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June having dawned, we’re beginning to get a decent sense of what the (enormous) GOP presidential field is going to look like. By my tally, we’re probably going to end up with approximately 15 relatively prominent candidates. That’s four sitting governors — Christie, Kasich, Jindal, and Walker; four former governors — Bush, Huckabee, Pataki, and Perry; four sitting senators — Cruz, Graham, Paul, and Rubio; Santorum, the lone former senator; and the two who’ve never held elected office, Carson and Fiorina. I know everyone’s focused on how you get all these people onto one stage, but I’ve been thinking about another dynamic: there are 14 people in that group who aren’t going to be the Republican nominee. What do they do next? Here are my thoughts for each of these candidates should they fail to win the big prize. Add yours in the comments.
Bush — Make gobs of money? True, there’ll be an open Senate seat in Florida next year with Rubio choosing not to run again, but most former executives don’t relish time in the legislative branch — and it’s not clear how much cachet Bush still has in the state given that he’ll have been out of office for a decade at that point (especially with Florida’s high population turnover). Given his record as governor, Bush probably would’ve been at the top of any Republican president’s list for Secretary of Education — but, given how closely identified with Common Core he’s become, I doubt that’s necessarily true anymore.
Carson — Even in these early days, it’s become clear that Ben Carson probably should not be in this race. His penchant for gaffes and his ability to get tripped up by even rudimentary policy questions likely augurs a campaign that will end in embarrassment — which is a real shame, because Carson is immensely accomplished and has lived a great American life…just not one that needs to culminate in a presidential bid. Given his rise from childhood poverty in Detroit to the commanding heights of the medical field, he provides an incredible example for young African-American men throughout the country. If he placed his focus there — perhaps starting an organization that was a more conservative equivalent of Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program — he could do an immense amount of good.
Christie — There’s not an obvious next play for Christie. He’s termed out as governor in 2017 and it’s hard to imagine him winning a Senate seat in deep-blue New Jersey. His temperament is probably ill-suited for a vice presidential role or a cabinet slot (a former U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Attorney General would be the most logical spot — but don’t count on it). Perhaps he could parlay his larger-than-life personality into a media career. Apart from that, it’s hard to see where he goes next.
Cruz — Ted Cruz probably has a Senate seat for life in Texas if he wants it. Even many of his apologists will concede that his first term in the upper chamber has had a lot more to do with promoting Ted Cruz than with racking up major accomplishments. Given how fiercely intelligent he is, a Cruz whose presidential fever has broken — in other words, one who’s a little more focused on accumulating conservative legislative victories — could become a dominant figure in the upper chamber for a very long time.
Fiorina — I’m not sure that Carly Fiorina has any real expectation of becoming the GOP presidential nominee. Her bid has all the hallmarks of someone angling for the number two slot — and that may prove to be a very savvy move. Given that Democrats are almost certain to nominate a woman — and that Republicans are almost certain not to (she’s the only one in the field) — she’s be a strong prospect on the basis of identity politics alone. Add her business experience, her obvious intelligence, her poise, and her eloquence and you’ve got someone who’s basically got a reserved spot at the top of the short list. Failing the vice presidency, she’d likely be considered for a position like Secretary of Commerce. Given her current trajectory, however, I’d be somewhat surprised if she doesn’t end up on the ticket next year.
Graham — Back to the status quo. If Graham, who announced today, loses (really, when he loses), he’ll be back to business as usual in the Senate — and South Carolina conservatives will be back to looking for a primary challenger for him.
Huckabee — Mike Huckabee’s electoral career is likely over. He’s no longer an Arkansas resident (he’s now got a fancy waterfront home in Florida) and, even if he were, his native state doesn’t have any obvious political openings. Huckabee’s biggest asset is his geniality, which likely means that he returns to the media career that he’s been building ever since he dropped out of the 2008 race.
Kasich — Unlike some of the other governors in this race, Kasich has a legislative background (he was in the House for nearly 20 years — including six as Chairman of the Budget Committee). Ohio’s Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown, is up for reelection in 2018. That race may be too tempting for Kasich to pass up. Apart from that, he could also take another swing at media (Kasich hosted a show on Fox News for six years).
Jindal — Bobby Jindal has some options. There’s likely going to be an open Senate seat in Louisiana, as Republican Senator David Vitter looks like the favorite to become the next governor (Jindal is termed out this year). Jindal would have a very strong shot at being his successor. Alternately, given that Jindal has carved out a niche as a health care wonk (he was the director of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals from 1996-1999 and served as an Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush Administration), he’s almost certainly at the top of the list to be HHS Secretary in the next Republican administration.
Pataki — Show’s over. Pataki turns 70 this summer, he’s been out of office for nearly a decade, and his presidential campaign suffers from the total lack of a constituency. Some sort of highly-compensated quasi-retirement is in his future.
Paul — Paul’s pulled some strings to make sure that he can run for president while simultaneously seeking reelection to his Senate seat (something that, up until recently, was prohibited under Kentucky law). That gives us a sense of where he’s going — or staying, as the case may be. As this weekend’s Patriot Act fight shows, Paul has the capacity to be an extremely influential senator. I expect him to have a long, highly-visible career on the Hill. The only question: does he follow dear old dad’s lead and become a perennial presidential candidate, or is 2016 a one-time affair?
Perry — Again with the problem of an aging governor. Perry will be 66 next year and seems temperamentally unsuited for any sort of legislative role. Perhaps a cabinet spot? Perry, who comes from a farming background, spent eight years as the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, so maybe he would be in line for the equivalent position at the federal level? Then again, given his Texas roots, how about Secretary of Energy? That might be the cruelest of all fates — the Department of Energy was the one that he couldn’t remember he wanted to abolish during a debate in the 2012 cycle.
Rubio — Rubio has already decided not to run for another Senate term in Florida, but he’s got plenty of choices. Should he fail to get the nomination, he’ll almost certainly be on the vice presidential short list — any candidate would be crazy not to consider a Hispanic prospect from the largest swing state in the nation. Failing that, Rick Scott will be termed out as the Sunshine State’s governor in 2018, giving Rubio the shot to build up some executive bona fides if he’s hungry for another shot at the White House.
Santorum — Given the crushing defeat he suffered in his 2006 Senate reelection campaign in Pennsylvania, Santorum’s days in elected office are probably behind him. Once he’s out of this race, it’s likely back to his work advancing socially conservative causes through the Christian movie industry.
Walker — Maybe the biggest head-scratcher of the group. Wisconsin likely wouldn’t elect Walker to the Senate, and he’s not an obvious vice presidential pick or cabinet appointment (unless a Republican president wanted to ignite a nuclear struggle over his Secretary of Labor nominee). He’s still very young though (47) and he’s amassed a ton of visibility. Two options: (1) Wisconsin actually doesn’t term limits its governors, so Walker could run again in 2018. But does he want to bother with a third term?; (2) Walker is the poorest candidate in this field (he has a negative net worth). If he’s ever going to cash in, this would be the time.
All right, Ricochet, over to you.Published in