GOP presidential hopefuls compete in the 'invisible primary'

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington & Nick Eicher
Posted 12/17/14, 02:55 pm

Each Wednesday for the past several months, The World and Everything in It has profiled possible candidates in the next presidential election. The Democratic field has an obvious frontrunner in Hillary Clinton, whereas the Republican side lacks a single, dominant player. As a result, there appear to be twice as many presidential hopefuls in the wide-open GOP field. Here’s a look at what’s going on with those candidates.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s announcement Tuesday that he planned “to actively explore” running for president means one thing: He’s in. When a candidate makes that kind of an announcement, what he’s saying is, “I want to run for president. I intend to run for president, and as long as there’s adequate support out there for my candidacy, I’m all in.” 

And Bush shouldn’t have a problem with raising adequate support, in other words, money. Still, it’s a bit early to make an outright declaration that he’s running for president, which is why he is being a bit coy.

Bush and other would-be presidential contenders are now in what is known in Washington as the invisible primary. Candidates are competing with one another for the support of big donors and political power-brokers. There are a lot of candidates and there’s only so much money and political talent to go around. With his early notice, Bush is telling potential backers, don’t commit your money elsewhere. 

The key question surrounding Bush’s candidacy is whether he can win acceptance from the party base. Conservatives have criticized him lately for his positions on immigration and Common Core education standards. He made an appearance at a Wall Street Journal event earlier this month and said he is not going to pretend to be anything different than who he is to win a nomination.

“I kind of know how a Republican can win, whether it’s me or somebody else,”' he said. “And it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to be practical now in the Washington world. Lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles. It’s not an easy task, to be honest with you.”

And speaking of degrees of difficulty, Bush’s announcement could rule out another Sunshine state candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio. The New York Times reports Rubio will gather more than 100 GOP donors, fundraisers, and supporters at a luxury hotel in Miami next month. They’ll participate in a two-day strategy session about Rubio’s political future. He is clearly actively engaged in that invisible primary, and if he feels he has the resources he needs, he’ll be in as well. 

For Bush, a downside to announcing a run this early is putting a big target on his back.He won’t be a runaway favorite, like Hillary Clinton, but he will be considered the frontrunner. And Democrats say he’s the guy in the GOP field who scares them the most. So for those reasons, he’ll be target No. 1 for Democrats, starting now. 

Another candidate sending strong signals to the GOP faithful is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Since summer, it has been evident Perry is gearing up for a presidential do-over, but now there’s no question about it. Speaking with MSNBC last week, Perry said he is “very serious” about a second presidential bid.

Another candidate in the invisible primary is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is touring the country, campaigning for a balanced federal budget amendment through the states.

“The bottom line is that if you pass an amendment that requires them to balance the budget, it sends a message not just to the Congress, but it sends a message to all the special interest groups that when you go to Washington, it’s not a free party,” Kasich said. His effort is a long shot, but he’s starting that national conversation, raising his profile in the process, and highlighting his fiscal conservative credentials.

In other invisible primary news, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was cleared of any wrongdoing in the George Washington bridge ordeal. The Democratic state legislature found no evidence at all that he had any involvement in that scandal. That’s the good news for Christie, politically. The bad news is Bush’s entrance into the race may torpedo any chance he had left of winning the nomination. He needed all the establishment vote. If he does run, he probably won’t get half of it now. 

Finally, the 2012 vice-presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan, R- Wis., likely is not running. He’s going to chair the powerful House Ways and Means committee, so it looks like he will stay on Capitol Hill.

Listen to “White House Wednesday” on The World and Everything in It:

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

Read more from this writer