Skip to main content

GOP race for 2016 is wide open

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
February 3, 2014 -- Updated 1449 GMT (2249 HKT)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said his decision to run for the Republican nomination will be based on two things -- his family and whether he can lift America's spirit. His father and brother formerly served as President. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said his decision to run for the Republican nomination will be based on two things -- his family and whether he can lift America's spirit. His father and brother formerly served as President.
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
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT