The last week has brought some welcome news for conservatives who are hoping to see a movement conservative nominated in 2016. First, Jeb Bush made it all but official that he will run by filing paperwork for his leadership PAC. Then it became apparent that Mitt Romney in all likelihood also intends to run in 2016. Not to be outdone, news leaked yesterday that America’s most awkward hugger Chris Christie is taking steps to set up his leadership PAC as well. Independently, each of these pieces of news elicited groans from conservative activists. Combined, they represent the first piece of good news in the 2016 election cycle.
In every contested primary since 1980, the establishment has had the decided advantage of settling on a candidate early while numerous conservatives fought for the right to be the establishment’s principal opponent long past the time when the race was actually decided. This phenomenon reached its peak in 2012 when the conservative base plowed through a series of increasingly unserious challengers searching for an alternative to Mitt Romney. As a result, the establishment unsurprisingly tends to win Presidential primaries without too much serious heartburn – the sole exception to this dynamic being when Ronald Reagan spent the better part of four years herding the movement conservative cats into his camp to challenge the establishment favorite George H.W. Bush in 1980.
Most likely, it looks like conservatives are going to fall into the same inevitable trap. No one has really spent the time laying the groundwork to become a consensus conservative candidate which makes sense in light of the fact that the best possible conservative challengers are still sitting office holders. But at least in this case the playing field might potentially be leveled. Jeb probably is the presumptive establishment favorite among the three, but Romney and Christie both have a significant pool of potential donors, political chits to cash, and enough ego to burn to make them unwilling to kiss Jeb’s ring early on in the contest, at least before he wins some actual primaries. They are, also, competing over basically the same pool of voters, as they have all flaunted Tea Party orthodoxy to the point that they will be unlikely to siphon votes from the crowd of conservative challengers.
Because at the same time the establishment wing of the GOP if flying into disarray, the right’s presidential candidates appear more serious, and more organized, than they have been in decades. Sens. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and, yes, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), aren’t just selling books and going on cable– they’re actually current and elected politicians hurriedly laying the necessary foundations for a serious presidential run, working grassroots activists, party leaders, pastors, donors.
Conservatives have here a rare opportunity to coalesce early around a serious challenger. I disagree that first term Senators like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) should be the best alternative on offer when there are likely to be multiple term governors (Jindal, Walker) in the race, but it would be ideal if conservatives this time around could avoid flirtations with frivolous candidates (like Ben Carson and Rick Santorum) and coalesce early around a candidate with a proven ability to both win and govern. These options actually exist and are available this time around.
2016 thus far is shaping up to be, at least potentially, a pleasant surprise.