POWER RANKINGS 2016
23 Weeks out of the Iowa Caucus
63 Weeks out of Election Day 2016
There are currently 17 national GOP candidates declared.
Disclaimer: Matt McDaniel, the author of this piece is a candidate for the First District City Council Seat in Baltimore City. While this rankings list does not touch or concern Mr. McDaniel’s race, in the interest of disclosure, Mr. McDaniel has made no endorsements of any candidates and has received no money or funding from any of the candidates on this list. His campaign website can be found here.
First Class Candidates, GOP
Donald Trump: Donald Trump sits squarely atop of the Republican field. Trump has defied almost any political pundit’s characterization and looks to be immune to the effects of political gravity. While Trump’s negatives among Democrats remain high, the fact is that polls are beginning to show that Trump has been able to build a diverse coalition of supporters across the Republican base. Right now, pollsters and pundits are having a difficult time quantifying exactly who a “Donald Trump Supporter” actually is. In a sense, this augurs well for Mr. Trump’s political future. Trump, not one to rest on his laurels, has embraced the media attention (nearly 10x any of his GOP rivals), and has gone on the offensive. Like him or not, Mr. Trump is an excellent showman and has done a good job of coloring the narrative about his opponents.
Mr. Trump has also forced his GOP opponents to tack hard to the right in order to get media attention. In what are, very likely, strategic miscalculations on the part of who a “Trump Supporter” is, other candidates have tried to rush towards hard line immigration proposals. However, where Trump can make these proposals seem “reasonable” from an economic and crime-fighting perspective, other campaigns have approached the issue from a jingoistic, nativist stance. This just goes to prove that Mr. Trump is shaping the direction of America’s political discourse.
Trump has the upper hand in the race against Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio at this point. However, it remains to be seen how the Trump campaign will deal with a falling Jeb and a rising Kasich. Moreover, though Trump is polling between 25-30%, that still leaves 70-75% of voters who are split among other candidates. Once the field begins to narrow, the conventional logic is that Trump will be running even with the conservative in the race and slightly behind any establishment candidate. However, as we have learned so far in the “Summer of Trump,” “Teflon Don” seems immune to the predictions that would otherwise govern the way elections unfold.
Current Ranking: 1st
Political Stock: PRIVATE
Second Class Candidates, GOP
John Kasich: There may be some disagreements with placing Governor Kasich this high on the list. However, it’s becoming clearer from people in the know that there is a considerable amount of hesitation over the Jeb Bush campaign. People are seeing that Jeb cannot stand up to Donald Trump and Jeb’s image is effectively being painted by Trump as being weak and pandering. Even the most stalwart Jeb supporters are no longer writing off Trump’s criticism. Trump has the bully pulpit and the 24-hour media: he can define his opponents. As Jeb falls, the establishment wing of the Party is looking to get someone into the spotlight who can be effective at uniting the Party and standing up to Trump. Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, and former member of the House of Representatives, has the political clout to start this fight. Expect that as Jeb’s poll numbers drop below 10% that Kasich’s will being to rise. The most interesting numbers will be the slowing of money to Bush and the acceleration of funds to Kasich.
Kasich’s rise is not a foregone conclusion. However, if you are making bets on who the Party insiders are starting to favor, Kasich looks like he has the best odds at getting you a good return on your money.
Current Rating: 2nd
Political Stock: STRONG BUY
Marco Rubio: The talk of a Kasich-Rubio ticket being the strongest way to win in 2016 isn’t just idle speculation. If Kasich can bring in Ohio and Rubio, Florida, the electoral math for Democrats would look very difficult. As we have noted before, Rubio and Bush are natural enemies in the context of the race for the White House. The two Floridians are mutually-exclusive on the ticket. As it has become clear during the rise of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush’s brand is beginning to diminish. The FoxNews debate showed that Rubio had effective poise and is a solid politician. Some digs from Trump aside, Rubio has generally stayed out of view on the Trump radar.
