An Embarrassment (of Riches): Your Guide To the Republican Presidential Primary

The field of Republican candidates is absolutely huge—17 people! It would seem the Republicans have an embarrassment of riches, but despite so many candidates, there is a stunning lack of ideological diversity. With a couple of minor exceptions (e.g., Rand Paul being against the Patriot Act; John Kasich sort of supporting gay marriage), the candidates are virtually identical on every issue (pro-gun; anti-Iran deal; anti-Obamacare without alternative plan; anti-abortion; pro-flat tax; anti-union; pro-Keystone; etc.). Gone are the days when Republican nominees had substantive differences such as whether Trickle Down Economics was good policy (as advocated by Ronald Regan) or “voodoo economics” as George H.W. Bush called it. To the extent a person has strong feelings about one Republican candidate over another, those feelings necessarily have to be based on something other than substance.

Ranking the Republican candidates, therefore, from best to worst—or more accurately, least worst to most worst—is extremely difficult. If a Republican wins the White House, it will make very little difference which one of these 17 people actually wins. The policies and rhetoric coming out of the White House will be virtually identical. Having said that, here is my list* of Republican presidential candidates from “not good” to “terrifying:”

  1. Donald Trump – Mr. Trump is without question a tremendous racist and has little understanding of the complex world in which he lives. And despite being fairly intelligent, he seems incredibly lazy and unwilling to do the work of learning up on all of the many issues the presidency will require anyone sitting there to deal with.

Trump is an opportunist who will exploit every advantage to exalt himself at the expense of the rest of the world. The job of president will surely eat him alive much the way the job of California governor ate up Arnold Schwarzenneger. These celebrities (and their constituents) learn the hard way that governing is a lot harder than throwing bombs from the sidelines.

Despite all of these shortcomings, I still pick Mr. Trump as my first choice on the GOP side because he is not beholden to the intellectually bankrupt dogma that now runs the Republican Party. Trump may actually do something positive accidentally. For instance, Trump agrees we should tax billionaire hedge fund managers at a higher rate, and that companies should not be able to create tax shelters to avoid taxes. No other Republican is talking like that. I have no hope that anyone else on this list will do anything positive for our nation or world.

