Skip to main content

GOP race for 2016 is wide open

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 9:49 AM EST, Mon February 3, 2014
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, recently re-elected to a second term, is considered a possible Republican candidate. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, recently re-elected to a second term, is considered a possible Republican candidate.
HIDE CAPTION
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: Chris Christie, the leader among moderates, may not be a 2016 GOP contender
  • Lack of a clear favorite may open way for GOP activists to pick the nominee, he says
  • Candidates such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul look more plausible, Frum says
  • Frum: Old rules about how GOP picks a candidate may be thrown aside

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and a post-election e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

(CNN) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's political troubles may reshape the Republican race much more radically than most commentators are yet predicting. To understand why, think of the Republican presidential nomination as a playoff game between two rival leagues. One league is composed of the Republican party's donors and professionals. The other features the party's activists and militants.

In 2012, Mitt Romney triumphed early and totally in League A, and then waited patiently for the nomination as League B stumbled its way through a garish series of impossible candidates. The only plausible player fielded by League B, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whiffled out before he had properly started the game.

This time, though, League B has attracted plausible talent. Whatever any detractor may say about Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, they are U.S. senators. They may be unelectable to the presidency, but they are not inherently unnominatable, in the way that Donald Trump and Herman Cain were unnominatable.

David Frum
David Frum

A better League B puts new pressure on League A -- at exactly the same time when League A seems be sputtering in the way League B sputtered four years ago.

League A's brightest prospect, Christie, looks likely to soon be benched by self-inflicted injuries. There is other talent in League A, of course.

If interested, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could sweep League A -- but almost one-third of the way through the political cycle, he has yet to indicate that he is interested. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has fans in League A, as do Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

This abundance of choice suggests that in 2016, unlike 2012, the League A contest will extend for a long time. The League A contenders will have months to run negative ads against each other -- and to remind League B fans why they dislike each League A player: Rubio, for wishing to widen immigration; Ryan, for writing a budget that cut Medicare and Medicaid; Bush, for his last name.

Roundtable: WH veterans break down 2016
"Planet Hillary" and 2016 speculation

The prospect of a long and bitter battle within League A -- conjoined to improvements in the seriousness and professionalism of League B -- calls into question many of the usual rules of Republican politics.

Old Rule: The winner of the Republican nomination this time is the guy who came second last time. That rule held in every open contest from Ronald Reagan (runner-up in 1976) to Mitt Romney (runner-up in 2008). Not this time: In 2016, for the first time since the 1960s, there is no Republican heir apparent.

Old Rule: The Big Money always wins. From the rejection of Hillary Clinton in 2008 all the way back to the defeat of Edmund Muskie in 1972, Democrats have often preferred insurgents over leadership favorites. Not so Republicans. 2012 spectacularly confirmed the power of the Republican Establishment. But in 2016, the rule is looking wobbly for the first time since 1964.

Old Rule: Electability matters most in Republican presidential primaries. Tea party voters took chances in 2010 and 2012 on many oddball candidates for House and Senate. They played it safe at the presidential level. But many will feel that the defeat of McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 discredit the case for the "responsible choice." In 2016, Republican primary voters will for the first time since Barry Goldwater be offered a brace of seemingly plausible, irresponsible choices.

If League A looks as disorganized in 18 months as it does today, will the GOP's primary voters continue to refuse temptation?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT