WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2016 — The presidential field is narrowing. Not fast enough for some people. But we have seen a good bit of the candidates by now and can draw some conclusions about them and their supporters.
Donald Trump has turned the race on its head by voicing what so many people are thinking, but perhaps are too intimidated to say out loud. His style is hyperbole. “We’re going to make America Great Again.” Every issue can be summed up by proclaiming “Our leaders are incompetent, the problem is huge and Trump will make it fantastic.”
There’s no meat on those bones. Trump’s own web site provides his positions on 13 issues, one at a time, via 30-40 second videos, in which Trump rants, “Our leaders are incompetent, the problem is huge and Trump will make it fantastic.” Just trust him.
Trump treats the competition with over-the-top contempt. “Ted Cruz is the biggest liar I have ever known … everybody hates Ted Cruz.” “Ben Carson is pathological … that’s what they say about pedophiles.” Ted Cruz has pushed back successfully, to some degree.
People love that Donald Trump, without any concern for political correctness, gives voice to their thoughts. Would they be so enthusiastic if their neighbor said exactly what he thought? Would they want him to be president?
Most people acknowledge that Trump is not as conservative as other candidates. He held typically socially liberal views until he decided to run as a Republican. But his supporters don’t care. He’s leading even among Republican evangelicals.
Trump is an entertaining showman who offers almost no substantive plans to “Make America Great.” His supporters are happy, favoring style over substance.
Sen. Ted Cruz has been, as he says, “consistently conservative.” Most conservative voters acknowledge that. He has made his Christian faith a point of emphasis on his campaign. It is not unusual for him to pray at campaign events.
On the issues, Cruz’s web site is sparse. His campaign’s home page takes you straight to a donation page. It takes some work to find an issues page, which covers nine broad categories, from the Constitution to the Second Amendment. There is little detail.
Something holds people back from going all-in for Cruz. He brags about standing up to Democrats and Republicans alike in the Senate, but he has accomplished nothing thus far. Perhaps with Obama in power, nothing conservative can be accomplished. But Cruz shut down the government just to brag that he had gone to the mat for conservative values.
His campaign tactics have been shabby. In Iowa, his campaign distributed misleading flyers designed to intimidate voters into going to the polls to vote. The flyers were deemed to be legal but on the ragged edge. They were at least unethical.
His team sent robo-calls to Iowa caucus captains telling them to announce that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race. Many believe those calls propelled him past Trump for a narrow win in the state. Other candidates complained of other “unfair” tactics.
Most recently, his campaign’s communications director promoted a video that was manipulated to show Marco Rubio disrespecting the Bible when the opposite was true. Only after that incident did Cruz taken action, firing the communications director. These tactics give voters pause about his ethics.
Cruz claims to be anti-establishment. Yet his senatorial campaign was partially funded by a loan from Goldman Sachs. His actions and the culture of his campaign don’t seem to be in line with his rhetoric. Two groups that were assumed to be his to lose, evangelicals and Hispanics, favored Trump in South Carolina and Nevada.
Cruz’s talk and his walk are out of alignment and it is showing. His supporters want his strong conservativism while at the same time overlooking his sordid tactics.
Sen. Marco Rubio has survived blistering attacks by Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Chris Christie. He is still standing and even surging, ranking a distant second to Trump. His conservative record is solid, but the anchor around his neck is his participation in the “Gang of Eight” effort to pass “comprehensive immigration reform” in 2013. Rubio was a Tea Party darling when he ran for the Florida Senate seat he currently holds. But his approach to immigration reform quickly transformed him into an “establishment” black sheep.
Rubio has run a mostly positive campaign but has been forced to fight back strongly against rivals who have attacked him. The attacks that have hit home relate to his lack of executive experience.
Rubio has demonstrated an impressive knowledge of foreign relations and intelligence issues, given that he serves on those committees in the Senate. Rubio’s web site includes a comprehensive list of 36 issues and the candidate’s position on each.
The GOP establishment seems to be hanging their last hopes on Rubio as the only man left to stop Trump. But given that he has worked well with others while in the Senate, many angry voters distrust him.
As the other Hispanic in the race, Rubio has been unsuccessful in winning the Hispanic vote. He holds out the hope that he would do much better against Trump if everyone else got out of the race. He has natural charisma and a solid following.
Rubio’s biggest hurdle will be his “establishment politician” label. His supporters believe he may be the last, best hope to defeat Trump and rescue the GOP in its present form
Gov. John Kasich was late getting into the race, joining the fray in August. He has struggled ever since to get noticed.
His sales pitch revolves around his experience in helping balance the budget when he was in Congress during the Clinton administration, along with his time as the current governor of Ohio and his 10 years in the private sector. His resumé is impressive, but it has not been selling.
Kasich’s problem is the “compassionate conservative” label he wears proudly. His stump speeches include a lot of focus on those who are hurting in our society: the poor, the mentally ill, the homeless. Conservatives hear that and remember George W. Bush, who spent enthusiastically, even adding another entitlement to the already out-of-control “social safety net,” Medicare Part D. Voters are alarmed at the country’s fiscal mess and distrustful of anyone who may want to add more spending outside of national defense.
Kasich talks about the issues, but his web site provides limited information. It covers nine broad areas, each addressed by a transcript of one of his speeches.
Early in the campaign, Kasich struggled to be heard in debates involving up to 10 candidates. He lashed out at times but found that negativism didn’t work for him. In recent months he has run a more positive campaign and has seen some improvement in the polls. He remains far back in the pack, vying for fourth place with Ben Carson.
Kasich is a centrist, running a traditional campaign at a time when voters want change. His supporters want a centrist Republican who will tweak government but keep things much as they have been under past Republican administrations.
Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign has been a roller coaster ride. He came to the spotlight in 2013 for his now-famous keynote speech at a national prayer breakfast. During that devastatingly effective speech, he described the dangers of political correctness, which is used as a tool by the left for quieting the right. He also detailed how Obamacare had transformed our government from one “of, for and by the people” to a government “over the people.”
Soon after that, a Draft-Carson-for-President campaign ensued. In May, 2015, Carson succumbed to the pressure and announced his candidacy. Dismissed by pundits, he rose in the polls, even leading Trump in national polls last October.
Attempts to discredit him, the details of which later proved unfounded, damaged his standing, however. His real fall came after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino. People began to doubt whether such a soft-spoken man could defend our nation. Many of Carson’s supporters moved on to other candidates with more fire in their rhetoric.
Carson is dismissed by the media as a vanity candidate whose time has come and gone. Yet, those who have heard him speak have found his views to be quite substantive. Carson has no trouble addressing national issues ranging from the economy to national defense to the ongoing financial crisis. His website offers specific plans to address 15 of the most pressing issues facing the country.
Carson’s positions are well thought through and have seldom been challenged. His tax reform proposal was deemed “best” of all of the candidates’ proposals by Steve Forbes. He also has bold plans to totally change the healthcare and the welfare systems and to supercharge the economy.
Carson appears to be the one outsider who is committed to major changes and who provides the details. He has done nothing to suggest he is untrustworthy, nor has he allowed himself to be pulled into the political fray of name-calling and trashing others.
Carson is a serious, substantive candidate who is focused on issues, not politics. But he is fighting the current narrative that “he can’t win.” On the other hand, his supporters believe their candidate has all of the strengths that others promise without the character flaws.
At this point in the Republican primary cycle, most candidates’ supporters seem locked in and don’t want to consider supporting someone else. If that trend continues, Trump will easily win the nomination.