispoken word that can be turned into a scandal and destroy a career. It;s something they are quite good at, actually. (We that as good at creating jobs or building websites!)
Two months ago, Chris Christie was poised to be the clear frontrunner for this edition of the 2016 power rankings. He was dominating the GOP primary polling and was regularly beating Clinton in general election polling and in key battleground states. Then the media got what they had been waiting for: a scandal. It didn’t really matter if Christie was involved or not, the media would surely make it seem he was. (By most scandals, Bridgegate was mostly ho-hum to begin with.) In the end, a lesson was learned: alienating your friends and canoodling with your enemies isn’t always a great strategy. Christie’s strength with Democrats and Independents completely evaporated, and his unpopularity with grassroots conservative activists has left him in 2016 no-man’s land.
8. Jeb Bush (-5)
Two words: Common Core. This issue will absolutely explode by 2016 and that is not good news for Bush.
7. Scott Walker (No Change)
Scott Walker is still the sleeper pick for 2016. If any current Governor from the 2010 tea party class makes a strong run, it will be him. While Walker is ideologically aligned with Rubio, Paul, and Cruz, Walker has the executive experience (and darn good results) to back it up. First, he needs to win re-election in 2014.
6. Paul Ryan (-2)
Since Christie’s fall, Ryan has run the best against Hillary Clinton in hypothetical head-to-head polling. But that’s probably more a case of being very well known to the public after being picked as Mitt Romney’s running-mate in 2012. Conservatives have soured on Ryan as he has been a key driver in many proposals unpopular with the base. The establishment loves Ryan, but his lackluster performance as vice-presidential nominee (including a passion-free debate against Joe Biden) left a lot to be desired. Our guess is Ryan has ambitions unrelated to the White House at this point.
5. Ted Cruz (unchanged)
Don’t be fooled: Ted Cruz can defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. His negative poll numbers are more a reflection of the media’s assault on him and low name ID (outside of the tea party) than Cruz himself. He’s probably the biggest “trouble-maker” of the three, and his less-than-measured approach could go either way in a primary. Cruz is pretty much the Sarah Palin of the US Senate, and we do not mean that necessarily in a bad way. It’s hard to imagine having Paul, Cruz, and Rubio all in the primary, and with his limited experience in the Senate, we guess Cruz sits this one out.
4. Chris Christie (-2)
Christie is still hanging around in the top tier of primary polls, but he probably has the least upside at this point. Christie’s main argument of electability was shattered after his Democratic “supporters” abandoned him overnight. It’s hard to imagine he would be able to rebuild that connection he had with those voters. His appeal to primary voters was his leads against Hillary Clinton in both the general election and swing state polling. That has collapsed, and he performed among the worst in head-to-head match-ups against Hillary since Bridge-gate broke. After two months, Christie hasn’t really rebounded.
3. Mike Huckabee (previously unranked)
Mike Huckabee lands lands on our list for the first time for a couple of reasons. We are not so sure Huckabee will run, but the former Governor of Arkansas still managed to lead in all three national primary polls – as well as an Iowa caucus one – he was recently featured in despite having done little politically in almost 6 years. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is: stop ignoring Christian conservatives. Christian conservatives are starting to separate themselves from politics and are simply not turning out to vote. Reagan and Bush appealed to Christian conservatives. Romney and McCain were “afraid” of those issues, and Santorum filled the primary void in 2012.
2. Marco Rubio (+4)
Rubio is quietly re-emerging after an ill-advised push at immigration reform that was light on enforcement, and heavy on amnesty. He acknowledged that sensible reform was impossible as long as Obama was president. The fall of Christie helps Rubio best as he is a guy the establishment finds acceptable, and who conservatives are once again warming up to.
1. Rand Paul (unchanged)
Senator remains number one almost by default. He’s been aggressive against Hillary Clinton, something conservatives want to see after the hands-off approaches to Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. His foreign policy views, which would have been a deal-breaker a decade ago, are now in line with where the party is heading. He is also the one Republican most obviously running in 2016 and carefully crafting a strategy to do so. His approached has been measured as he has mostly avoided falling into media traps.