  1. John Kasich – Governor Kasich is the only candidate that seems even remotely like a normal human being. In his younger days when he guest-hosted “The O’Reilly Factor” and was a conservative talk-radio host, he was certainly a fire-breathing conservative, but old age seems to have tempered him…a bit. Governor Kasich is without question a very conservative politician, but he is not crazy, and he possesses some degree of humility. Governor Kasich allowed Medicaid expansion in his state (which most Republican governors blocked). He attempted to strip unions of their collective-bargaining power, but when the state of Ohio pushed back hard, he publicly acknowledged the defeat and moved on. The governor also will publicly state the need to do something for the poorest among us. This makes the governor #2 on my list of shame, and also the most formidable candidate against the eventual Democratic nominee.
  1. Rand Paul – Senator Paul was much more palatable before he began running for president, and flip-flopped on a ton of key issues so he could win a Republican presidential primary. His domestic policies are downright frightening, but he at least has adopted some of his father’s sensible foreign policies—i.e., he agrees we should not be the world’s policeman (which he rightfully has said is essentially a subsidy to the entire world which allows them to invest in such things as education and healthcare while we spend too much of our money on rockets and bombs). Senator Paul also does not believe we should be bankrupting the treasury to maintain over 200 overseas military bases. American’s individual right to privacy is also important to Senator Paul (as I mentioned above he opposes the so-called Patriot Act). In the grand scheme of things, Paul’s few positive positions are not enough to make me seriously consider voting for him, and it seems he is currently abandoning these more reasonable positions to appeal to the party’s rabid base. In this field, however, it is good enough for the #3 spot. On the downside, Senator Paul gives me the heebee-geebees. He always looks super angry; about what I have no idea.
  1. Marco Rubio – No candidate seems as likeable as Marco Rubio. If you watch him with your TV’s sound turned off, he seems like someone you’d like to have over for dinner. His policies though are off the reservation. The one saving grace for Mr. Rubio is that I get the sense he is not an ideologue, but rather an opportunist. He is saying super crazy stuff because he is appealing to super crazy voters. This leaves some hope that perhaps once in office, he may do something not completely insane. Slim hope, but again, I gotta find something to differentiate the lunacy on this list. I would also concede that with our shallow voter pool, a semi-attractive Latino from Florida would be a formidable opponent.
  1. Rick Perry – I kind of like Rick Perry, and I know he is not running, but he still deserves (dis)honorable mention. Governor Perry seems like a really nice guy. Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump is spot on when he questioned Governor Perry’s intelligence. Mr. Trump even went so far as to say that Rick Perry has convinced him that presidential candidates “should be forced to take an IQ test.” Ouch! Governor Perry strikes me as a guy that really isn’t smart enough to form his own beliefs. Someone probably got to him 40 years ago and filled his empty head with conservative rhetoric so he became a conservative. If Ted Kennedy had found Governor Perry 40 years ago, the guy would probably be a Democrat. Having said that, he is not a Democrat, and the ideas he has rolling around inside his empty head are super bad.
  1. Jeb Bush – I really, really dislike Jeb Bush because he clearly feels like he should inherit the position (like he has inherited everything else in his life). He is too good to answer anyone’s questions, and hasn’t even done the work of preparing to run. His campaign thus far has demonstrated he is ill-prepared on the issues, and has not taken any steps to figure out how he would answer questions he surely must have seen coming (e.g., “Knowing what we know now, should we have gone into Iraq?”). Mr. Bush has not worked in eight years, and presumably had nothing to do over that time period other than prepare for this race. If he is too lazy to prepare to run for president, how is he going to actually be president? He will probably do what his brother did—surround himself with incompetent ideologues and work four hours a day. No thanks. We’ve seen that movie. Consider for a moment how scary this list is if someone like Jeb Bush makes it into the top half.
  1. Mike Huckabee – Governor Huckabee—the self-appointed spokesperson of Kim Davis and leader of America’s Taliban—used to be a kind of endearing guy. As governor of Arkansas he was extremely conservative on social issues, but genuinely seemed to care for poor people. Governor Huckabee actually enacted policies directed at assisting the poor (which Arkansas has a lot of). Those days are long gone. He has gone full tea-bag. Not only has he abandoned any sense of moderation or caring for the poor, this religious man took to hocking cinnamon to poor saps promising that it would reverse diabetes. This self-professed man of God is now willing to exploit poor, sick people out of their money, and the policies he endorses would put us back into the Dark Ages. God help us all.
  1. Lindsey Graham – Senator Graham should take a break from campaigning, and just dress up a missile to go around Iowa and New Hampshire in his place. I have never seen a presidential candidate so in love with war as Lindsey Graham, and that’s saying something because John McCain ran for president 7 years ago. Senator Graham’s domestic policies are just as bad as everyone else’s, but his foreign policy ideas are worse—or more accurately, his foreign policy idea (singular) as Senator Graham’s only idea is war. If Senator Graham came into office, I would not be surprised to see my then five-year old son drafted in January 2017 to fight in one of the dozen wars he will start around the world in his first 100 days. Senator Graham operates under the assumption that war is the first resort and only option in any international disagreement.
  1. Chris Christie – Governor Christie has been a terrible governor for his state by almost any metric, and at 30%, he has the second-worst approval rating of any sitting governor in the country (behind only Bobby Jindal of Louisiana). It’s nice to see at least one Republican candidate paying the price for his failings (are you listening Carly Fiorina?). On top of being a terrible governor, Governor Christie has proven himself to be scandal-prone and surrounds himself with people who, let us just say, are ethically challenged. The largest newspaper in New Jersey wrote an editorial last month describing Gov. Christie’s catalog of lies, and did its best to warn America that the man is not to be trusted. For a seriously egregious example of one of his worst lies, you can review a prior article I wrote here. Chris Christie is the perfect combination of incompetence, dishonesty, cruelty, and terrible ideas. I understand Chris Christie may be a tiny-bit less extreme than his colleagues in the race, but those differences are minor and my concerns with him are huge.
  1. Carly Fiorina – If there was ever a poster child for “failing up,” it is Ms. Fiorina. Everything she touches professionally seems to take a sharp turn for the worse. In watching Ms. Fiorina, it appears she has done nothing to prepare for office other than memorizing empty platitudes about Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the Clinton Foundation. It is hard to understand how someone who has lived such a fortunate life as to succeed so dramatically despite enormous shortcomings can always be filled with such displeasure and animosity

