A recent poll came out finding the GOP is satisfied with their Presidential field. More-so, GOP voters seem to want a primary where policies and ideas can be hashed out. But, you would be forgiven if you are scratching your head when you hear analysts and talking heads going on about how it is bad for the party to have a wide-open field. “It causes debate headaches,” “You get fringe candidates” and “Anybody can win” are common refrains. Or as the Washington Post’s residential liberal Dana Milbank called it, “The GOP Clown-car.” But, after 2012 the GOP should welcome a more wide open primary.
In 2012 the primary results were never in doubt. But because the base never fully embraced the party’s inevitable nominee, Mitt Romney, he was forced to embrace policies pleasing to the base but displeasing to the general electorate. Further, owing to his background, Romney was never embraced by the party faithful and turnout in rural areas in key states was stagnant.
This go around there is somebody in the primary every Republican can be pleased with. You have Romneylike moderates in Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. You have establishment conservatives in Rubio and Walker. Evangelicals and very conservative voters can get behind a host of candidates including Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Libertarians can like Rand Paul.
At first glance such a wide and divided field might seem to be a hindrance for the party. It is certainly proving troublesome for the RNC in managing debates. But it also gives the party a chance to show the breath and diversity of its support through its candidates and give the base somebody to support in the nomination process. Consider that Carly Fiorina is the CEO of HP. Ben Carson is best known for being from urban Detroit and becoming a world-renowned neurosurgeon. These two by themselves put to bed the myth the GOP is only the party of white men.
It goes deeper than this however. Rick Santorum can speak to the concerns of struggling blue-collar workers feeling like they are being left behind. Marco Rubio can speak to the greatness of the US and recall a bygone era where immigrants came to this country to assimilate and be successful. Scott Walker can tout his efforts in Wisconsin where his policy solutions convinced a moderate electorate that conservative policies work. In essence, a wide GOP field gives everybody something.
I remember an email conversation I was having with my family about a month back. I chimed in that a Ted Cruz candidacy was damaging to the GOP. But my brother had an excellent point. Even though Cruz might not win and he might alienate some left of center moderates in the general he would engage conservative voters by speaking to their concerns. Thus, voters engaged in the process would be more likely to go out and vote in the general. Extend this to a Mike Huckabee with social conservatives or Santorum with blue-collar workers and his point is well made.
Contrast this with the Democrats go big or go home strategy with Hillary. The party literally has nobody waiting in the wings. Left wing populist challenges from Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (a self-described socialist), former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley are unlikely to dent Clinton.
But it is perhaps because of the lack of competition that Hillary has suffered. Beyond the unethical accusations that mount daily against her she has released few policy positions and avoided the media. Heck, Bernie Sanders has done more interviews than she has. The only policies Hillary as laid out are vague and base pleasers. amnesty and college loan debt forgiveness. She’s staked out leftist positions on issues she was more conservative on (sentencing reform 1994 to now and Immigration Reform 2006 to now).
GOP candidates by contrast have started laying out far more detailed policy positions. Rand Paul has put out a detailed policy on reforming police departments and drug penalties. Marco Rubio recently laid out his foreign policy vision. Jeb Bush put out a detailed plan to end social mobility and lift people out of poverty.
None of this guarantees the GOP will win the Presidency and an unelectable candidate could come out of the GOP primary. But whereas Democrats are stuck with one option the GOP has a plentiful bounty and combined they all speak to disparate segments of the party. That has to be considered a major boon for any party in any Presidential race.