February 14th, 2015 // 8:18 pm @ Oliver DeMille
The New Field
I was wrong. I thought Mitt Romney would run in 2016, but he declined. Where does this leave the election? More importantly, with a large field of potential candidates, is there a path for freedom? Meaning, can someone like Rand Paul who really believes in applying the Constitution in our modern times actually win?
The definite answer is “maybe.” But, more than any election since at least the 1980s, there is a narrow chance of this happening in 2016.
To explore this, we need to clearly understand two important points.
Charisma and Coolidge
First, in every presidential general election the most likeable candidate wins. Always. And in presidential politics “likeable” means both “fun, cool, engaging” and also that a majority of voters believe the candidate really cares about them.
This reality isn’t negotiable. The U.S. electorate always chooses the most likeable candidate for president. So if a Republican candidate isn’t more likeable to the general electorate than Hillary Clinton, he or she won’t win.
Second, there are two major groups of Republicans running for the White House: Establishment Republicans and Serious Freedom-Lovers. It’s been over thirty years since a Serious Freedom-Lover won the presidency. Since 1988, Republican nominees have been a long list of Establishment Rep’s: Bush I, Dole, Bush II, McCain, Romney. And before Ronald Reagan, Republican presidents were all Establishment Rep’s through Ford, Nixon, Eisenhower, and all the way back to Freedom-Lover Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.
In the 2016 Republican primaries, Establishment votes will naturally split between candidates such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.
Likewise, Freedom-Lover votes will be divided between people like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, etc. And a few potential candidates might appeal to both sides, like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina.
Where the Votes Sit
So what does this all mean for the Republican primaries as they select a nominee to face Hillary Clinton in the general election? While it’s still early, a few things are becoming increasingly clear:
- The Establishment Rep’s will tend to centralize their support behind one of the following: Jeb Bush, or perhaps Chris Christie, John Kasich, Scott Walker, or Marco Rubio. It is most likely Bush’s to lose, or Kasich’s, Rubio’s, or Walker’s to win.
- The Freedom-Lover wing of the GOP will most likely split between various candidates, not concentrating strong support for any one person.
- But the only path to victory by a Serious Freedom-Lover is for voters in this wing of the party to centralize support behind one or at the most two candidates.
Currently, based on the polls, Republicans with a reasonable chance of becoming president are Bush, Rubio, Christie, Paul, and Walker. Let’s compare how each of these do on likeability in the general election:
|Candidate||Youth||Independents||Latinos||Swing State Voters||Overall GeneralElection Likeability|
These can, of course, change as the election unfolds. But the problem for Republicans, as it has been since 1992, is that the factors that make a candidate strong in the GOP primaries are very different than those that make them strong in the general election. Compare:
|Candidate||Likeability in Most GOP Caucuses and Primaries||Likeability in General Election|
Chains…and Weak Links
In other words, the Republicans have a structural problem. They look for different things in selecting a nominee than the general electorate looks for in choosing the president. Using this system, candidates who are Strong in the GOP primaries are usually Weak or Medium in the generals, while candidates who are Strong in the generals are Medium or Weak in the GOP primaries.
In contrast, the Democrats look for the same things in the primaries that the voters look for in the generals. This is a significant advantage for the Democrats. If Hillary Clinton were added to the chart above, for example, and the heading were changed to “Electability in the Democratic Primaries,” she would rate Strong in both the primaries and the general election. Elizabeth Warren would rate Strong in both as well. Joe Biden would rank Medium in the primaries and Weak in the general—which is why Democrats won’t make him their nominee.
In 2008 Barack Obama rated Strong in both, while McCain (in normal Republican fashion) was Medium in the primaries and Weak in the generals. Romney in 2012 ranked Medium in the primaries and Weak in the general among women, youth, swing state voters, independents and Latinos.
2016 could prove unique because two of the top five potential Republican nominees rank Strong in general election likeability. This is especially significant because they are both strong in the Serious Freedom-Lover camp. But winning the nomination will certainly be an uphill battle for them.
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.