Skip to main content

GOP race for 2016 is wide open

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
February 3, 2014 -- Updated 1449 GMT (2249 HKT)
Hillary Clinton continues to have an overwhelming lead over other possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidates. Although the former first lady and secretary of state has not said whether she'll run, a group of PACs and advocacy organizations have begun the process of raising money and aiding a hypothetical campaign. Hillary Clinton continues to have an overwhelming lead over other possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidates. Although the former first lady and secretary of state has not said whether she'll run, a group of PACs and advocacy organizations have begun the process of raising money and aiding a hypothetical campaign.
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
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
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
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT