2016: Pundits Forget About Santorum, Kentucky Republicans Want Paul to Run

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 7 2014 10:36 AM

2016: Pundits Forget About Santorum, Kentucky Republicans Want Paul to Run

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Don't you forget about him.

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Politico asks 15 close observers of Republican politics, from former presidential candidates who've won primaries (Newt Gingrich) to journalists (Ramesh Ponnuru), what the 2016 field looks like après Chris Christie. Whatever one thinks of Rick Santorum, it's natural to feel a twinge of sympathy when only two of these people suggest that the 2012 runner-up will even run. (Two of the pundits whiff and don't mention any candidate.)

Really! In his prediction of who'll make "the first post-Labor Day 2015 GOP presidential debate, moderated by Megyn Kelly," Bill Kristol manages to include Joe Scarborough and John Bolton but not SantorumSantorum, who has never, ever hidden the fact that he wants to run again, and who won five binding primaries and five preference caucuses last time.

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But maybe the Santorumnesia is a sort of course correction. There was no Southern conservative in the race in 2012, after Rick Perry imploded. In 2016 there are presumably other candidates whom voters in Southern primaries (the ones Santorum won) will gravitate toward. 

Presumably. I'm intrigued by what Byron York says here:

Back in 2011 and 2012, when Republicans were bemoaning the quality of their presidential field, many comforted themselves by saying: “We’ve got a great bench. Just wait ’til 2016.” Now that the race is on, however, the GOP field doesn’t look so fantastic. Chris Christie, darling of the donor class, is struggling. Rand Paul is running a smart campaign but will always be a divisive figure. Ted Cruz would be even more divisive than Paul. Marco Rubio hurt himself badly by pushing immigration reform. Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, is well known but doesn’t seem interested. Rick Santorum and Rick Perry might return from the 2012 field but with no carryover momentum. Bobby Jindal never seems to catch fire. Scott Walker is promising but untested on the national stage. And Jeb Bush? Not only would the base be underwhelmed, but the party would be riven by dynastic debate and a nagging sense of been-there-done-that. 

This is still much stronger than the 2012 field. Remember, back then, Rick Perry was supposed to save the party from a one-term governor (Romney), an incredibly boring two-term governor (Pawlenty), a past-prime speaker of the House (Gingrich), a defeated senator (Santorum), a congressman who'd accidentally come to lead a libertarian movement (Paul), a congresswoman with frequent migraines (Bachmann), a libertarian former governor (Johnson), and Herman Cain.

Come on. Obviously there are younger candidates who check more boxesthree nonwhite candidates!in 2016. We've just heard too much about them and not been blown away. I'm reminded of Jonathan Rauch's "freshness test," his theory that candidates have only some years between reaching the national stage and running credibly for president. Maybe the rot is perceived to happen faster now. But the perception is wrong. The other half of the "strong 2016 field" equation, which York politely excises, is that the GOP of 2012 expected to run a 2016 candidate as much as 20 years younger than Hillary Clinton.

Regardless, this seems to be significant 2016 news, insofar as anything in February 2014 can be said to be.

[A] majority of Republicans favor [Rand Paul] seeking the White House in 2016 or running for the presidency and his current post at the same time, according to a Bluegrass Poll conducted by SurveyUSA for The Courier-Journal, the Lexington Herald-Leader, WHAS-TV in Louisville and WKYT-TV in Lexington. Thirty-three percent of Republicans polled in Kentucky said Paul should run for president, while an additional 23 percent thought the freshman senator should run for the White House and the Senate, if the law allowed.

It is by no means clear that Paul can run for president while staying on the ballot for U.S. Senate. The argument that he can relies on one 1995 Supreme Court precedent that hasn't been tested. But this gives Paul confidence that he can try.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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