Grouping the Republican candidates

Since there are so many Republican candidates, sometime ago (before Perry and Walker dropped out of the race), I started grouping the Magnificent Seventeen into categories to see if that made predicting the eventual winner any easier. There were three natural groups:

A. Governors: Bush, Huckabee, Christie, Kasich, Walker, Jindal, Perry, Gilmore, and Pataki
B. Senators: Rubio, Cruz, Paul, Graham, and Santorum
C. People who have never held elected office: Trump, Carson, and Fiorina

The conventional wisdom is that governors have the edge in becoming president because they have executive experience and the presidency is an executive office, plus they do not have to defend awkward votes in Congress that are part of the normal horse-trading and they are untainted by the abysmally low approval ratings of Congress in the public eye (currently running around 15%) and can claim to be “political outsiders’, even if they have long been political insiders with a lifetime in public office. Starting in 1976, all the presidents have been former governors (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush) except for George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama, and the former can be considered an exception since he was vice-president before he became president and thus had an edge.

But this time, the conventional wisdom seems to be faltering. The two dropouts so far (Walker and Perry) were both governors and all the rest of the governors seem to be trailing the field with the latest CNN/ORC poll showing Bush as the best with a paltry 9% and the total for all nine adding up to a mere 20%. The four senators are not doing much better either with 22% total.

The top three spots in the poll are taken by the outsiders in group C with a total of 53%, so this does not look good for people who have held elected office.

There is another way to group them, though it is admittedly subjective and is based on my inference about what the Republican party establishment is thinking.

A: Those that the party establishment would tolerate as their nominee because they have a chance of being elected: Bush, Rubio, Kasich, Christie, and Walker.

B: People the party establishment wouldn’t want because they think they are pretty much guaranteed to lose and lose big, dragging the party down with them: Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Cruz, Paul, Jindal, Huckabee, Santorum, Graham, and Perry.

C: People nobody cares about: Pataki and Gilmore.

The problem for the party is that group A has total support of only 25% of likely Republican voters while group B has a whopping 65%.

And then there is also a grouping based on my personal tastes, largely determined by the level of my visceral dislike for the candidates. While I want them all to lose, the people I really, really hope go down in flames early and ignominiously are the slick and sly and smarmy Walker (thankfully now gone), the sneering, arrogant Cruz, the ultimate panderer Jindal, the sanctimonious religious bigot Huckabee, the bullying obnoxious Christie, the whiny, self-righteous, religious extremist Carson, the shameless liar Fiorina, the anti-gay extremist Santorum, and the warmongering, fear mongering Graham.

For the rest (Bush, Rubio, Kasich, Paul, Perry, Pataki, Gilmore) I want to see them lose of course, especially in the general election, but seeing and hearing them does not immediately set my teeth on edge and I can tolerate them being around for awhile.

The wild card is of course Trump. He is arousing some of the worst elements of xenophobia and misogyny in the population. The only benefit he provides is to bring those things out into the open rather than using code words and because he does this, he serves a good purpose by throwing the Republican race into chaos, roiling the party establishment and the big money backers, and undermining some of the other awful people who may have a better chance of winning the presidency. While his winning the Republican nomination seems to be too ridiculous to contemplate, the fact is that there seems to be a lack of plausible scenarios by which he is pushed out of the race. His staying in the race may serve a good long-term purpose as long as he does not win the presidency himself.

I find it hard to imagine that I had to actually write that last qualifier. While I have come around to the idea that Trump as the Republican nominee was not out of the question, have we come to this, that a Trump presidency is actually seen as a real possibility? Jon Lovett, writing as if it is around the year 2020, explains how Trump won the presidency and what happened afterwards.


  1. anat says

    Mano, have you tried grouping them by positions on some issues? Immigration? Response to the legalization of same-sex marriage? How much they are willing to sacrifice women for the sake of fetuses/embryos? (Am I correct in my perception that Trump is the closest thing to a pro-choice candidate?)

    What do the rules say happens if by the end of the state primaries/caucuses there are several candidates with substantial support but no clear winner?

    It seems the way to solve the Trump problem is for more candidates to do a Walker and leave the field for someone else with similar positions. Hence my interest in how closely any of them overlap.

  2. says

    Mano, have you tried grouping them by positions on some issues? Immigration? Response to the legalization of same-sex marriage? How much they are willing to sacrifice women for the sake of fetuses/embryos?

    Do the candidates’ policy positions even matter for their campaigns? Perhaps if they got elected, but it is irrelevant before. It’s nothing about substance and all about bluster, and Trump is out.blustering them all.

    The whole thing reminds me of this Family Guy segment:

  3. Chiroptera says

    anat, #1: What do the rules say happens if by the end of the state primaries/caucuses there are several candidates with substantial support but no clear winner?

    Officially, each party’s nominees are chosen at their national conventions that are held toward the end of next summer. The primaries and caucuses held in the states and territories actually choose delegates that are sent to the conventions, and each of these delegates are pledged to vote for one particular candidate. Often, by the time the last state has chosen its delegates, one candidate or another has a majority of the delegates and so the only question is who will be chosen as the nominee for Vice President; the delegates usually chose the person the nominee for President choses.

    In the case that no candidate has a majority, then the horse trading occurs. An attempt is made to make back room deals so that candidates will drop out and ask his or her delegates to switch to another candidate, although the delegates aren’t required to follow the advice of the one to whom they were initially pledged.

    Sometimes, at the convention itself, several votes may need to be taken, as support switches between candidates, more deals are made, and more candidates drop out, until finally one candidate gets the required majority.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    <i.Trump… The only benefit he provides is to bring those things out into the open…

    I disagree. Trump has provided another benefit by criticizing positions that were considered sacrosanct in the GOP, yet still somehow retaining his popularity. For example, he has criticized the job Walker has done in running the state of Wisconsin, which amounts to criticizing Republican economic policies. He has publicly acknowledged he would consider certain tax increases, and said that Social Security shouldn’t be scrapped.

