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Presidential Horse Race 2016: The Republican candidates’ “All I want for Christmas” list

Merry Christmas!

While America takes the day off to celebrate the true religion of peace, a few observations on the Republican presidential race.

Ted Cruz saves ChristmasThe media reported Donald Trump’s huge lead in this week’s CNN/ORC poll, but buried in the data is the fact Ted Cruz now leads Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head match-up. If you don’t want to read the whole report on the poll, scroll to page nine for the most pertinent information.

Cruz leads 48-46 percent with 1 percent favoring some other candidate and 4 percent choosing neither. The same poll has Rubio leading 49-46 and Trump losing 49-47 percent.

In other words, opinion is pretty well divided at this point, with no candidate dominating the hypothetical match-ups.

So much for the establishment’s claim that Marco Rubio is the only “electable” candidate against Hillary Clinton – it just isn’t true.

With absolutely no leadership coming from the Republican majority in Congress, conservatives are searching for a candidate who represents a real distinction from Hillary Clinton. The upcoming caucuses and primaries will help determine who that might be – but if the establishment stamps a label on any particular candidate, choose the opposite.

All I want for Christmas

With Lindsey Graham dropping out of the race this week, the Republican field is down to thirteen candidates. There are only twelve listed in the Real Clear Politics average, but there’s some evidence that Jim Gilmore is still in the game. So we’ll include him as well – it’s Christmas, right?

(Note: Graham is still listed as a candidate by RCP.)

Each candidate has his or her own dreams and aspirations on Christmas Day. Here’s what I think they would (or should) wish for if given the opportunity:

Donald Trump. “All I want for Christmas is respect.”

In the last debate, The Donald once again pledged allegiance to the Republican Party, called Ted Cruz “just fine” and said he’s committed to supporting the eventual GOP nominee. Of course, Trump’s really starting to believe that person is going to be himself, so the promise comes a little easier for him.

Trump has said many times he just wants to be treated fairly, but what he really wants is respect. He wants the other candidates to stop pausing before they answer the question, “Would you support Trump if he’s the party nominee?”

I’m not sure he found it under the tree this morning, but respect is what he’ll need plenty of to succeed politically in 2016.

Ted Cruz. “All I want for Christmas is a Congress full of men like Jeff Sessions.”

Ted Cruz has established himself as a solid second place to Trump in national polls while growing an impressive lead in Iowa. He’s also built a smart and efficient national operation which virtually guarantees he’ll be in the race to the end, win or lose.

Should Cruz win the nomination, there’s no reason to doubt he’d have a good chance to beat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

And if he’s elected president, Cruz will need Republicans with a backbone in Congress. Senator Jeff Sessions leads the conservative fight in the Senate – Cruz will need more like him if he’s to succeed in returning the country to constitutional governance.

Marco Rubio. “All I want for Christmas is for Republicans to forget about the Gang of Eight.”

Unlike his fellow Tea Party-supported senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio sought to keep a low profile upon entering the Senate, observing the unwritten rule that newcomers should wait at least a year before making their first floor speech.

The problem is, did Rubio delay because of deference to tradition, or did he just not have anything to say?

And when he did finally say something, Rubio chose to lead the fight for amnesty alongside Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez, Dick Durbin, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Marco deflects questions about it now that he’s running for president, saying he “learned a lesson.” But you can’t un-ring a bell. The best Marco can hope is for people to forget – and it’s not happening.

Ben Carson. “All I want for Christmas is a crash course on foreign policy.”

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson made an early impression on the Republican race by cracking a joke about politicians in Washington having “half a brain” during the first presidential debate.

His subsequent battles against political correctness garnered more attention and people started taking his candidacy seriously, even though he seemed a little uninformed when asked about foreign policy.

Then the Paris terrorist attacks happened and the bottom fell out of his campaign. Carson couldn’t name specifics about fighting terrorism and one of his advisors made a damaging remark about his inability to understand the Middle East.

Ben’s boned up on the subject since, but the damage has been done. Where he’d been a solid second in most polls up to November, he’s now trending down just about everywhere you look.

It’s probably too late, especially since his voters seem to have migrated to Ted Cruz. But a crash course on worldly matters might at least get him back in the conversation.

Jeb Bush. “All I want for Christmas is a new last name.”

No one wants to reject their family at Christmastime, though Jeb Bush has been weighed down by his clan ever since entering the race as the presumptive establishment favorite earlier this year.

Add the fact Jeb really isn’t a very good candidate and you’ve got problems for anyone looking to be president. Jeb doesn’t know whether to embrace his brother’s legacy or reject it. He doesn’t know whether he should ignore Trump or fight him.

Jeb just doesn’t seem to know much, which stands as a sharp contrast to his promise to “fix it.” I wonder who came up with that slogan.

Jeb can’t undo the past and his record as governor of Florida ten years ago wasn’t all that great to begin with. Conservatives want something better. Even if Jeb’s last name wasn’t Bush, he’d still have himself to contend with.

Rand Paul. “All I want for Christmas is my dad’s campaign.”

Unlike Jeb Bush, Rand Paul wishes he had a little more of his family’s magic in this year’s presidential race.

Rand certainly counted on father Ron’s libertarian constitutionally-minded backers to coalesce around his own campaign, but it just hasn’t happened. Some of the old Ron-supporters may be with Trump now, but the majority of them probably are siding with Ted Cruz.

