This primary is not even close to what the GOP establishment had envisioned after President Obama’s reelection. At that time, they had begun to plan how their party would retake the White House in 2016, hoping to unite around a strong candidate early in the election so resources and support could be accumulated over a longer period and more time could be dedicated to competing against the Democratic nominee, presumptuously assumed to be Hillary Clinton. Much to the establishment’s chagrin, the Republican primary has instead become a melee of seemingly countless contenders, each competing for attention and striving to set him or herself apart, with political “outsiders” polling the most favorably.
The pervasive notion that the ridiculousness of Trump’s candidacy rules him out from winning the nomination is delusional. For the sake of the GOP’s future, Donald Trump cannot be allowed to win the nomination. Scott Walker’s recent decision to suspend his campaign is a good start. Although the Wisconsin governor had commanded an early lead in Iowa months ago, his campaign events and debate performances were forgettable and underwhelming. In Walker’s concession on Monday, he encouraged other Republican contenders to follow his lead, suggesting that a narrower field of candidates is the only way the current poll-leader, Donald Trump, can be defeated. Walker is right.
If the candidates don’t start thinning out soon, Donald Trump will continue to carry a plurality. His success relies on personality alone, dominating both traditional media and social media with little substance to offer. The epitome of GOP establishment, John Ellis Bush (Jeb Bush is redundant), offers nothing more than a bumbling attempt to expose Trump’s incompetence. According to the polls, the remaining candidates are almost indistinguishable, with the exception of the flavor of the week: once Scott Walker, recently Ben Carson, and now Carly Fiorina. Polls today are definitely not the most significant indicator of likelihood to win the nomination next year; but with that in mind, how exactly are the current candidates to be thinned out? Hopefully, through the debates.
The hosts of the first two GOP debates made an effort to give all candidates a chance at displaying what they have to offer. They have been great…if you’re into that kind of comedy. If you’ve watched to see who might become the next president of the United States, well, then, they have been entirely disappointing and disheartening. For one, the CNN debate last week showed that three hours (five if you watched the junior varsity debate beforehand like I did) was unnecessarily long. It was quite obvious that many of the current candidates have no chance at winning the presidency and are solely vying for attention in order to be considered as a running mate for the eventual nominee (or to increase their publicity and with it their value as a leading voice of conservative politics). Carly Fiorina, who succeeded due to her assertiveness (despite some of those assertions being largely fact-deficient), was the declared winner of last week’s debate by most media outlets. However, although some did credit him with a second-place finish, Marco Rubio proved (as I have long believed) to be the GOP’s best chance to win the general election in 2016.
Rubio didn’t incessantly compete for attention, but instead picked very specific moments to shine. His youth, composure, and aura of intellect convey reasonability and strength at a time when many of the other candidates seem to be panicking. And most of all, Marco Rubio has greater potential for broad appeal than almost any other candidate. His positions are in line with those of JEB!, while his personality provides just enough contrast to be seen as a new face of the Republican Party.
But the likes of Marco Rubio will never get a chance to compete against the Democratic nominee if other non-“outsider” candidates (who I’m sure would much prefer Rubio’s leadership to Trump’s) don’t start recognizing the necessity of their dropping out.
Ten debates remain, the next in less than five weeks. Attention needs to be shifted away from ad hominem attacks and one-liners to a forum in which candidates with political expertise will be able to present themselves as the most credible alternatives to the Democratic nominee. Sure, the former is entertaining, but when the presidency is on the line, maybe we should start looking to the comedians for humor instead of letting the politicians do all the work for them. Instead of crying foul at their exclusion from the next debate’s main stage, many of the remaining candidates need to do what is best for their party: exit the race and unite around, as Scott Walker put it, “a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner.”
Contact Ruairi Alfredo Arrieta-Kenna at ruairi ‘at’ stanford.edu.