  5. Mano Singham says


    They seem to be so similar in most of their policies that I don’t know if that kind of grouping makes sense. Trump and Paul are maybe outliers in that the former is arguing for higher taxes for the wealthy and the latter is not as war-crazy as the rest. But in most other respects, there do not seem to be many differences.

  6. Mano Singham says


    This is not the first time that Jindal has shown his ignorance of how democracy works and I am certain that it will not be the last. He seems to think the presidency confers close to god-like powers.

  7. says

    @5 Reginald,

    What just strikes me as absolutely weird about that is he seems to be getting support from people who criticize Democrats for being “tax and spend.” Maybe my perception of where he is getting his support is off, though. Or could it be that those people don’t really stand solidly for those positions and are rather just parroting whatever right-wing meme is popular at the time.
    Has anyone else observed this? If so, what are your thoughts?

  8. brucegee1962 says

    Due to the growing social divisions that have come to match our political divisions, I have very few Republicans remaining in my social circle; of the three left that I can think of, two have come to a tacit understanding with me that we shouldn’t talk about politics if we want to remain friends. But I spoke to the third one the other day and asked him what he thought about the race. He’s a real insider – he works as a top staffer to a ranking Congressman on the hill.

    He said that his minimum qualifications for a nominee were AT LEAST a single term as Senator – which I took to mean that he thinks very little of the three frontrunners. He volunteered that if Trump got the nomination, he might have to sit the election out, for the first time in his life. He said “He’s appealing to people who think they’ve been betrayed by the Republican party, but if he’s nominated, we’re going to lose, and lose big. And if it’s true that we’ve let those people down, then maybe we deserve to.” His biggest criticism of Trump is that he’s “not a real conservative,” which I think is becoming the mainstream party’s line on why he has to go down. And he’s probably right – I don’t think Trump is committed to conservative principles, or liberal principles, or any core belief other than the idea that Donald Trump is the Greatest. I said that if he got elected, he probably wouldn’t consider himself bound to any of his campaign promises – or even remember what they were – and would probably just do whatever his whim was from day to day, regardless of whether it was consistent with what he did the day before.

    Anyway, the conversation left me feeling a lot better about the possibility of Trump winning the nomination. If it does happen, and my friend is any indication of the party’s establishment,, he might just get a Goldwater-style flattening.

    Still, even the slightest prospect of President Trump is making me lose sleep.

  9. Nick Gotts says

    I agree with Reginald that Trump’s tax stance is highly significant: in purely economic terms, there seems no doubt Trump is the furthest left of the Republican candidates. He also lacks the unblemished record of LGBT-hatred and forced birth advocacy common to most of the others; and although he’s quite willing to pander to the theocrats on those issues, he’s not campaigning on them. So it’s arguable that in both nomination races, the headlines are being made by the candidate of the left! Of course in Trump’s case it is probably the outsider status, plus the shameless racism and bragadoccio, that wins him support, but it’s still worth noting where he deviates from the currently established Republican script.

    It’s also very interesting that he seems to have substantial support among (self-described) Evangelicals -- although there are articles by Evangelicals out there claiming that no ?Twoo Evangelical supports Trump. But I imagine most poll results concerning “Evangelicals” do rely on self-description of those interviewed, so it tells us that at least a substantial chunk of those calling themselves “Evangelicals” in surveys, don’t really give a toss about religion. But then, in 2012 the religious right ended up voting for an avowed heretic, so I suppose that should be no surprise.

    Incidentally, Could Donald Trump be the Anti-Christ??

  10. Nick Gotts says

    Yes, unfortunately the nauseating, and spine-chilling, prospect of President Trump can’t be ruled out: the chances look quite high of a serious economic downturn between now and the election, or even another financial crisis. That, and the pattern of party incumbency since 1952, suggest the Republicans have a high likelihood of winning, whoever their candidate. That said, which of the other candidates would be preferable as President?

  11. brucegee1962 says

    Nick Gotts, great link. So there is hot debate, at least in some evangelical circles, over whether Trump might be more diabolically evil than Hillary and Obama, with the general consensus being that that’s impossible.

    What I noticed was missing, though, was anyone taking shots at Bernie. They’d better get busy — if he somehow manages to score the nomination, you can’t construct a Hate Machine overnight! If you’ve been saying for eight years that Clinton is an Agent of Satan sent to herald the Apocalypse, then complaining about a nominee being a mere Socialist comes across as pretty weak tea.

  12. brucegee1962 says

    The most terrifying thing about Trump is his sheer unpredictability. He might do things I approve of, he might do things I loathe. Nobody knows — including him, I suspect.

  13. Holms says

    An example: Trump advocating higher taxes on hedge fund managers. I haven’t looked into the details, and I suspect that somehow this tax will only apply to people Trump doesn’t like and not Trump himself, but no other GOP candidate is willing to even entertain the idea of raising taxes. And yet it hasn’t killed Trump’s poll numbers.

    I think safely assume that his version of ‘tax the rich’ is also only being mentioned in the first place as a way of recruiting the hatred rural America has for the finance sector / wall street type. Many other wealthy people are instead buying into and promoting the convenient fiction, that industrialists and the like are only wealthy because they worked their way up from the bottom and earned their top spot, unlike those New York fat cat types.

  14. Nick Gotts says


    Yes, and if the election ends up Clinton-Trump, or Biden-Trump, most of the military-corporate-billionaire establishment might get behind the Democrat: Clinton and Biden are much more predictable and to a considerable extent controllable. Sanders-Trump? They’ll be really worried, as it would mean they’ve lost control of the political arena.

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