As of right now, there is no clear conservative alternative to challenge Governor Jeb Bush for the Republican nomination. There will be other candidates running, but none who can pose a serious challenge and have a chance at beating Hillary Clinton.
Without endorsing Jeb Bush, he does have some unique qualifications that shouldn’t be dismissed. He was a popular Governor of Florida, a state Republicans must win in 2016; he is a reformer, unlike many other Governors who attempt to get by until another position can open up; and lastly and most importantly, he’s a Bush. That last detail may be the most important — the last time the Republican Party won a presidential election without a Bush on the ticket was 1972.
A Jeb Bush nomination and presidency would no doubt be a thorn in the side of every conservative. They would suffer from yet another Republican president ambitiously promoting bigger government, a more aggressive foreign policy, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and more a new form of compassionate conservatism. It’s George without the Texas via Connecticut accent.
And while conservatives will have two years to beat their chest, they’re going to come up with the same conundrum conservatives have in almost every election cycle, there are no conservatives who can win as of yet that have showed interest in being president.
There are inspiration candidates, people who have never held political office and are seeking the presidency to alter the conversation or to bump their own ego: documentary filmmaker Dennis Lynch, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, and mogul Donald Trump.
Many have interesting positions; they have great debates on television, but none of them are presidential material. Unless you’ve held statewide elected office, you’re not a real candidate.
The only conservatives who fit that bill are Senators Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz as well as Governors Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, and Mike Pence.
All have varying degrees of conservative pedigree, but they all meet out the basic requirements. The problem with these men is they too are all almost certainly unelectable on a national ticket.
The culture warriors Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have a very strong base of cultural conservatives and evangelical Christians. Either one of them could win a state like Iowa easily, but they both failed to have appeal outside those circles. And while that base of voters is large, it’s not large enough to win the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency.
Bobby Jindal and Mike Pence are both reform-minded Governors, Bobby Jindal would be our first Indian-American President, which may help garner a larger percentage of the Asian vote, while Mike Pence is from the rust belt an area Republicans desperately need to win. However, neither one has the personality to win; Bobby Jindal’s first address to the nation was underwhelming to say the least. In the time, Pence was in the House he never made himself to be a strong personality.
Bobby Jindal is also extremely disliked in his home state of Louisiana and Pence is a freshman governor who may be more likely to make a run in 2020.
The final four have the most serious chance of becoming the not-Bush alternative. They all possess serious flaws that make it nearly impossible to see them as the next president.
Governor Walker will probably go down as the most serious reformer in the last two decades. From collective bargaining, state ID, education reform, and reducing taxes. He won three elections in four years and increased the Republican majorities in the state legislature. When it comes to Republican Governors, there’s Scott Walker, and there’s everyone else.
Despite his ability to win in a blue state, his blue-collar background, and conservative credentials, he suffers from large flaws. His isn’t what you’d call the Mr. Personality; he isn’t certainly the embodiment of the next great communicator. Secondly, he has a large target on his back, organized labor hates a lot of Republicans but they hate Walker most of all. His candidacy will surely bring out the left like no other candidate will. And there are doubts that Walker can carry his home state. While he had three victories, they were always close.
Rick Perry has been working very hard on reshaping his image after 2012, receiving good publicity from the border crisis. He is looking a lot more serious, and his long-standing dislike with the Bush family would make 2016 very interesting. Despite his recent about face, Perry still has to suffer with being branded as a man “not smart enough to be president.”
Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the right; their love for him makes Rand Paul look like John McCain. He has millions of supporters and a ton of grassroots behind him however; he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being president. If he were the Republican nominee, Hillary Clinton would likely get more Electoral College votes than Lyndon Johnson in 1964. His popularity in Texas is the exact opposite of what it is nationally.
Lastly, there’s Senator Rand Paul, who’s been vying for president since his father ended his last campaign four years ago. Senator Rand Paul has a lot of things on his side; he’s a Tea Party darling, his famous filibuster, and his unique policy positions allow him to bring a large coalition of different groups.
Rand Paul though would have a very difficult time running for president. The campaign commercials against him are going to bring mudslinging to a new level. In the primary, he was the man who met with Al Sharpton during the Ferguson riots, he is soft on foreign policy, and he is against voter ID. In the general he’ll be called a tea party nut, who is against the Civil Rights Act, and is softer on terrorism than Hillary Clinton.
Rand is an interesting Senator but his run for president will bring a new negative to politics.
The only problem is all of these men and woman will likely run for the office, crowd the field and give Jeb an easy cakewalk to the nomination. Conservatives will have to ask everyone besides one to run, push the others out early, and hope Christie runs against Jeb. Without a split establishment ticket and only one conservative in the race, the right will have a couple more years back in the wilderness.