Numerous polls tracking the 2016 Republican Presidential candidates are reporting an interesting phenomenon. After two televised debates and more media appearances than the Kardashians, Donald Trump still leads all candidates with his media-rich bluster, but Dr. Ben Carson has quietly slipped into a solid second. Carly Fiorina continues to gain ground after being allowed to play with the big kids. Interestingly, the other mainstream politicians in the race barely muster also-ran status as the race progresses. The more career oriented politicians were all allowed to gang up against Trump with a host of set-up questions in the recent CNN debate. Despite Trump’s lack of expression of coherent policy and barrage of “he said she said” bickering, little seems to have changed.
A recent CNBC CFO Council poll asking a broad spectrum of corporate CFOs who would win the 2016 Republican nomination showed Jeb Bush with a 78% rating. The remaining 22% was evenly split between Fiorina, Rubio, Kasich and Walker. Trump and Carson did not even get a vote in this business leader opinion poll. The popularity among the public of Trump and Carson over more experienced politicians is truly an interesting development and a bit of an historic anomaly. But what does it all really mean?
First off, let’s take a brief look at our “anti-establishment” front runners. Donald Trump is a well-known celebrity and business man who has been successful at marketing himself at every level of his multi-billion dollar career. He is no stranger to controversy and has a knack for keeping his brand in the headlines, for better or worse. But what sort of leader would he really make? So far he is the finger-pointer-in-chief, ladling out plenty of insult and blame while being decidedly short on solutions. His diplomacy skills are as subtle as a bull in a china shop.
He continues to hold a strong interest among Republican voters despite the fact that it is unclear just how “Republican” he is and despite the fact he really has not yet offered much of anything constructive. The fact that the CFO Council poll did not include him at all paints a bit of a different picture among “establishment” business leaders. The people who are daily responsible for the financial health of corporate America apparently do not view him as any sort of a viable candidate. More mainstream candidates such as Jeb Bush and Rand Paul are having to gang up against Trump, responding to and inadvertently reinforcing his media-rich domination of the polls. Yet he flourishes while continuing to defy the traditional political odds in spite of a constant stream of gaffes.
Ben Carson might earn the “Nicest guy to ever run for President” award. His soft spoken demeanor and common sense, conservative values and comforting sound bites give any voter fed up with “the establishment” the warm fuzzies. His life story is a moving illustration of everything that can be great about America. He also doles out equal blame for a broken system but quietly offers some common sense, if somewhat idealistic, solutions.
There is little not to love about Dr. Carson, in contrast to the omnipresent and vociferous Trump ego. But what experience would he really bring to the command of the greatest, wealthiest and most powerful country in the world? At least Donald Trump has executive experience on a high level. Dr. Carson has a medical career second to none. But does that translate? What would his response be the first time his job called for dropping a couple of cruise missiles on a rebel Syrian outpost? Imagine how compelling Dr. Carson’s candidacy would be if he had experience along the lines of a former candidate like Mitt Romney or a current candidate like John Kasich.
Carly Fiorina is closing some ground on Trump and Carson, particularly after her strong showing in the CNN debate. But she too is viewed as an outsider running on an anti-establishment platform. Interestingly, she seems to be the most prepared and most authoritative in demeanor of the non-mainstream candidates. As one CNN analyst put it “She has made a compelling case for Vice President”.
The obvious point of the ongoing poll results is the fact that the average voter is fed up with business as usual in Washington. The outsiders clearly have the edge in the mind of the general voting public. Corporate leaders might see things a bit differently, hoping for at least some political experience in whatever future leader we might choose. For them, it is always about the economy first.
The 2012 election issued Republicans an ultimatum to curb runaway liberal policies under President Obama that are systematically eroding the strength of our nation. Over two and one half years later, what has changed? Republican majorities in the House and Senate have not curtailed the climbing debt, reversed the potential train wreck that is Obamacare, forwarded a rational solution to illegal immigration or quelled onerous legislation such as Dodd-Frank. The average voters’ subsequent reaction to any candidate that smells of career politics seems to be “enough already.” And the leading non-traditional candidates are responding to that emotional capital.
On the Democratic side of the aisle things are not exactly all smiles either. Hillary Clinton is besieged by her email scandals and Clinton Foundation suspicions and is sliding in the polls. Her trust factor is evaporating. Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist who is running on the Democrat Party’s ticket but technically is not a Democrat. He is pushing Mrs. Clinton in almost every significant poll. It is not a reach to conclude the Clinton campaign is in trouble. There are actually rumblings about Joe Biden or John Kerry joining the race. Pure desperation from a party searching for answers as their anointed successor to President Obama stumbles.
So what is this all coming down to? A blustery businessman running as a Republican who has traditionally not been a real Republican facing a Socialist who is running as a Democrat but is so far left he should probably be exported to Eastern Europe? The prospects are not exactly scintillating, and party insiders on both sides of the aisle are wringing their hands with concern. But is the anxiety of these insiders a self-fulfilling result of their own inept histories? And will the average voter carry the day on emotions alone with only the hope of real policy and real prospective solutions?
There is a lot to think about when studying the most recent polls. It is indeed an interesting period in political history. Can there be an acceptable outcome in which the average middle of the road American will feel they are finally gaining some real representation? Is there an electable candidate anywhere in the field that has both the experience and the moxie to perpetrate the difficult reforms that seem obviously necessary in Washington? That is a question undoubtedly on the mind of every concerned and engaged citizen, and an answer only time will reveal.