Other than Rand’s, Cruz’s ideas are closest to the libertarian philosophy. Plus, Cruz has been able to package himself in a more palatable way to appeal to the coalition of voters needed to win the nomination – and the general election, too.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rand run again in the future. But 2015/16 isn’t going to be his year.

Carly Fiorina. “All I want for Christmas is a lane to run in.”

As the only female Republican candidate and an “outsider,” Fiorina likely figured all she would need to at least compete for the nomination would be to get noticed.

She did that in a big way after the first two debates. But then nothing happened.

Whether it was a lack of money or people noticed her and found something they liked more in other candidates, Carly’s never really caught-on. Fiorina was unable to create any staying-power in the race and she hasn’t offered a compelling reason to choose her over her more interesting competitors – other than maybe her gender as a contrast to Hillary Clinton.

Fiorina has done a fine job in getting herself known in the race – there just needs to be more to offer once voters take a look.

Mike Huckabee. “All I want for Christmas is to roll back the clock.”

Mike Huckabee began his presidential bid in 2007 as a little known former governor of Arkansas who just happened to hail from the same hometown as Bill Clinton. He has a gift for speaking which he used to do well in the early presidential debates.

As a result, evangelical voters found something they liked in Mike and propelled him to a very unlikely victory in Iowa in 2008.

His candidacy fizzled out not long after because he couldn’t appeal to fiscal conservatives.

He retired from politics, went on Fox News and garnered a lot of respect for his championing of Republicans and conservative causes ever since.

But in running for president this year, Huckabee’s got nothing but his speaking gift to offer. Eight years older and not necessarily more accomplished, voters that supported Mike in 2008 have found other more attractive candidates this time around.

If he could only have 2008 back again… then Mike might have found a home.

Chris Christie. “All I want for Christmas is for Rubio, Bush and Kasich to drop out.”

It’s well known by now that Chris Christie has put all his presidential hope eggs in one New Hampshire-sized basket.

The problem is there are three other candidates competing for the ever shrinking establishment slice of the electoral pie in The Granite State.

Based on his rising fortunes in New Hampshire, Christie managed to crawl back up to the main stage for last week’s debate. But there’s no sign any of the others are going to move over for him.

And Chris still takes up a lot of room. He needs those guys to exit… but there’s no sign they will.

John Kasich. “All I want for Christmas is for people to understand Jesus was really a socialist.”

It was surprising when John Kasich entered the presidential race. As a member of the 1994 Gingrich revolution, he once upon a time had a reputation as a budget hawk and at least appeared to have conservatives listening to him.

He subsequently went soft and criticized – in religious terms – people who thought he was wrong in adopting Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in his state.

Now he rotates between raving mad lunatic and peace loving hippy in the debates. Will the real John Kasich please stand up?

Even if he somehow emerged as the establishment choice after New Hampshire, wouldn’t his campaign still be over within a month?

Kasich needs a miracle…and for people to forget what Jesus really represented.

Rick Santorum. “All I want for Christmas is a spot on the debate stage.”

Rick Santorum said recently that he hasn’t been able to get any traction this year because he’s been relegated to the undercard debates. The problem is there are a couple candidates who took the “Happy Hour” stage and still emerged as interesting enough for people to take a further look.

Santorum admits he hasn’t done much since coming in second to Mitt Romney four years ago. He says he needed to make money and pay the bills.

We all need to do that, Rick. But not all of us are running for president and expecting love when there’s just nothing new for you to offer folks.

And there’s no need to cut down those who are carrying the message in this election along the way.

Santorum’s wish likely won’t come true. And conservatives will soldier on without him. We’re used to it by now – and we’re okay with it.

George Pataki. “All I want for Christmas is for conservatives to leave the Republican Party.”

No one noticed when former New York governor George Pataki announced he was running for president. He didn’t govern as a conservative and his main claim to fame is he’s the only Republican who is pro-abortion.

No conservative would consider voting for him if given a real choice. Therefore, if every self-identified conservative leaves the Republican Party, he might have a chance.

Jim Gilmore. “All I want for Christmas is someone to notice I’m still running.”

Jim Gilmore took part in the first undercard debate in August and hasn’t been seen since. By the looks of the above cited Washington Examiner story, he’s still running for president.

With barely any media attention and no visible campaign presence…does he still exist?

Rand Paul says he won’t do an undercard debate

Finally this week, Rand Paul’s poll numbers are teetering on the brink of irrelevance as far as the debates are concerned and he’s in serious danger of not making the main stage for the January 14 Fox Business Network debate.

He now says if he doesn’t make the top-tier, he won’t show up.

Nolan McCaskill of Politico reports on Paul’s reasoning. “Paul talked up his campaign, touting the size of his operation in Iowa and the millions of dollars he’s raised. ‘Doesn’t mean I’m gonna win, but I think without question we have a first-tier campaign and we just can’t accept the designation of being artificially told that we don’t have a chance with three weeks to go,’ he said, alleging that downgrading a candidate to a secondary debate at this point would ‘destroy the campaign.’

“‘So we won’t stand for it and we will protest any such designation.’”

I’ve said before Paul needs to be part of the conversation, if for nothing else, he presents the other side of the argument to the neoconservative point-of-view.

But limits are limits. The campaign is winding down and the debates must be more concentrated on those who are objectively seen as having a real chance to win.

Maybe Paul should add a few more poll points to his Christmas wish list.

--To all – Have a very Merry Christmas and we’ll see you next week!

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