Jindal, Cruz, and Graham stand out this week in White House race

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington & Mary Reichard
Posted 1/21/15, 02:53 pm

The staff of The World and Everything in It has profiled 22 possible candidates for president in 2016 in its White House Wednesday series. Now they take a look at who’s ahead and who’s making moves as the big campaign gets closer.

Cramming in. It seems inconceivable to add another name to the list of potential GOP presidential candidates. There already are enough of them to field a football team. But this past weekend on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he is testing his viability for a White House bid. “We’ve set up a testing-the-waters committee under the IRS code that would allow me to look beyond South Carolina as to whether or not a guy like Lindsey Graham has a viable path,” he said. As a presidential candidate, Graham doesn’t excite conservatives, nor would he be likely to compete for the establishment mantle.

Negative press. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made headlines this week on a trip to Europe after he referenced so-called “no-go zones,” heavily Muslim neighborhoods that try to “carry out as much Sharia law as they can.” British Prime Minister David Cameron denies such areas exist, and some critics have said no-go zones are a right-wing fantasy. While “no-go zone” might not be an official government designation, Jindal said such neighborhoods are real, and locals have an informal but clear understanding to stay away from them. When asked about his remarks on CNN, Jindal stood by them: “I’m also making a bigger and maybe even more controversial point: that radical Islam is a grave threat, that we need Muslim leaders to denounce the individuals, not just the acts of violence, and also that it is absolutely correct to insist on assimilation.” While Jindal is not considered a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, he has been building political clout in the party since 2009, when he was chosen to give the Republican response to the State of the Union address. This trip to Europe undoubtedly raised his profile, though it didn’t garner him any favor with the mainstream media.

Policy vs. persona. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took aim this past week at Republicans in what he called the “mushy middle.” Speaking at a South Carolina Tea Party event, he said Republicans would lose in 2016 if, “we nominate another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole or a John McCain or a Mitt Romney.” Cruz is right, in one sense: If the GOP nominates someone like Dole or McCain, they’re less likely to win next November.

But if you look back at the last 35 years of presidential history, there’s no evidence that moving to the left or right makes a candidate more electable. Most people would say both President Bushes were establishment Republicans, but those are the GOP’s last two presidents. 

Three things matter most in a general election: the candidate’s appeal, the appeal of the opposing candidate, and the political environment. Winning an election requires a different skill set than the one required to govern. Candidates must sell not just their visions but also themselves. And no one’s ever really too conservative or too liberal to be president. Ronald Reagan proved the former and Obama proved the latter.

Political power rankings. Here’s how The World and Everything in It ranks the possible GOP presidential candidates right now, based on their individual political merit, as shown in recent polls and political events. This week, the rankings stayed the same. At this early stage, name recognition is the biggest factor in polling. This list is sure to change quite a bit in the coming months.

  1. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
  2. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
  3. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
  4. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio
  5. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
  6. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee 
  7. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has yet to provide any strong indication about his plans for 2016.
  8. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
  9. 9. Texas Gov. Rick Perry
  10. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

 Listen to “White House Wednesday” on The World and Everything In It.

Lynde Langdon contributed to this report.

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