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In the GOP Primary, Everyone’s a Conservative


In the cynical media we call it “checking the box.”

Repeal Obamacare? Check.

Smaller, more efficient government? Check.

Pro-life? Check.

If you attend just about any speech by someone seeking the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination, you’re going to hear most if not all three of these boxes being consistently checked off.

Last month, I moderated the first joint candidate forum of the primary cycle, with four of the GOP presidential challengers sharing a stage and answering the same questions. Their answers were substantively the same, which did not go unnoticed by the audience. It certainly makes vetting the candidates in a crowded field more difficult.

However, each of the candidates is sounding at least one major theme to differentiate themselves from the competition.

And it’s here that conservatives may find the answers they seek about each Republican pursuing the presidency. How a candidate chooses to stand apart from their peers reveals quite a bit about how they really think, who they’re listening to, and what they believe the voters want to hear.

Let’s look at how 10 of the potential GOP standard-bearers are choosing to set themselves apart, and then I’ll draw a conclusion about what that may mean.

Jeb Bush: The Progressive

Unlike his establishment predecessors, Jeb has decided to pander to no one except illegal aliens. He’s openly against traditional marriage. Openly for mainstreaming immorality within the Republican Party.

Openly against the rule of law. Openly for all-out amnesty. Openly against parental rights and local control in education. Openly for Common Core. And openly in favor of raising taxes.

Conclusion: Jeb intends to use his candidacy as the means by which to erase every last vestige of conservative movement from the Republican Party.

Ben Carson: The Healer

He originally made a name for himself politically by using his soothing bedside manner to say provocative things others were afraid to declare. But as a presidential candidate Carson has cast himself as a healer rather than a revolutionary.

Conclusion: Carson has decided the best way to capitalize on his popularity is to be seen as more of a life coach than a paradigm-changer. He’s banking on being able to get the multitude, which have lost hope in the system, to re-engage conventional politics in order to back him as an inspirational figure. Check out Carson’s CR Presidential Profile, here.

Ted Cruz: The Change Agent

Cruz also wants to galvanize the mounting collective frustration with the political class in both parties, except he really does want voters to see his candidacy as the means by which the paradigm gets changed. No mainstream presidential candidate in recent memory has been so comfortable being mutually despised by the elites on both sides, as well as by the ideologues masquerading as pundits/reporters in the media.

Conclusion: Cruz 2016 is not just a presidential campaign, but also a reckoning. For years conservatives have said they longed for a candidate to buck all the conventional wisdom. Cruz is that person, so now we’ll find out if they really meant it. Check out Cruz’s CR Presidential Profile, here.

Carly Fiorina: The Attack Dog

One way you overcome a flimsy political resume is to make a name for yourself by effectively deconstructing the other side’s proxy. Fiorina allowing herself to be typecast as the yin to Hillary Clinton’s yang has been a master-stroke. Republicans have all but forgotten her disappointing defeat at the hands of Barbara Boxer in the 2010 California U.S. Senate race, where she lost by 10 points in a strong year for Republicans.

Conclusion: Fiorina has not been seriously vetted on the issues, but has correctly calculated that conservatives are tired of passive-aggressive politicians. So she’s positioned herself as the “what if Sarah Palin was a Fortune 500 CEO?” candidate. Check out Fiorina’s CR Presidential Profile, here.

Mike Huckabee: The Populist

Despite all the success he’s enjoyed since his underdog 2008 run, Huckabee wants to make it plain he hasn’t lost his homespun edge. Going so far as to publicly visit his modest childhood home in Arkansas prior to announcing his candidacy. That populism extends to public policy as well, where Huckabee is simultaneously advocating for continuing the welfare state while also calling for the elimination of the very agency – the IRS – that regulates it.

Conclusion: Huckabee believes the audience to his popular Fox News television show represents a majority of the primary electorate, and to win them over he needs to be the William Jennings Bryan of the GOP. Check out Huckabee’s CR Presidential Profile, here.

Bobby Jindal: The Crusader

No candidate has used a single policy issue to distinguish himself like Governor Jindal has with religious freedom. While it’s not the only topic he’s boldly spoken out on, it has become his calling card. The rest of the candidates have chosen to fashion a persona that sets them apart, but Jindal has selected an issue.

Conclusion: He’s not the most charismatic candidate in the race, so Jindal has decided to compensate for that by taking the lead on arguably the most important issue in early states like Iowa and South Carolina.

Rand Paul: The Pragmatist

After using the coattails of his father’s libertarian revolution to establish himself, Rand has all but abandoned those roots to re-brand himself as a non-ideological candidate. For example, gone is his father’s non-interventionist foreign policy and in its place is situational aggression. Rand recently supported a pro-ethanol bill with Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, something his daddy wouldn’t have been caught dead doing. He’s also MIA on many of the most-divisive issues in the GOP primary – amnesty, religious freedom, repealing Obamacare – and frequently skips major events on the ground in early primary states attended by the rest of the field.

Conclusion: Rand wants the other factions within the party to know he’s “open for business” when it comes to coalition-building, and that he’s not as cemented in libertarian principle as his father. Check out Paul’s CR Presidential Profile, here.

Marco Rubio: The Symbol

His unfortunate support for amnesty aside, Rubio is ideologically one of the more conservative candidates in the race. Yet the way he’s packaged – young, Hispanic, and hopeful – projects a likeable image that disarms even his detractors.

Conclusion: Rubio is counting on there being a lot of GOP primary voters caught somewhere between Jeb and Cruz, who have also forgiven/forgotten his support for the “gang of eight” amnesty. Check out Rubio’s CR Presidential Profile, here.

Rick Santorum: The Constant

Though the GOP is known for traditionally nominating the next white guy in line, the 2012 runner-up is an afterthought. Most GOP primary voters seem eager to turn the page to a new generation, but Santorum’s history shows he’s usually at his best when he’s counted out.

Conclusion: Santorum believes that once conservatives sample the new sports cars on the lot, we’ll come to our senses and choose the safe and reliable mini-van for the family instead.

Scott Walker: The Solution

He doesn’t have a college degree, but he was an Eagle Scout. He’s not the most eloquent, but he’s willing to (literally) roll up his sleeves and get to work for the American people. Others are talking about doing stuff Walker has already done.

Conclusion: He doesn’t think GOP voters want an existential debate about the future of the party, but are simply looking for someone with a history of winning elections with common sense solutions.


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