Forecasting the 2016 Republican Primaries

The grueling 2012 primary ended with Mitt Romney's victory. Who will enter the ring this cycle?

The grueling 2012 primary ended with Mitt Romney's victory. Who will enter the ring this cycle?

*Thomas Warns and **Nick Beek

The next President won’t be inaugurated until January of 2017, but that doesn’t mean the 2016 Republican primaries haven’t begun (here and now, in 2015). Where does the field stand at the moment, and who is likely to run? Here is a brief profile, with Nick’s insight and Tom’s verdict on who joins the fray.

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Mitt Romney – The 2012 Republican Presidential nominee enjoyed a small lead in most polls of Republican primary voters, but that may have been a result of his name recognition more than anything. With Jeb Bush securing high-dollar donors and political operatives before a potential 2016 campaign could get off the ground, Mitt Romney announced on Friday that he would not be running

Nick’s Prediction: Had Mitt Romney decided to run again I do not believe voters would have been receptive to a third Mitt Romney run. Once someone loses a general election (especially if it is not particularly close) voters are less likely to give them another chance.

Verdict – Not Running.

Rand Paul – The libertarian hero has not publicly announced whether or not he would run, but he has made a number of visits to early primary states, and also has tried to expand the Republican block with a speech before the NAACP, among other attempts. For the third cycle in a row, the Republican primary will feature a Dr. Paul.

Nick’s Prediction: Rand Paul is going to enter the race. There have been high profile reports about Rand Paul securing political operatives for a presidential run. He is going to be competitive in the early states and can learn from his father’s previous runs. The Paul brand is well known but the question is can Rand Paul reignite the base his father created, and then expand it to the broader populace? If Rand Paul can do this, then he can win the nomination. My early prediction is that if Paul loses Iowa, he loses the entire nomination contest.

Verdict – Will enter the race.

Scott Walker – Scott Walker’s stock has been on the rise lately, particularly in Iowa. After sending out feelers in regards to a 2016 run, he has found that the signs are all positive – donors are backing him, and so do the conservative readers of He has stared down adversity before, including most famously a brutal recall election in 2012, and has become a national icon in the fight against organized labor. He will enter the ring as a formidable foe.

Nick’s Prediction: I’m undecided about Scott Walker’s chances in the primary. I think while having gone through an election pretty much every 2 years for the past 6 years has given him valuable experience, the guy has got to be tired of it. He’s tested on the campaign trail, but I don’t know if he can handle the national scrutiny. Being a sitting Governor is also another point that makes it seem harder for him to win. Campaigning is a full time job; it’s easy for a Senator to miss a vote, but a Governor really needs to be present in his or her state. I think he’ll perform well in early primary states, but I think he would lose the general election in a landslide.

Verdict – Will enter the race.

Jeb Bush – Many in the media are quick to call the son of 41 and brother of 43 the “favorite” in this crowded Republican field, but many Republicans aren’t listening. He is a moderate who tracks left on issues like immigration reform, which could cause headaches in the primary. For now though, the weight of the Establishment seems to be coalescing around him, and he has secured many Romney donors and staffers. We may be subjected to another Bush-Clinton election in 2016.

Nick’s Prediction: Jeb Bush benefits from the Bush brand (i.e. experience in running for President, name recognition, donor base, political operatives) in both the primary and general. Bush is a moderate, and his brother has a poor record, which will hurt him in the primary (although being a moderate would help in the general). I think ultimately being tied to his brother’s record will be his downfall in the general if his moderate flavor does not doom him in the primary.

Verdict – Will enter the race.

Ted Cruz – The fiery Texan is a darling among the more conservative wing of the Republican Party. His aversion to compromise and dedication to ideological purity will endear him to many, though his ceiling looks limited. Still, the Republican primaries have room for Cruz if he decides to enter, as he is widely given credit (or blame) for shutting down the government for two weeks in a showdown to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Nick’s Prediction: I don’t know if he enters the race. I think if he does, he flames out quicker than Rick Perry did. He might be better served waiting, as this year’s field is overcrowded.

Verdict – Not running.

Marco Rubio – The Florida Senator’s poll numbers have cooled somewhat of late (though it may be partially a by-product of a more crowded field), but some conservative donors still feel confident in the energetic Hispanic-American, who has begun laying the groundwork for a run in 2016. He seems to have an adept handle of social media, which could catapult him quickly into the top tier of GOP candidates. His time may ultimately come in 2020 or later, but he seems serious about a run now.

Nick’s Prediction: I know the guy has young kids, I wonder if that’ll stop him from seeking the Presidency. I know from one of his staffers that he likes to put his kids on the bus, and generally finds it very important to spend time with his family. That’ll stop if he runs. Is he ok with that sacrifice?

Verdict – Will enter the race.

Chris Christie – Christie’s waist has been shrinking, but his ambitions are growing. The New Jersey Governor has a moderate record, and has proven popular in his deep blue home state. With “Bridgegate” firmly in the rearview mirror, Christie looks poised for another run, this time for President. The only thing that could derail him is another scandal.

Nick’s Prediction: Christie runs but there’s a lot of baggage underneath the surface that is waiting to be drudged up during what is likely to be a hard fought and lengthy primary; that I think ultimately sinks him.

Verdict – Will enter the race.

Paul Ryan – Paul Ryan is the GOP counter to charges that they don’t have ambitious plans. His budget bills are always a hot debate topic in Washington, and it appears it will stay that way – Ryan has signaled that he will be staying in Congress rather than seeking the White House.

Nick’s Prediction: I think he’s the most ideologically pure and smartest of the Republican contenders. I think he would have a decent shot at winning the primary if he ran. I don’t think he’d be as competitive as Bush in the general election though.

Verdict – Not running.

Rick Perry – Rick Perry enjoys widespread popularity in Texas, and has been an able fundraiser. After a gaffe-filled campaign in 2012 however, in which he couldn’t remember which parts of government he wanted to slash, donors are likely to steer clear of the former Governor. Rick Perry might be forced to sit on the sidelines.

Nick’s Prediction: Rick Perry is going to run.

Verdict – Not running.

Donald Trump – The eccentric billionaire is all talk and no game. He only flirts with running for President to improve ratings for The Apprentice.

Nick’s Prediction: I would love for him to run but he’s not. He’s in it for the publicity and money.

Verdict – Not running.

Ben Carson – The retired neurosurgeon has a cult following, but he will suffer due to lack of name recognition. His claim to (modest) fame is a speech he delivered in front of Obama from 2013; he doesn’t appear to have much staying power, but he appears ready to throw his hat in the ring anyway, and has shown an enthusiasm for brushing up on a variety of topics.

Nick Prediction: Herman Cain 2.0. These random non-political types always run and fail. They’re untested, unknown, and don’t know how to run a campaign. You can’t stumble your way into the Presidency by way of a highly contested primary and then general election. Plus, he’s has said some crazy things, like saying Obamacare was the worst thing to happen to America since slavery.

Verdict – Will enter the race.

Sarah Palin – The former Alaska Governor rocketed to fame (and infamy) when she was tapped to be John McCain’s Vice President during the 2008 election. She is surprisingly popular among many (including influential media member Matt Drudge), but is despised but a much larger part of the country. Further, she is largely a single issue candidate who wishes to promote drilling to cut oil prices – the U.S. has largely already done that over the last 8-10 years. She has been more successful in runs on FoxNews, as well as on reality TV, and may be best served by staying there.

Nick’s Prediction: Same reasons as Donald Trump.

Verdict – Not running.

Rick Santorum – The Pennsylvania politician and noted social conservative gave Mitt Romney his most sustained challenge in 2012, as he won a number of primaries and caucuses, including Iowa’s. Rick Santorum however doesn’t really move the needle, and isn’t well liked. Donors may think twice before putting on the sweater vest to support him. He also fails the “google” test for a President. He dropped out in 2012 when he daughter became ill; her health may play a role in his decision this time around as well.

Nick’s Prediction: All signs point to yes for running. If you bet on historical trends for the GOP nomination (he came in second in 2012) then you should be betting on Santorum.

Verdict – Not running.

Mike Huckabee – A much more reasonable and likable social conservative than Rick Santorum, the former Arkansas Governor quit FoxNews last month, which ramped up speculation that he was looking to enter the race. Huckabee made a strong showing in 2008, and seems to have a lot of good will. He will push the party to the right on social issues during the debates.

Nick’s Prediction: He’s going to run. He has the likability factor too, and appeals to both evangelicals and Tea Party conservatives. I’d like to think he has a good shot at winning the nomination but in 2008, his appeal seemed to top out at a similar level as Santorum in 2012.

Verdict – Will enter the race.

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Bobby Jindal – The Louisiana Governor has signaled that he is at least considering a run for President, though Louisianans aren’t so enthusiastic. He has his supporters, but his star has dimmed since his response to the State of the Union in 2009 (to be fair, Bill Clinton also delivered a clunker of a response speech in 1985, and became President less than a decade later). Perhaps he will get a close look as a Vice Presidential candidate.

Nick’s Prediction: If Jindal runs, the rest of the candidates will suck the operatives & money right out from under him at the first sign of trouble. He then drops out Tom Vilsack style.

Verdict – Will not be running.

The RestCarly Fiorina – former CEO of HP; John Kasich – Governor of Ohio; Mike Pence – Governor of Indiana.

Nick’s Prediction: I think Kasich would be a serious contender in the primary and general, but I have a feeling the Bushes keep him out. Fiorina I think plays with the idea and then endorses Bush.

Verdict: Will not be running.

*Thomas Warns is a J.D. Candidate in the Class of 2015 at New York University, and the Editor-in-Chief for the N.Y.U. Journal of Law & Liberty.

**Nick Beek works in politics in Washington, DC and graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in political science.