Remember that Rubio is not standing for re-election to the Senate. Consequently, it stands to reason that Rubio will remain in the race as long as it is financially possible. A likely campaign strategy would be to focus on beating a weakened Bush in Florida. The numbers at this point do not hold that Rubio can beat Bush in Florida (actually, they also said that it would have been unlikely for Rubio to win reelection to the Senate). However, Donald Trump is doing an excellent job tarnishing the Bush brand. While the Florida primary is still months away, expenditures now by the Rubio campaign would be returned in a major way if he was able to beat Bush in Florida. Note that the Florida primary is on the first day of the “winner take all” phase of the Primary Cycle.
Current Ranking: Up 2 to 3rd
Political Stock: BUY
Jeb Bush: Jeb Bush is not having a good couple of weeks. His presumptive frontrunner status is fading and he will soon need to dip into that $100M+ account that he thought he was going to be able to save until later in the campaign. Much of this comes from the reality that Jeb Bush has not been able to define himself. Coming to the race with the intrinsic baggage of “Bush,” the former Florida Governor dithered while he was in the spotlight. He was the presumptive nominee, so there was no reason to engage with his image. This logic might seem faulty from today’s standpoint, but it made sense for Bush at the time. There was no reason to push his softer stance on immigration or his extremely lukewarm education policy early in the primary cycle. Bush knew that he had over $100M to deal with image issues when he needed to later in the campaign.
Enter Donald Trump. The establishment operatives were caught resting, or arrogantly naive. Trump, without spending a dollar, garnered all of the media attention through sheer force of personality (and encouraging just the right amount of outrage among “social justice warriors” to get wall-to-wall coverage). Even with this foothold, Bush and his people discounted Trump. It was reasonable to do so under the circumstances. All of the political media agreed. But Trump continued to impress voters, and, more importantly, Trump did great things for ratings. Thus, the 24-hour media (both liberal and conservative), showed its true colors: they did not care about the issues, they cared about the ratings. Even to today, the media is clamoring to get everything Trump. Certainly they would love to see a Trump implosion, but, they will take Trump as he is: a consistent stream of media revenue.
As you can see, even when Trump is not the story (this is the explanation of Jeb’s ranking, after all!), he dominates. Using this, in some senses literal, bully pulpit, Trump has been extremely effective at defining his opponents. Certainly people see this as bullying and aggressive. However, even if the Donald were to disappear tomorrow, his criticisms of Bush’s credentials and positions have struck deeply into the former Governor’s support. In a sense, even if Trump will not be the nominee, he has taken decisive steps to ensure that Bush will also fail.
This is not meant to be a postmortem of the Jeb Bush campaign or to serve as its obituary. Rather, Bush must take steps now to retool his campaign, start spending money, and go on an offensive without coming off as the condescending elitist. He should be aware that this is certainly a trap by Trump. Trump understands that outrage by Jeb will also tarnish Jeb’s image. In one sense, without some very savvy navigating, Jeb is in for a very rocky campaign.
Current Rating: 4th
Political Stock: SELL
Ted Cruz: As we have mentioned before, Ted Cruz is playing a dangerous game: refusing to attack Donald Trump and hanging on to the real estate mogul’s coattails as he rides a wave of popular sentiment. This, by definition, is not a winning strategy. Cruz’s prediction, though, is that something will cause attrition from the Trump campaign. In aligning himself as an ally of Trump, Cruz will look like the best life boat for Trump supporters who are looking for an outsider with a message.
The problem with Cruz is similar to the problem faced by opponents of Trump: misunderstanding Trump’s base. On the one hand, Trump appeals to conservatives who are fed up with government. However, as most of the polling suggests, Trump enjoys a diverse base of support made up of various Republican interests. To that end, Cruz is actually battling for supporters with the rising Dr. Ben Carson and the falling Scott Walker. Cruz’s master stroke would come if Trump falls and Trump’s supporters look to a Trump-friendly alternative while, at the same time, Dr. Carson diminishes and his supporters flock to social conservative firebrand, Cruz.
Current Rating: Up 1 to 5th
Political Stock: HOLD (if you are a gambler)
Third Class Candidates, GOP
Scott Walker: Scott Walker drops into the Third Class this week as a function of momentum rather than as a result of polling. In the last few days, Walker has undertaken to embrace several “Donald Trump Issues” like attacking birthright citizenship and advocating for a wall to be built between the United States and Mexico. While these issues are hotly contested among some in the Republican base, it is baffling why a candidate like Walker, who should be at or near the top of the leaderboard, is deciding to muddy his political waters by trying to be irrational to get airtime. Let’s be clear, the issues being raised by Trump merit some discussion, however, they are particular to Trump. To any other Republican candidate, they are poison. The reason for this is because it draws the candidate into the “Trump Orbit.”
