It’s finally here, the moment you’ve been waiting for with fear and dread. You may not want to care about the 2016 presidential primary season, but it cares about you. And what a menagerie we have with us for this cycle – a collection of personalities who are all making big moves toward entering the race or at least trying to convince speech schedulers that they just might. The National Journal ranking of candidates is here, and it’s fine as far as it goes. But if we’re going to be talking about all of this for two years, we might as well have a bit more fun with our cast of characters. And who are these characters?
Jeb Bush as: Bigfinger – Imagine someone who is often underrated because of their low birth, a figure most comfortable in the shadows, subtle, conniving, manipulative, devious, and above all invisible operator. Then imagine the opposite of that, and you have Jeb Bush, who seems very, very serious about running for president, and is as of today the likeliest nominee for a party which still retains significant affection for the Bush family. His advantage with the money set is already well evident – he’s beginning his exploratory PAC fundraising in earnest this week in Greenwich. Everything Jeb Bush does will be overanalyzed and blown out of proportion, and he has the singular challenge this cycle of defending not just his own record but his father’s and brother’s as well. But he’s still the odds-on favorite to win.
Chris Christie as: Stratton Oakmont – Stability. Integrity. Pride. Or brashness and boldness without all that much to back it up. And come on, you don’t get more “Jonah Hill over-enunciating Steve Madden” than this clip from last night in Dallas, which I could watch forever. His brother even supplied a slogan for the campaign after the predictable social media reaction: telling America to “get a life”. Chris Christie’s act was enormously popular even among conservatives prior to the 2012 cycle, but his performance at the GOP convention, in the wake of the Sandy storm, and a couple of policy Achilles heels (accepting Obamacare, a litany of bad judicial appointments) make the path to a nomination he clearly wants rougher. But he’s also spent the past few years building up as many favors as possible – he’ll be crisscrossing the country in the next month attending the swearing in of a slew of GOP governors he helped elect. How he deploys those favors will be key, but he may find himself more popular in the Dallas Cowboys’ box than on the stump.
Ted Cruz as: Sonny Corleone – Charismatic and courageous and popular as hell among the people who love him, and everyone assumed he’d be running the conservative movement a few short years ago. If only he’d had an EZ Pass to get through the shutdown unfazed, he’d be running away with this thing. But the money mostly views him as an incredibly dangerous hothead who’ll run the party into the ground. And with the staff turnovers in Cruz-land of late, he may yet lack the wartime consigliere he needs. But do not under any circumstances underestimate his ability to win an argument with the base, and he will not hesitate to go to the mattresses if he deems it necessary.
Marco Rubio as: Robert Griffin III – A naturally gifted prospect, but one whose presidential aspirations have taken a series of unexpected and self-inflicted hits. Look at him from one perspective, and he looks like a once-a-generation can’t miss athletic freak, a blue chipper if there ever was one. Look at him from another perspective, and you wonder what anyone else ever saw. One minute he’s Fran Tarkenton, the next he’s Todd Marinovich. His legislative effort on immigration gives him a great opportunity, if he wants to use it, but also could prove to be a crippling liability. He’s got rabbit ears for criticism, but he’s also very social media and pop culture savvy. Babies smile when they look at that face, but they also don’t vote.
Rand Paul as: Boromir – Already used to being surrounded by foes, he’s the loudest voice at the Council of Elrond for turning the enemy’s weaponry into an advantage. If put into practice, this strategy could turn out to be a genius move or (if you listen to some people) it could be an epic failure, an example of temptation toward an easy path to victory which blows up in your face. His case for 2016 is likely to be troubled by paternal loyalties to a guy who may light himself on fire at a moment’s notice based on something he sees in a shiny object. May have a moment or two of glory early on, but will need to survive a hail of arrows if he’s going to make it to the climax.
Scott Walker as: Kirkland Farms – The mysterious supplier of all things Costco, Kirkland has something for everybody. Would you like a bag of almonds the size of a modest labrador? Kirkland makes that. Have you recently spawned quadruplets and want to only buy one package of baby wipes for the coming year? Kirkland makes that, too. Would you like to purchase vodka, an expandable roller bag, ground coffee beans, an orthopedic pet bed (square or round?), a 72 pound 24-month aged wheel of parmesan cheese, and a pair of pleated charcoal wool gabardine trousers, but would prefer these items all originate from the same nondescript Middle American-ish brand? Kirkland delivers. It’s a miraculous accomplishment in the modern global economy! But does anyone, when they’re picking these things, say “I’d prefer we got the Kirkland steak seasoning”, or is it just an afterthought? Herein lies Scott Walker’s problem.
Bobby Jindal as: Q – The Louisiana governor may turn out to be the head of R&D for the right for the 2016 cycle, with the inventive approach to policy everyone will be responding to out of this field. He has the strongest ability to self-staff out of this bunch, and he’s likely to be a strong debater. What remains to be seen is whether he has the ability to connect on the trail in ways that make him more than everyone’s guy to fix that health care mess. Republicans may not love to refer to themselves as “nerds” or “wonks” as much as Democrats, but are they ready for the actual real life example to be their presidential candidate? Whether the Ivy Leaguer’s Southern fried populism sells in a crowded field will be the real test here.
Rick Perry as: Rooster Cogburn – When he arrived on the national scene in 2012, conservatives swooned for Rick Perry as if he was The Man From Snowy River, but he ended up looking like he stepped off the set for The Shakiest Gun in the West. We know him better now, both for his “shoot first think later” flaws and for his occasionally canny moves (but it’s telling that the latter seem to surprise folks). Perry has a very different network of people around him these days, and seems to be making moves to expand his support in different factions on the right, beyond his conservative supporters. This will have to be a risk-taking candidacy if it’s going to make noise, and Perry’s political golden days may have passed him by. In debates, he has no margin for error. But when he’s on, he still has the best weapon in a political cast light on retail experience: he’s great on the trail.
John Kasich as: Chevy Chase – So back in 1977, Chevy Chase leaves SNL to become a big hit in movies, which was just fine with most of the castmembers considering how much they hated working with the guy. His replacement: a youngster named Bill Murray, who almost immediately had to hear about how he wasn’t up to snuff. When Chevy came back to guest host the show – well, this happened. “After a whole week of snippy remarks and perceived snubs between the two, Murray and Chase came to blows minutes before recording began. As recounted in the book Live From New York, Chase compared Murray’s acne-marked face to the surface of the moon; Murray in turn implied that Chase was incapable of satisfying his wife in bed. After the pair were pulled apart by fellow cast members, a ‘foaming at the mouth’ Murray delivered what could be the most perfect put-down of all time: ‘Medium talent!’” And that’s what John Kasich is.
And that’s not all. We’ve got Mike Huckabee as: Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, Rick Santorum as: Frank Grimes, Ben Carson as: Scrubs, Carly Fiorina as: The Baroness, Jim Webb as: Little Face, Joe Biden as: Cousin Eddie, and Hillary Clinton as: Lucille Bluth.
Welcome to Thunderdome 2016: Dozens enter, just one leaves.