Over at the Washington Post's "The Fix" blog, Chris Cillizza -- assuming President Obama's reelection for the sake of a symmetrical analysis -- has created the "Sweet 2016," a bracket for the eight leading contenders for each party's 2016 presidential nomination should they both be open contests.
Here are his seeds for the Republican side of the race, along with my thoughts:
1. Marco Rubio --Exactly right for the one seed. It's the rare politician who awakens within even casual observers near-universal recognition that he's cut from presidential timber. Rubio -- young, articulate, whip smart, politically creative, dignified, handsome, boasting a compelling biography, combining Tea Party principles with enough political prudence to know which fights to embrace and which to ignore -- is one of those talented few. The consultant class will salivate over the prospect of having a Hispanic-American candidate at the top of the ticket, but Rubio's raw abilities would propel him to the top of the field regardless of the color of his skin.
2. Chris Christie-- By 2016, Christie may well be able to run a "reformer with results" campaign based on turning around New Jersey. He has a strong crossover appeal, attracting conservatives with his pugilistic rhetorical style but remaining enough of a blue state moderate to appeal to many people in the middle (if Mitt Romney had that kind of reach, his prospects for the fall would be much better). However, Christie has a handful of apostasies – support for gun control, belief in global warming, a soft position on illegal immigration, and his refusal to join the legal challenge to Obamacare among them – that could cost him in a contest where there is someone viable on his right flank.
3. Bob McDonnell– I have a very hard time seeing this one. McDonnell is the sort of politician who always ends up populating these sorts of speculative lists – a fairly successful governor of a swing state who has little distinctive to offer besides his resume. It’s difficult to see why any coherent bloc of voters would mobilize around him. Far more likely, I think, that he ends up in a cabinet position or as someone’s running mate.
4. Jeb Bush– By 2016, we’ll have spent nearly 10 years being told that Jeb Bush just has to wait for the right time to launch his presidential bid. Alas, I suspect his window of opportunity may be permanently closed. Bush was a terrific governor of Florida and could plausibly be said to offer conservatives more tangible value than either his father or his brother. But I suspect that the passage of time only works against him, as his accomplishments in the Sunshine State will seem increasingly distant (he’ll have been out of office for nearly a decade by the time the 2016 election rolls around) and the dyspepsia surrounding yet another Bush nomination will still be too much to handle for conservatives looking to turn over a new leaf.
5. Bobby Jindal –There’s no doubt that Jindal deserves consideration on the merits. He’s been a fine governor of Louisiana and possesses a first-rate mind. His main struggles have been stylistic, but that’s not an inconsequential factor in a presidential election. I’ll grant you that his 2009 response to President Obama’s address to Congress was a low-water mark, unrepresentative of his usual abilities. Still, anyone whose public speeches elicit comparisons to Kenneth the Page from “30 Rock” is going to have a hard time passing the implicit commander-in-chief test in most voters’ minds.
6. Rob Portman –Now a U.S. Senator from the key state of Ohio, Portman has previously been a Congressman, OMB Director, and U.S. Trade Representative. He is smart, disciplined, and extraordinarily talented. And he’s far too dry to ever work as a national candidate – a fact I suspect he has enough self-awareness to recognize. I don’t expect to see Portman pursue the presidency; I do expect to see him on the top of any sensible Republican’s vice presidential short list.
7. Susana Martinez– The pistol-packing Hispanic governor of the swing state of New Mexico has a unique demographic appeal and an eminently accessible personality. What’s unclear, however, is whether she has any national ambitions. Still, she’s a lot more compelling than most garden-variety politicians, which means that there will be some interest in her from Washington, even if the feeling isn’t mutual.
8. Rand Paul– There’s no doubt that Senator Paul is a better vessel for the libertarian message than his father, both because he more effectively distances himself from the fringe elements of the movement and because he seems to have a genuine interest in seeing how he can move the ball downfield in Congress (whereas Paul pere seems perfectly content to be a legislative gadfly). But if Rand wants to establish a reputation as a serious defender of principle, emulating his father’s quixotic presidential candidacies may not be the ideal way to go about it. Better instead, I think, to position himself as the successor to Jim DeMint, who will retire in 2016 (he’s essentially imposing term limits on himself), as the Tea Party’s de facto leader in the upper chamber.
What do you think of the choices? And the omissions (Paul Ryan is one conspicuous absence)? Let us know in the comments.