How We Can Tell Who’s Really Running in 2016

I know, I know, we just had a presidential election and loser Mitt Romney and his wife Ann are still licking their wounds, if Sunday’s interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace is any indication.

But serious candidates for 2016 are already testing the waters. The expense of mounting a presidential campaign and Romney’s example of building an organization early haven’t been lost on the many wannabes.

The Democratic contest, of course, is frozen until former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decides whether to run or not. (I’ve gone out on a limb and predicted she won’t.)

Big name Republicans, however, have no such compunctions, and you can see who’s at least seriously considering a run by the positions they’re taking on key issues like taxes and immigration.

Remember, despite all the soul searching by Republican elites since the election, realistic presidential candidates understand they’ll have to go through the more extreme elements in their party to win the nomination and then try to pivot for the general. Sound familiar?

Here are some key litmus test issues:

Obamacare. The federal government will heavily subsidize states that expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. But many GOP voters hate Obamacare with a passion. So, any Republican governor who accepts funds is putting a target on his or her back during debate and primary season.

Republican governors who have signed on include Arizona’s Jan Brewer, Florida’s Rick Scott, Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Nevada’s Brian Sandoval, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, and Ohio’s John Kasich. They’re probably not going to run next time, or won’t get far if they do.

GOP governors who turned down the additional Medicaid funds include Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.  Kansas’s Sam Brownback and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell may, too. They’re all keeping their options open.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did not rule out a 2016 presidential run in an interview on the Today show Monday. Source: NBC News.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did not rule out a 2016 presidential run in an interview on the Today show Monday. Source: NBC News.

Taxes and spending cuts.  The biggest test of Republicans’ commitment to cut spending was the “fiscal cliff” deal that made the Bush tax cuts permanent for households earning under $400,000 while raising taxes for everyone else. Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul voted against that bill, but former GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan voted for it.

On the state level, Governors Jindal and Brownback are trying to end their states’ income taxes and replace lost revenues with a higher sales tax. Governors Walker, Christie, Martinez and Kasich have all either cut taxes or prevented tax increases.

Immigration reform.  Rubio is the poster child for the “new GOP” working with Senate Democrats to forge a compromise on immigration that may well be anathema to the more rabid among the GOP base.

Paul also has embraced immigration reform, while Ryan, who took a hard line on the issue as Romney’s running mate, has flip-flopped to support a compromise plan.

But talk about flip-flops! Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was a pioneer on immigration reform.  But in an interview with Matt Lauer on Today Monday, Bush backed off a key plank—the “path to citizenship,” putting him to the right of Rubio and Ryan.

Also, his sister-in-law Laura recently asked a group to remove her statement from a television ad supporting gay marriage.

In his interview with Lauer, Jeb Bush pointedly did not rule out a presidential run in 2016.

That’s why as of now, I’d call him, Rubio, Paul, Jindal, Brownback, and Walker the most likely candidates. I don’t think Christie will run, and Ryan may be pursuing a leadership position in Congress instead.

So, wouldn’t it be funny if 2016 turns out to be a Bush-Clinton “rematch”? That would be change no one can believe in.




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