The “Trump Orbit” is good for Donald Trump, as we note from his polling. However, it is not good for the candidates that are drawn in. The first inkling of this phenomenon was Lindsey Graham. Graham and Trump got into a spat and it raised Graham’s prominence. The problem for Graham? Two weeks after the barb-trading, Graham is roundly considered to be a nobody in the race. Jeb Bush has dived into the “Trump Orbit” and is being hammered in the polls. The converse relationship proves the rule: John Kasich, Ted Cruz, and Dr. Ben Carson have generally stayed outside of discussing Trump-based ideas in a national forum. Each has seen his status rise.
Walker’s staff cannot be so naive to think that Scott Walker, widely lauded as the conservative frontrunner, should have to take a position that meshes with Donald Trump’s. The appropriate answer to any of those questions needs to be Scott Walker’s own opinions and ideas. This embracing of Trump’s ideas reinforces the early perceptions of Walker that he is light on substance. This is not the message Walker wants to be sending at such a crucial time.
Current Rating: Down 3 to 6th
Political Stock: BUY
Dr. Ben Carson: Dr. Carson is in an interesting position. In fact, his polling numbers are the least understandable. While he is certainly a brilliant man (world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeons usually are), his politics are difficult to follow at best. Carson has tried and failed several times to give cogent responses on foreign policy topics. In an election that will come at a time of tremendous trial across the world for America’s interest and image, Carson has yet to show his credentials in this field. Moreover, in the past few weeks, Carson has been criticized for medical research on aborted fetuses. This is generally a non-issue to a large number of Americans, but it is incongruous with the views of a subset of the hard-line conservative base that supports Carson.
The larger issue with Dr. Carson’s campaign, thusfar, has been his inability to effectively control his message. Whether it was several offensive comments about gays and lesbians, or about use of military drones on the border, Carson has had to issue too many “corrections” for comfort.
Current Ranking: 7th
Political Stock: HOLD
Rand Paul: Rand Paul had a big win this week when the Kentucky GOP voted, overwhelmingly, to transition the Kentucky primary into a caucus. Through back room deals and an endorsement by Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul will be able to (at least for a longer time), stand for both President and Senator on the Kentucky ballot. The vote, which Paul attended personally, was not as close as analysts were predicting. The price tag on the change is over $200,000 up front from Paul with the promise of more later.
The reason why Paul is languishing in the Third Class of candidates stems from his poor fundraising numbers and his seeming inability to break any new ground in the press. In traveling to Alaska this week, Paul continues to leave race-watchers scratching their heads in disbelief. While the good folks of Alaska’s votes certainly count, their relative power in deciding the outcome of the GOP nomination fight is remote. A late-game strategy seems foolish for Paul whose fundraising numbers may barely sputter him into Iowa in February. If he is playing the “firestop” game, his focus should be in Nevada and Super Tuesday’s Colorado, Tennessee and (possibly) Virginia.
Current Ranking: 8th
Political Stock: SELL
Carly Fiorina: There is a growing possibility that Carly Fiorina will take the place of Governor Christie at the CNN debate next month. Fiorina’s growing popularity has come after a solid debate performance in the GOP undercard debate hosted by FoxNews. The most interesting exchange of the night, if Fiorina gets on stage at the main event with CNN, will likely be any back and forth with Donald Trump. Trump, whose statements about women have been, less-than-politically-correct, drew scorn from FoxNews host Megyn Kelley. However, when the dust settled, it was Trump who was standing after the debate and Kelley who took almost two weeks off. It will be interesting to see the extent to which Trump’s fire holds up when addressing another candidate for President. However, there are still a few weeks between now and the CNN debate, so it remains unclear if Fiorina will get her time to shine.
Current Ranking: 9th
Political Stock: BUY
Fourth Class Candidates, GOP
Chris Christie: Governor Christie’s run for the White House in 2016 has been declared dead many times (even well-before his entry). While the numbers seem to carry that thought, it will be interesting to see if the New Jersey Governor’s sheer force of will can carry on through. The big test for Christie is how to be the biggest personality in the room when you have to share the stage with the likes of Donald Trump.