While I would never wish to make appearance an issue in an election, Mr. Trump made the inexplicable decision to make Ms. Fiorina’s appearance an issue, and her response has been equally troubling. Mr. Trump, IMHO, is correct that Ms. Fiorina is quite unattractive, but it certainly seems like a double standard when he singles her out when most of the other candidates are also quite unappealing to the eye, including Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Bernie Sanders. But Ms. Fiorina’s response was just another example of her fakeness. She responded that she is “proud of every year and every wrinkle” on her face—despite the fact that there can be little question that she is a person who has had a tremendous amount of surgical work done on her face to remove those wrinkles she professes to be so proud of.

  1. Ted Cruz – Senator Cruz is upsetting because he is apparently super smart (Ivy-league educated with advanced degrees; national debate winner), but he is always saying things that are patently false, and making arguments that any first-grader could poke holes in. This leads me to the conclusion that Senator Cruz is a naked opportunist who is willing to do or say anything to gain power. His chosen path to power is to out-crazy everyone. Unlike other opportunists like Marco Rubio, I have no hope that Senator Cruz will moderate once in office. I get the sense from Senator Cruz that running this country is really just a game to him, and the lives he affects are no more real to him than the lives you may affect when playing World of Warcraft. He frightens me. And since Trump made appearance an issue, I find his appearance and smarmy demeanor unpalatable. If he became president, I may transition entirely to radio for my news.
  1. Scott Walker – Most people who run for office (particularly president) are narcissists (meaning they are self-centered with grandiose images of themselves), and many have to be sociopaths (meaning they lack empathy for others, have overinflated self-images, frequently lie, and fail to experience shame or remorse). I am no doctor, and have never met Governor Walker, but he is the candidate I think is most likely to have these diagnoses. And despite him looking completely milquetoast and vanilla, there is no candidate running for president as extreme as him. Twenty years ago Pat Buchanan and Jerry Fallwell would have considered him too extreme for the party. Governor Walker is the candidate of the Koch brothers, and he has proven that he will do anything those guys want regardless of how bad it is for the environment, workers, consumers, women, or children. Governor Walker is one scary guy.
  1. Ben Carson – It surprises me how a person can be a lauded neurosurgeon, and seem so stupid. I don’t mean to be glib, but after hearing Dr. Carson talk, that really is the undeniable take away. If anyone ever wanted a clear example of there being different types of intelligences, Dr. Carson is a great example. He may be a genius at neuroscience, but he couldn’t win a political debate with most kindergarteners. The man is delusional, paranoid, grandiose, and wants to live in a theocracy. I look at Dr. Carson, and think, “This is a man capable of pushing the button.” No thanks.

This list is so, so terrible, that I would rather choose a president by randomly pointing to a name in a phone book. Also preferable would be electing a president that promised to make all decisions by relying on a magic 8-ball. This list tells me that winning next fall is much less important than not losing.

– Dylan

* My list does not include Bobby Jindal; Jim Gilmore; Rick Santorum; and George Pataki. These guys are going nowhere. I assume ranking them would interest no one (including myself).


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