With the recent addition of Senator Lindsey Graham and the expected announcements of former Texas Governor Rick Perry and current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the Republican presidential field for 2016 is beginning to look a lot like a microcosm of my high school graduating class.
Back then, we had jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, and ropers (it’s a Texas thing) among others. In the growing GOP presidential contestant field, we’re seeing something quite similar. Granted, it’s a bunch of politicians so there is a little more skewing towards the nerd quota, but there is such a growing variety of individuals in this field that nearly every personality type imaginable is represented. (Come to think of it my old boss Governor Perry could easily fit into any of the above-described categories all by himself).
Variety may be the spice of life, but it’s not necessarily a winning formula in a presidential campaign. Unless one of the growing list of candidates emerges easily from the pack, the ultimate victor could appear battle tested yet quite battered by the time the general election campaign rolls around.
So how does a candidate stand out in such a crowded field?
One way is to be so different that you’re easily noticed.
Living in Austin, I’m very familiar with this sort of thing. Our city slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.” In that spirit, we have a city full of people with tattoos, piercings, and various shades of blue hair. Strangely enough, when your city motto is that “we’re weird” suddenly you look around and everyone looks pretty much the same. Actually, the way to stand out in Austin is to look like a Republican.
Most likely, physical appearance isn’t going to be the best way for any of these candidates to distinguish themselves. Instead, they’ll have to actually do something that sets them apart.
Senator Rand Paul appears to be trying this tactic although some believe seeking the GOP nomination by noting that the “GOP brand sucks” may not be the most effective way to do it. Granted, each candidate only needs to hold a certain percentage of voters to make it to the next level so cornering the market on self-loathing Republicans who think the entire party has become a pathetic joke may be one way to do it, but it’s just hard to see it as ultimately a winning strategy all by itself.
A few candidates are trying to get noticed by advocating policies and reforms that are generally associated with Democrats. While effective governing occasionally requires reaching across the aisle, Republican primary contests aren’t usually the place to show off this skill.
Not that long ago, it wasn’t uncommon for presidential nominees to be selected almost exclusively by party insiders in back room deals. This led to the nomination of dark horse candidates for president. A few of them even won the prize and became president including, most famously, Abraham Lincoln.
With such a crowded field and growing, it’s not unlikely that someone regarded as a dark horse now might actually wear the crown at the GOP Convention when the dust finally clears. Thus, betting on the ultimate Republican nominee for president at this point with so many individuals in the race is a lot like choosing the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby, although odds are more in your favor at Churchill Downs.
Suffice it to say, whatever tack the ultimate winner in this crowded field takes to emerge the victor hopefully that isn’t the end of the story.
Let’s hope that from this throng of politicians and presidential hopefuls, we select the 45th president of the United States.