By Craig Robinson
The 2012 presidential campaign was hardly in the books, and some political prognosticators were already sizing up the 2016 presidential field. Their list of Republicans consisted of the usual suspects such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, and so on and so forth.
Predicting who may run for president isn’t very difficult to do, but figuring out who may rise to the top of a crowded field of candidates is never easy. If you need proof, just read what Chris Cillizza had to say about Rick Santorum’s chances back in September of 2009. “Is he crazy?” Cillizza wrote. As we all now know, Rick Santorum was crazy enough to run for president even though the political press corps laughed at his bid at the time.
Santorum didn’t win the nomination, but he did get the last laugh. All told, Santorum won eleven contests, including the Iowa Caucuses, albeit in a recount. Still, if you are looking for clues of what the next Republican presidential contests will hold, I would suggest that the last place you should look to is Washington D.C. or national political pundits.
Oddly enough, I think the tea leaves for 2016 are relatively easy to read if you take the time to observe what’s going on around us. It helps if you don’t let the big name potential candidates like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush cloud your judgment. Both men could be factors in the race, but both could just as easily be non-factors.
What people should be paying attention to is the ideological shift taking place within the Republican Party towards the libertarian movement. At the same time, they should be listening to the potential candidate(s) who have been warning against it.
Obviously, one potential candidate to watch is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Perhaps no Republican has received as much attention as Senator Paul has this spring, and he’s also not shy about his presidential aspirations. Paul has picked up the libertarian mantel his father carried for years and seems poised to experience far more success in doing so.
Paul’s filibuster of President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA elevated the Kentucky Senator’s stature in the U.S. Senate and with Republican activists alike. Paul was also enthusiastically embraced by conservative leaders at CPAC earlier this month. Former chairman of the American Conservative Union, David Keene, who now serves as the president of the National Rifle Association, fully embraced Senator Paul and the influence of the liberty movement within the Republican Party.
While Paul is on an outstanding run politically, the libertarian views that he shares with his father have also been distractions. In his CPAC speech, Paul advocated for the decimalization of drugs. A week later, Paul made pro-life activists nervous when he said that there were thousands of exceptions to his “Life at Conception Act.” Earlier this year, Senator Paul made news when he voted in support of President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Most Republicans in the Senate voted against Hagel’s nomination because Hagel had spoken negatively towards Israel and advocated for leniency in dealing with countries like Iran and Russia.
As Senator Paul attempts to bring a libertarian ideology into the mainstream of the Republican Party, one potential 2016 candidate, Rick Santorum, has been making the case against secular libertarianism since the early days of his 2012 presidential campaign. While Santorum’s remarks are not necessarily pointed directly at Paul or the liberty movement, he does seem to be warning Republicans about the downside of the libertarian mindset.
Equally fascinating is that both Paul and Santorum are probably the two candidates with an existing political apparatus in Iowa. Both will be well positioned in Iowa should they decide to run in 2016. Paul has the benefit of his father’s political machine that was built over the last two campaigns. Santorum barnstormed the state and built some strong relationships with key Republican leaders. The fact that Santorum wasn’t awarded the win on caucus night should also motivate his supporters to secure him the outright win should he run in 2016.
Despite what other candidates may ultimately end up running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul seem to be on a collision course. While the news media is busy writing articles about gay marriage and immigration reform, the future of the Republican Party may be determined by who prevails in the 2016 Iowa caucuses.
Other candidates like Governor Scott Walker, Senator Marco Rubio, and Governor Bobby Jindal will defiantly be in the mix in a state like Iowa, but the issue that may be of most importance to caucus goers in 2016 may be the issue of what the Republican Party should stand for. If that’s the case, Senator Paul and former Senator Santorum will offer voters the most distinct visions.
That’s why the Iowa forecast for 2016 calls for a fierce battle between Paul and Santorum. Both potential candidates are also scheduled to be in the state next month. Who knows, the fireworks could begin in Iowa sooner than anyone thinks.
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