Current Ranking: Down 2 to 10th
Political Stock: HOLD
Lindsey Graham: There has been very little news out of Senator Graham’s campaign this week. The only real press Graham is getting is that he trails made-up candidates in the polls. It’s unlikely that the South Carolina Senator can fundraise on that message. As we have pointed out before, if foreign policy issues raise their head, Graham’s prominence will rise among the hawks in the Republican base. Until then, his campaign will stay in its hibernation.
Current Ranking: 11th
Political Stock: STRONG SELL
Mike Huckabee: Even folks who agree with Mike Huckabee on social issues are hoping that he stops making them the center of his campaign. The formerly-jovial Arkansas Governor has taken the role of the angry culture warrior and has alienated large parts of the American public with comments about the Iran deal being analogized to the Holocaust, jokes about transgendered people, strictly anti-gay messages, and now stating that even a ten-year-old girl should carry a baby to term. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the Iran deal, the cultural shift on gays and lesbians, or the ethics of abortion, Mike Huckabee has been pushing the rhetoric on these issues into the realm of the absurd. It’s impossible to imagine that a man like Huckabee, who has run for President before, doesn’t understand that he has changed his personality in order to fit this run. Perhaps Governor Huckabee feels that his positions will help to change America’s soul around, but it appears that, day after day, he only makes himself more irrelevant.
Current Ranking: 12th
Political Stock: SELL
Fifth Class Candidates, GOP
Bobby Jindal: Bobby Jindal is trying hard to get the “Trump Bump” by repeatedly criticizing the businessman. To this point, Trump hasn’t decided the Louisiana Governor is worth his time. It’s unclear where Jindal’s funding is coming from and how long he will be able to stay in the race.
Current Ranking: 13th
Political Stock: STRONG SELL- DELIST WARNING
George Pataki: Governor Pataki’s campaign, by all accounts, is circling the drain. Attempts to criticize Donald Trump to gain some mention in the national press has been met with silence. If there is a funding source for Pataki, perhaps he can stick it out for a few more chances at debates, but, otherwise, expect a dropout.
Current Ranking: 14th
**Political Stock: STRONG SELL- DELIST WARNING
Rick Perry: Rick Perry’s campaign has avoided falling apart entirely this week by the skin of its teeth. Two weeks ago, Perry announced that he was no longer going to be paying members of his campaign staff. While he has resumed paying staffers this week, his director in Iowa left the team. This is a good indication of things not going well for the former Texas Governor. In fact, Perry’s situation has not improved much since that point. Though he used his insolvency as a push to get some much-needed cash, things still look dire for Perry’s future prospects. He will likely need to have the best debate performance of any candidate at the CNN debate on September 16.
Current Ranking: 15th
Political Stock: PINK SLIPS/OTC- DELIST WARNING
Rick Santorum: Rick Santorum is running for President. While Mike Huckabee’s relatively strong poll numbers forced me to raise him from the oblivion of delisting, Santorum’s do not. Santorum’s candidacy and his political positions are well-outside of the American mainstream.
Current Ranking: DELISTED
**Political Stock: JUNK
Mike Pence: Mike Pence was delisted weeks ago but he remains on the list as a lesson to others. His drop from fourth place in the rankings to the dustbin reflect poor politics and even poorer message control. While he was successful at raising his national profile, Pence both angered large numbers of moderates and opinion-shapers. However, this could still work for him if he had made himself a counter-cultural conservative avenger. Rather than embrace that image, he folded his tent, gave in to the wind of public disfavor and changed his mind. Thus, his brand was tainted because he looks both like an anti-progress hater and like he has no spine on issues of culture. There is a chance that Pence can rehabilitate his image and run in 2020. As of now, he will have no business running for the presidency in 2016.
Current Ranking: DELISTED
Political Stock: JUNK
Unranked Speculative Candidates
Sarah Palin, Bob Ehrlich, John Bolton, Rob Portman, Asa Hutchinson, Nikki Haley
If any of these potential candidates make moves towards running, they will get a ranking.