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A look ahead: Factions complicate GOP field for 2016

By Paul DaSilva
On April 17, 2014

Jeb Bush, the former two-term governor of Florida, is starting to emerge as the favorite of Republican establishment types after Chris Christie appears to have created for himself much baggage ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The former made national headlines recently after comments he made during an interview, in which he stated that when individuals cross the border to enter the U.S., it is not a felonious act, but an "act of love" and "commitment to your family."
As you can imagine, this was poorly received by conservatives, who are already disconcerted that a moderate like Bush may be getting too cozy with top GOP donors.
Bush went on to clarify, while defending the essence of his comments, at a GOP dinner in Connecticut, where he argued that there is not a dichotomous relationship between the "rule of law and having some sensitivity to the immigrant experience."
It is worth noting that the Associated Press described Bush as having "received loud applause from the crowd" in Connecticut, one comprised almost exclusively of New England Republicans. While just a few days later, at a convention organized by two right-leaning groups -Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United - the audience booed him exuberantly after Donald Trump less than cordially alluded to the comments.
Here you essentially have the two core factions which together comprise the Republican Party. And this will be the dynamic that will shape the primary battle for 2016, and unlike in 2012, when the field was so weak that anyone with any political shrewdness knew Mitt Romney would be the nominee of the party from day one, this election will feature robust competition for the nomination, and will feature strong candidates from a broad swath of the ideological spectrum.
Henry Olsen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that there are not just two, but four principal factions within the Republican Party: the centrists, akin to someone like Jon Huntsman, the moderately conservative such as Romney, the social conservatives, embodied by someone like Mike Huckabee, and the less concerned with social issues conservatives like Newt Gingrich. I would add a fifth bloc, namely the libertarians, especially considering the level of ebullience that the leading libertarian prospective candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) inspires among many in the base.
It will be the onerous task of the primary candidates to appeal to as many of these groups as possible, all the while ensuring that they position themselves for a general election. This should not be construed to mean, however, that they should pander to the different groups they're targeting, playing to the hard right to win in the primaries, and then weakening the essence of their positions to appeal to national independents; the inevitable result of such an approach would be reminiscent to that of Romney's: a perception among the public that the candidate lacks conviction, and will say nearly anything to win.
Finding a candidate who exemplifies such criteria is the challenge of any party during a primary season. And as I said, Republicans will have a deep bench from which to choose. This is why voters must be prudent when contemplating who they will cast a vote for. It will be undoubtedly the case that anyone who calls themselves a conservative or libertarian will find someone who most closely resembles their political beliefs; the challenge, and I think the most pressing element for when people go to vote, is that they select someone able to (a) go toe-to-toe with Hillary in a debate; and (b) has a plausible chance of winning the general election.
This, especially coming from someone like myself is a point not to be misconstrued: I'm not arguing that primary voters should pick the most moderate candidate. The inefficacy of this approach has been obvious: a moderate got crushed in 2008, and a moderate lost every swing state in 2012, save for one. Nominating moderates should not deemed to be most salient; instead, Republicans should choose someone who has the courage of their convictions, is ideologically sound, but is simultaneously able to meet the clichéd rubric of any presidential candidate: is articulate and "presidential."
Considering the myriad prospective candidates-Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), representing the ardent conservatives, the libertarian Sen. Paul, Mike Huckabee, appealing the social conservative caucus, and then a host of more secular type, but still very conservative possibilities, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana-there will be many good candidates to choose from.
Many of these, like Walker, Rubio and Jindal are young fresh faces. Why must Karl Rove types spoil the fun so quickly by supporting an old, boring moderate who's been out of office for nearly a decade?  


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