Presidential Contenders: Part 2 of [Many Still!]

Well, I have utterly failed to adhere to my promised guidelines in posting about the GOP candidates. While my excuse is somewhat valid — my laptop was shipped out to Dell last week, after completely collapsing and becoming unusable – it’s still pretty bad. But, better late than never.

There have been a few significant shakeups among the Republican contenders since I last wrote. One notable (but not that notable) development is the withdrawal of former Texas Governor Rick Perry from the race after a disappointing first few months. I still want to devote some time to Governor Perry though, even though he’s out for sure. So he’ll feature in this issue, along with a few others.

James Richard Perry
Occupation: Former Governor of Texas (2000 – 2015)
Hometown: Paint Creek, TX

Rick Perry was in the Republican primary briefly in the 2012 election cycle, and held the lead in the polls. In some ways, he would be a formidable candidate: fairly successful credentials as governor of the second-largest state in the country, a sound economic record (for the most part), and military experience. He’s folksy and looks like a leader. He definitely has social conservative credentials as an evangelical Christian, which would help his chances in the primary (although it may prove to be a detriment in a general election, though that’s speculation). However, both his runs for the White House fell apart. What happened?

Governor Perry’s 2012 effort was famous (at least to me – I was out of the country during this whole time, so my perspective is admittedly warped) for two things, neither of which were that positive. One was his “Strong” ad in the primaries, which attracted a lot of negative attention for seeming out-of-tune on gay rights. His main stance in this ad was that there was something wrong with allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military, and it was much-derided on social media. The other, much more damaging moment is simply known as “oops.” During a primary debate, he made the point that he would eliminate three Cabinet-level federal agencies right away as president – Department of Energy, Commerce, and…Governor Perry couldn’t remember the third at all. Oops. That pretty much sunk his candidacy.

Since then, he was seen with a new look: glasses. It was probably a move to present himself as a serious, issue-oriented leader, although other candidates like Donald Trump derided him for an attempt to look smarter. Take it as you will. It was pretty obvious he was going to run for president again this year, and he did. But his candidacy never really got off the ground. If the field weren’t so crowded, I would wager that he would have fared much better. But he was seen as a 2012 throwback in some ways, and others have stolen his thunder on his two best selling points to the GOP electorate: social conservatism and successful record as governor. Senator Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, former Senator Rick Santorum, and others are all heavily courting social conservatives (along with others), while Governors Scott Walker and John Kasich and former Governor Jeb Bush can lay claim to successful tenures at the helms of large states. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal can too, but no one seems to be listening. Whether you believe their claims is a separate issue.

So, Governor Perry was never really able to get off the ground. In a lot of ways, this could be the GOP’s loss, but it probably won’t prove to be anything more than a minor blip. Of course, should a Republican triumph in 2016, one could see a role for him in the administration; alternatively, he may want to challenge Senator Cruz in 2018 for one of Texas’s Senate seats. He would prove a formidable challenger, even for an incumbent senator, since Texans elected him three times as governor and he remains popular in the Lone Star State. This assumes he can remember his lines.

Benjamin Solomon Carson
Occupation: retired neurosurgeon
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan

Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned [former] neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, is one of several political outsiders in the GOP race [aside: interesting to note that the Democratic side doesn’t feature anyone who has never held public office].  Along with fellow candidates Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, Carson has never held office, and like Mr. Trump, he has never even ran for office before. Yet for some time, the two of them were in first and second place among primary voters. Quite the anti-establishment mood there.

Dr. Carson’s appeal is very different from Donald Trump, to the extent that he’s been hailed as the “anti-Trump.” He is very soft-spoken and modest compared to the brash billionaire, and it’s clear that his religious faith plays an important role in his life. It goes without saying that he’s noteworthy in part because of being black and conservative, a fairly rare combination nationally. Could America elect a second black president?

He also appeals strongly to social conservatives, along with anyone claiming to be “fed up” with career politicians. Unlike Senator Cruz, who appeals to a lot of the same demographics, Dr. Carson is in fact not a career politician. Like Donald Trump and others, Dr. Carson’s been accused of some ignorance and lack of details on some issue – as one may expect from political outsiders. His tax plan appears to be based on the principle of tithing, and his style of speaking is far from electrifying.

Yet it’s possible that Dr. Carson could go far. His credentials on social conservatism, for example, hold up under stricter scrutiny than Donald Trump’s (who has been married multiple times and was a Democrat earlier), and he seems genuinely likeable and charismatic. Potentially, he could expand the demographic diversity of GOP voters, bringing in black Americans who may otherwise stay home or vote Democratic. No matter how you feel, he does hold the tremendous advantage of not being another Republican politician.

But I don’t think he will go that far. In the end, I think his lack of specificity and conservative social views will prove to be more of a hindrance than help, even in winning the nomination, and I don’t think he can really energize a campaign. He probably has a better chance of being the running mate or a future Cabinet appointee, but neither of those are terribly likely also, in my opinion.

Readers should note, however, that I’ve been wrong before.

I’m going to leave it at two for now (one actual candidate, even lower in reality) and hope to return this week to this. It’s an interesting time, for sure, in the aftermath of the second debate. Carly Fiorina is on the rise, and it’s pretty likely that some more lower-polling candidates drop out in the next few weeks. A field of sixteen going into January seems pretty far-fetched, but the bottom tier of candidates staying in or exiting won’t make much of an impact for some time, as they don’t have enough supporters who would migrate elsewhere upon withdrawal.

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