There are six candidates in the Republican primary who deserve to be there for various reasons.
Donald Trump, because he’s a giant political kaiju, tearing through Tokyo with abandon. While ultimately vulnerable, until he’s brought down, he’s tremendously powerful.
Jeb Bush, because love him or hate him, he’s still got fat stacks and a big network.
Marco Rubio, because he’s the greatest natural politician in the field, and if you think calling him “the Republican Obama” is an effective insult, you should go work in retail, not politics.
Ben Carson, because he’s the superego of the GOP to Trump’s id, and while his “campaign” isn’t much to look at, he’s a safe harbor for a lot of GOP voters right now who are sick of D.C. but can’t go the full Trump. (And you never go full Trump.)
Ted Cruz, because he’s got resources, and speaks the language of the intense conservative demo Trump hits, with slightly less cray.
Carly Fiorina, because she’s thrives in the spotlight, she’s still the most compelling voice against Hillary’s record, and her froideur is great TV.
Six would be a big enough field. Those six have to keep earning their place, but there are also nine other people on the debate stage tonight who don’t deserve to be there and shouldn’t be there.
I know in the United States of Ambition we’re supposed to wait for the outside play, the one-off political moment, the single performance that reshapes the field… but let’s be honest. The landscape isn’t going to alter in the next 90 days enough to bring the people on the list below into the top tier. Hell, even a couple in the top bracket are nervous, so the guys below should know nothing awaits them but a slow, quiet political death, and campaign debts.
I know… I’m asking them to sacrifice their political dreams and ambitions, but for what? Well, first off they’re in politics for the usual reasons; they want to help people to… oh, who am I kidding? They’re ambitious, a little narcissistic (OK, a lot narcissistic), and they all think they’re the one guy in a country of 360 million people who should sit behind the Resolute Desk. But they’re not going to.
So why not get out while the getting is good? Why not leave before you deal with a raft of “dead campaign” stories that impinge on their future political or business ventures? Do it right, and they can travel as a surrogate for the nominee, and maybe land a sweet Cabinet post in the process.
Here’s who should leave the race sooner than later, for the good of the order.
Chris Christie. Who warned you almost two years ago that Christie was doomed from the start? Me, that’s who. He can’t make an economic case for his leadership in New Jersey, can’t make an ideological case for conservatives, and can’t get out of the low single digits. Christie is a Trump-type guy, but you can’t cross the streams of those two egos. His team is largely made up of moderate guys, so he’ll try for an alliance with Bush. If he’s really smart, he’ll make a play for Cruz or Rubio, and maybe cut a deal to become Attorney General.
Bobby Jindal. I really like Bobby Jindal. He’s sharp as hell, a strong conservative, and a guy I’d want in a senior role in any Cabinet, but this was always a splash-and-dash name-ID building exercise. Want a guy who can dismantle Obamacare and love every second of the nerd-out it takes to do it? Jindal’s your guy. I’d advise him to make nice with Rubio, and move forward. Young smart guys, unite!
Jim Gilmore. Must we? I vaguely recall he wasn’t Virginia’s worst governor, but the rationale for his candidacy escapes, well, everyone. I’m pretty certain Jim Gilmore was made to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce, so pick anyone.
Lindsey Graham. Running for SECDEF is hard. He’s been the one hawk in this race with a singular focus on defense and national security to the exclusion of almost anything else. Polling in fifth in his home state makes this exercise pointless. He’ll stay in until South Carolina, but he shouldn’t. If he’s smart, he’ll look at Rubio or Cruz. He’ll be a valuable surrogate when the time is right.
Mike Huckabee. Even as a Southerner, there’s only so much corn-pone shucking and jiving about mama-and-gravy talk I can take. Ben Carson drank Huckabee’s milkshake in Iowa, the one state Huck needed to stay in the fight. Huckabee is a gifted earned media guy, but this race only has room for one scenery-chewing, uber-populist, big-government Republican, and Trump is sucking up all that oxygen. He should either endorse Carson for the sake of his brand, or Trump for a longer political play.
John Kasich. As noted previously, I understand the Ohio argument, but this campaign is going nowhere in the fastest way. Kasich does two fundamentals in presidential politics wrong; he talks, and he keeps talking. On Obamacare, and a host of other 1990s-inflected Big Government Republican things, Kasich seems like he was designed in a lab to piss off modern GOP primary voters. I’d tell him to endorse Bush, because he will in the end anyway.
George Pataki. There is no rational argument for a Pataki candidacy. None. We tried electing a liberal-moderate-turned-conservative Republican governor from the Northeast once before, and Mitt Romney, for all his failings as a candidate, was 1,000 times stronger as a presidential prospect than Pataki. George isn’t a bad man; he’s just not the right man. Pataki’s support is, well, thin, so he should go with Bush for his comfort, and theirs.
Rand Paul. This one stings a little to write, because as much as he’s kind of a weird dude, I like Rand Paul. I like his iconoclastic side, and his hipster doofus affect. He’s been ahead of the curve on race relations and criminal justice reform for a long time, and he deserved a better year than he had. Get out quick, get back to Kentucky, and turn the Senate campaign around. Congress is a better place with him than without. Also, a friend like Rubio in the Oval Office could make life good.
Rick Santorum. Santorum is a guy with a narrow lane of appeal and advocacy, and his fundraising, political organization, and chances are all bottomed out near zero. Time to go, Rick. Make friends with Carson, or Cruz. They’re natural fits, and if all goes well, he might be the American Ambassador to the Holy See.
The next debate is coming in fast, and it will winnow this field whether these folks like it or not. The smart ones will make a decision about their future as soon as the lights go down.