There are 17 GOP candidates for president. There are many good options in there, but it’s hard to tell because Donald Trump is getting all the attention, and the sheer quantity of options is causing them to blur together. So let me offer some helpful reasons so that some of these candidates will stop wasting our time. I’ll put these into three tiers.
TIER ONE – DROP OUT NOW, YOU HAVE NO CHANCE
Jim Gilmore – Served one term as governor of Virginia (1998-2002). Army veteran. Served as RNC Chair from 2001-2002, resigned over differences with Bush Administration. Ran for president in 2008 but dropped out less than three months after declaring. Ran for U.S. Senator for Virginia instead, losing in landslide to Democrat Mark Warner. If Virginia let their governors serve two consecutive terms, he probably would have won re-election in 2002 and would therefore have a stronger track record to run on. He’s a political commenter for Fox News, and it felt like a favor when he was allowed in the kids-table debate. He actually did some commendable things as governor (signed Martin Luther King Day into law when before then, Virginia mutually celebrated King, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on the same day; I’m not kidding.) I haven’t seen him get more than 1% in any poll, and his debate performance didn’t move the needle. Whatever his motives for running are, they’re not because he honestly believes he can win.
George Pataki – Three-term governor of New York (1995-2007). Unseated governor Mario Cuomo when he ran. He didn’t run in 2008 when it looked like it was Rudy Guiliani’s year. He flirted for months with running in 2012 but his pro-choice moderate views made him out of step with the base, and he ultimately decided against it. Now for the 2016 cycle, he looks like a man who showed a week late for a meeting.
Bobby Jindal – U.S. Congressman for Louisiana (2004-2007). Governor of Louisiana since 2007. He was a very popular governor in his first term, but his approval rating has dropped significantly in his second term. He would have been formidable in 2012, but now he hasn’t been able to capture the imagination of the electorate, and what support he was getting in the polls has vanished since his forgettable performance in the afternoon GOP debate. He can keep plugging along if he wishes, and maybe he hopes he’ll turn things around in a future debate, but I don’t see it.
Mike Huckabee – The last two Republican presidential nominees were John McCain and Mitt Romney, two men who only nabbed the nomination on their second try. I think whoever does win the nomination is going to be someone running for the first time, because Republicans want to win, and they don’t want to go with someone who lost before “but maybe this time…”
Lindsey Graham – He’s only polling at 4% in his home state of South Carolina. Drop out now.
Rick Santorum – He’s only polling at 4% in his home state of Pennsylvania. See also Mike Huckabee.
Rick Perry – He’s only polling at 4% in his home state of Texas. See also Mike Huckabee.
That puts us down to ten…
TIER TWO – YOU’RE TOO OUTSIDE TO ACTUALLY WIN
Carly Fiorina – Carly is great to have in the debates right now, because she’s a skilled communicator and a precise attack dog on Hillary Clinton. In fact, it’s criminal that CNN is going by the last two months of polls instead of the last month of polls in order to keep her out of their main debate. She can’t actually win the nomination herself because her resume at HP isn’t that great, and she hasn’t served in political office before. I’m glad at least one woman ran this time around, but if a Democrat wins in 2016, I see at least two female governors throwing their hat in the ring in 2020.
Donald Trump – There’s a difference between popularity and favorability. Everyone’s heard of Donald Trump. Many people are entertained by Trump. He gets away with making empty promises and making false statements and having no specifics, and none of it matters. He’s doing immeasurable damage to the party brand with Latinos the longer he’s in there. It’ll start mattering by January, when actual votes prepare to be cast.
Now we’re down to eight…
TIER THREE – DROP OUT CUZ YOU HAVE NO CHANCE IN THE GENERAL
Chris Christie – Remember the blunt-talking Jersey governor’s popularity in 2012? Trump’s taken over the blunt-talk constituency, and now Christie is just the governor of a blue state that’s still plagued by debt and corruption.
Rand Paul – Eye doctor who practices humanitarian efforts. His libertarian views seem like they’d bring a different element to the debate, but he’s one of those candidates where the more people see him, the less they like him. Might be able to serve country better by dropping out of the presidential race and staying in the Senate.
Jeb Bush – Jeb, I am pretty sure you would have been a better president than your brother in 2000, but you lost your first run at Florida governor, so you just didn’t have enough experience. America claims to recoil at dynasties, even as we relish them, and asking for a third Bush in the White House is just too much. Maybe in 16 or 20 years, we’ll vote for your son, but you? No. I’m sorry. You haven’t been an effectual campaigner, and you’re almost giving off this Jon Huntsman-esque air of entitlement. Any gaffe you make is ten times worse than when Trump does it, and besides, if it comes down to you and Clinton, Trump will run third-party, and that will guarantee Hillary the presidency. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. Money can’t buy you love.
WHO THE FINAL FIVE CANDIDATES SHOULD BE IN FEBRUARY:
Ben Carson – Nice guy, smart guy, I’d let him operate on me, but do you reallllly want him to be president? I don’t know. I’m also glad at least one black guy jumped into the Republican race (contrast Carson, Rubio and Cruz against the all-white Democratic field this year). But maybe he’s actually auditioning to be US Surgeon General. I imagine future debates, especially less crowded ones, will be illuminating to just how ready he might be.
Ted Cruz – His father was born in Cuba. Former associate deputy attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice (1999-2003). Former Solicitor General in Texas (2003-2008). Former adjunct law professor at University of Texas. Elected as U.S. Senator for Texas in 2012. He knows how to talk the Tea Party language, and he knows how to excite the base. He’s a Princeton and Harvard grad. He’s smarter than his opponents might think. My biggest question for him is how he could pivot in a general election when he’s already arguable the most divisive GOP member of the U.S. Senate.
John Kasich – Elected state senator at age 26. Former U.S. Congressman for Ohio (1983-2001). He chaired the House Budget Committee when they passed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Formed exploratory committee to consider running for president in 2000, but ultimately endorsed Bush. He hosted his own Fox News show and guest-hosted for Bill O’Reilly a few times. Worked for Lehman Brothers during that time until they went bankrupt. Governor of Ohio since 2010. He has a solid record as a governor with tax and prison reform. Expanded Medicaid but came in under budget last year. Kasich has a similar compassionate-conservative approach as 2000 Bush, but he has more foreign policy experience.
Marco Rubio – His parents immigrated from Cuba, before the Castro regime took power. With his background in law, Rubio was elected to the Florida House of Representatives at age 29, and made Speaker of the House at age 34. When Rubio ran for U.S. Senator, he edged out former governor Charlie Crist, who then opposed Rubio as a third-party candidate. Rubio was part of the Tea Party wave of elections in 2010. Unlike Rand Paul, Rubio is not running for re-election for Senator as he runs for President. As a Senator, he’s serving on the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship ( as well as the nine subcommittees associated with them).
Scott Walker – Was once a full-time employee of the American Red Cross. First elected to Wisconsin State Assembly in 1992 at age 24. First ran for governor in 2006 before winning in 2010. Survived a recall vote in 2012 by a larger margin than his initial election. It was the third gubernatorial recall election in US history and the first one where the sitting governor survived the recall. He then won his re-election in 2014.