This is based on conversations with a few professionals in the conservative circles and my own observations. This is in no way a final prediction, just a look at the present field.
The landscape for 2016 is an incredibly interesting one. 2014 certainly has the appearance of, at the very least, modest gains for Republicans. Assuming that things begin to trend toward the GOP (sixth year midterms are rarely good times for the party in power, and the number of issues building up with the current administration is taking its toll on polling), that means the next big battle for the Democrats will be regaining the popularity necessary to keep the White House in 2016.
The pendulum of political power is shifting back and forth at a more frequent rate now, and that means that both parties will have to find the ideal candidate to run a powerful political machine capable of winning the country over. As of right now, the assumption is that Hillary Clinton will take the Democratic nomination (Biden is a weak candidate for the spot and the only other person being urged is Elizabeth Warren, though she has shut down any rumors of her running). Clinton’s certainly got a powerful political machine – she is a Clinton and a Rodham, and Priorities USA has decided to sit out of the 2014 elections (another sign of problems for Democrats this year) and focus solely on supporting her.
The GOP field, however, is much more open. Many more potential candidates have a shot at earning the GOP nomination, but as time goes on, one thing is certain: it’s still anyone’s game.
I will, however, go on record as saying I do not imagine many U.S. Senators will run for the spot and those that do will not win it. The current trend in the part is toward folks who have executive experience. Especially given Barack Obama, who served less than a term as Senator and had no real experience before that, there will likely be a certain hesitation, especially among Republicans, to do that again.
Chris Christie, since Romney’s loss, has been eyed as the shoe-in. Harsh on his opponents and charismatic, Christie had everything folks were looking for. That is, until Bridge-gate. The scandal that rocked his administration has virtually knocked him out of the standings (for now) and he is going to have to do a lot to rebuild credibility. His story is one that we can all learn – events change things.
In my home state, Bobby Jindal is constantly being watched as someone who will run for a higher federal office. Despite a disastrous State of the Union response several years back, he has bounced back into a position of favoritism among the conservative base (outside the state – within the state, conservative commentators really dislike him). I have hesitations about him from a strategic standpoint, though, given his legislative accomplishments are marred by one thing or another (education overhaul, in particular, is locked up in court battles). His last major legislative fight, to get rid of the state income tax, failed before it even went before the state legislature.
Scott Walker is another governor being talked about, and he could certainly make an easy transition into the candidacy. His biggest accomplishment is taking on unions and surviving their recall efforts. He has no scandals or missteps to his name, and he is certainly one who has big victories tied to him.
Nikki Haley of South Carolina is one being called upon to run, as is Mike Pence of Indiana. While both great folks, neither really seems interested in running, and I can’t see them leaving their posts for the job.
John Kasich of Ohio, meanwhile, considers himself in tune with God, given his belief that God wanted him to expand Medicaid in his state, despite what the people of the state really wanted. I’ve heard from some folks he’s considering a run, thinking really highly of himself. He’s got as much of a shot, however, as Chris Christie.
The final one is Jeb Bush, who right now is polling ahead of most others, including Mitt Romeny, who I am very sure isn’t going to run. Bush, however, could run for it, but he is so out of touch with the conservative base that I can’t see him getting as far as Romney did. Though, if it’s any consolation to the Bush clan, the media immediately jumped on him as a great guy following Christie’s downfall.
As far as non-governors go, Rand Paul is the Senator we know will want to run. I believe he’ll be as successful as his dad, but his main problem is that he, like Barack Obama, tries too hard to appeal to individual groups. He’ll woo the libertarians, then suck up the establishment, then speak with great compassion about conservatives to conservatives. He is far too ambitious and not ready for it. He’s had big Senate victories, but he’s not really in a position to be a solid executive, and I think the (rational) voters will recognize that.
Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are guys that everyone in the conservative base wants to run, but like Haley and Pence, I think they would both realize they have a lot more to accomplish in the Senate (Full Disclosure: I like them too much where they are to ever call for them to run for president).
Marco Rubio is the only other Senator I think capable of deciding to run, but conservatives will be wary at best of him after the Gang of Eight and subsequent push for immigration reform.
Now, as far as who is the most likely to win 2016? I’ve been thinking that Scott Walker could appeal enough to all Republicans. That anti-union streak, in particular, has him hitting across the Republican spectrum in a good way. Unlike other issues that could divide conservatives and establishment, a general dislike of unions keeps them united on at least one issue (usually).
The other one, and this is based on a friend’s analysis, and one I can understand, is the idea of Bobby Jindal possibly winning the nomination. The basis of this theory is Jindal running on a campaign of school choice. U.S. education is a constant subject of debate, and this particular issue is one that resounds with conservatives enough that they could rally around him pretty quickly. A big field makes that harder, but it’s very possible.
I’m in no way advocating one person over the other. We’ve got two years before we really get into the battle, but if the current situations don’t change very much, then this is the battlefield we’re looking at. I am, however, going to stand by the idea that it will be a governor/former governor who gets the nomination for the GOP candidacy, however.