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Conservative Presidential Candidates, Come On In, The Water’s Fine

2016 Republican presidential contenders

Much of the inside-the-Beltway pundit class acts as if the field for the Republican nomination for president is already settled between two candidates; Jeb Bush and not Jeb Bush.

And the “not Jeb Bush” du jour has been Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who, based on his excellent performance at Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit, quickly eclipsed Bush in the polls.

But the news (in MSNBC of all places) that Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky would officially announce his presidential bid, not an exploratory committee, but an all-in presidential campaign, serves notice that the Republican presidential nominating process is just now getting under way.

And that the 2016 Republican nominating process is far from a simple contest to figure out an alternative to Jeb Bush.

There’s a vast continuum on the political right between the ideas shared by Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton on one end and Donald Trump, who has just announced and filed his presidential exploratory committee, on the other.

And there’s a deep bench of potential presidential candidates and many conservatives with the national standing to make the case for their leadership on the conservative agenda.

First and foremost among those conservative leaders is former Senator, now President of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint. Senator DeMint is the conservative candidate for president that everyone in the conservative movement yearns for, but no one can convince to run.

There are governors, with Scott Walker getting all the media attention right now it is easy to forget that Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike Pence of Indiana both have accomplished much as conservative governors, and having served in Congress, they have exposure to, and records on, national security issues that Walker lacks.

Louisiana’s conservative Governor Bobby Jindal is also in and Jindal got our favorable attention for his clarion call regarding the existential threat of Islamist extremism. Governor Jindal has a solid record on many issues on the conservative agenda and while he may be a longshot in terms of publicity and fundraising he’s got the brains and willingness to be in the thick of the battle of ideas to punch above his weight in the early primaries.

And of course there's New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose presidential aspiration have foundered on Bridgegate and the Bush candidacy sucking the air and money out of Christie's Wall Street establishment Republican base. 

Former governors, such as Rick Perry of Texas and even George Pataki of New York are also in the mix, as is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, long a favorite of big government social conservatives. Although they are not polling strongly, and may hardly qualify as conservatives to many movement conservatives, there’s a rationale for each of these candidacies.

Likewise every so often someone in the media mentions New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez or South Carolina governor Nikki Haley as a presidential prospect. Both have some accomplishments to recommend them, at least on paper, but they are little known to movement conservatives and haven’t made any moves toward running.

In the past several Republican presidential cycles there has been one identifiable "social conservative" candidate; Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum. But so far this year, beyond Huckabee, and perhaps Santorum, there is no candidate vying for the Republican nomination who relying solely on social conservative support. And there's a reason for that; recognizing that the electorate has moved right on the conservative social agenda all of the credible Republican presidential candidates will run as pro-life conservatives.

And then there is the Senate.

It may be a truism of American politics that every Senator thinks he or she could or should be President, but right now there are a number of conservative Senators with the stature with the conservative grassroots to mount a potentially winning campaign.

It looks like Senator Rand Paul will be soon in the race, and Paul’s more libertarian-oriented ideas and constitutionalist record in the Senate have yet to be tested or really articulated in this presidential cycle. Although Rand Paul has forged a political path different from his father’s the Paul name and his principled stands for the Constitution on issues like the Obama surveillance state and Obama’s foreign interventionism are persuasive reasons to support his candidacy.

Senator Ted Cruz, who has been the principled voice in the Senate for the movement conservative agenda and for using the tools and responsibilities the Constitution bestows upon Congress to rein-in a tyrannical executive, is assumed to be a candidate for president, even though Cruz has yet to actually establish an exploratory committee or say he’s thinking seriously about running.

Senator John McCain’s perennial wingman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is also in, or at least says he’s in. Graham is no conservative, but don’t think he has no support in the military-industrial complex wing of the Republican Party. Graham will raise some money from his friends in the defense industry and beat the war drums for billions more in the Pentagon budget and some gullible voters will think that will keep America safe and vote for him if he stays in the race.

But there are other Senators who may not get the recognition and publicity that has accrued to Cruz and Paul who have a following among the conservative grassroots and conservative movement.

Chief among those is Alabama’s principled limited government constitutional conservative Senator Jeff Sessions. Senator Sessions is a man of towering integrity who has fearlessly fought for liberty under God’s laws, the interests of working Americans and for the foundations of American exceptionalism. As a consequence of his leadership we get a steady trickle of email and comments suggesting Sessions as a candidate for president, even though Sen. Sessions himself has never evinced any interest in running.

Likewise, Senator Mike Lee of Utah regularly gets a few votes and comments in our CHQ 2016 Republican presidential nomination straw poll. The rationale we receive from those for supporting Mike Lee is that he has the principled limited government constitutional conservative convictions of Ted Cruz, but with the no drama, low key demeanor of Scott Walker.

While Paul Ryan, the only real presidential contender from the House has taken himself out of the race conservatives who long for a Republican presidential candidate from the grassroots may see in Iowa’s Steve King a prospect, and King’s position in the first of the race Iowa caucuses would give him a leg up, but we don’t see a King candidacy as likely.

The polls showing a strong bloc of “anybody but Bush” Republican primary voters and Scott Walker’s troubles over hiring and then cutting loose Liz Mair, a decidedly liberal (pro-amnesty, pro-homosexual marriage) communications and social media consultant, and Walker’s coyness about answering specific questions on his views on amnesty and immigration, should serve to encourage other conservative presidential candidates to get in the race.

While the time to organize a winning campaign is flying by, the “vetting” of the candidates and their ideas and positions has hardly begun. The 2016 Republican presidential field is far from settled and the marketplace for conservative leadership is wide open. The water’s fine boys (and girls), come on in.

Go here to vote in our 2016 Republican presidential straw poll.

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Dr. Carson

Why was Dr. Carson not even mentioned? I know he hasn't officially thrown his hat into the ring but I believe all indications are that he soon will. He may not have a great chance at getting the nomination but certainly merits discussion here...

Dr. Carson

You are absolutely right -- we should have mentioned Dr. Carson, particularly in the context of needing and encouraging more grassroots "outsider" candidates... an error we will rectify in a future column.

Presidential possibilities

Remove Scott Walker from the list.

With his hire of Liz Mair, then firing her after a conservative backlash raises questions of his dedication to conservative values. Hiring a known supporter of amnesty and abortion does not speak well of him.

If someone on his staff hired her it raises more questions, how many leftists are already on his staff.