GOP Field Shrinks Suddenly

December 30th, 2015 by

The GOP field in the 2016 Presidential race shrank suddenly this week, with the news that Senator Lindsey Graham and former three-term New York Governor George Pataki had both ended their campaigns.

Neither had been able to grab voters’ attention in a crowded field where outsiders and far-right candidates grabbed the spotlight. Their moderate views on domestic policies were a non-starter for the average primary voter, and their hawkish views on foreign policy were co-opted by more dynamic candidates.

Graham Crumbles

lindsey-grahamThree-term South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham never seriously thought he could win the nomination, where his low name recognition in a crowded GOP field put him at a disadvantage. His popularity numbers never moved much above 1% for the duration of his run. If you take his stated goals as an assessment of his campaign, though, he pretty much achieved what he wanted.

A noted hawk on foreign policy and national security, he used his candidacy to push his conservative views and steer the foreign policy discussion in the primaries to the right. He was the first to advocate large scale ground operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, only to see other, more flamboyant candidates take up the cry.

His moderate views on domestic issues, such as believing in climate change and supporting immigration reform, condemned his candidacy in the extreme right-wing atmosphere of the GOP primaries.

Pataki’s Missteps

patakiFormer New York Governor George Pataki spent his entire campaign shunned by the ultra conservative GOP primary voters. Never appearing on the main stage during the GOP presidential debates, he remained mired at 1% or less in the polls.

His willingness to reaching across the aisle to solve the nation’s problems cost him support in the extremely partisan primaries. This wasn’t his largest hurdle to the nomination, however. His pro-choice and environmental conservation views meant that he was never a serious contender. His efforts to begin a dialogue in the Republican party to reach out to minorities by improving their economic opportunities in place of expanding welfare were a non-starter.

Pataki was unable to use his tenure as New York governor during 9/11, and his defeat of Mario Cuomo in the governor’s race to establish any sort of support. During his December 29 announcement that he was dropping out of the race, Pataki called for Republicans to nominate someone who could work to unite the country. With the current bent of the average Republican primary voter, that plea has likely fallen on deaf ears.

Where in the World is Jim Gilmore?

gilmore-milk-cartonThere is some confusion in the media this morning, on whether there are 11 or 12 candidates remaining in the GOP field. Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore’s status in the Republican presidential primaries is, for all intents and purposes, unknown. While his campaign’s Twitter account is still active and posting policy blurbs, it is uncertain when the last time Gilmore was seen in public in the capacity of a Presidential candidate.

Gilmore has run perhaps the most low-key Presidential campaign ever, with no large rallies to speak of. One wonders if perhaps he forgot he was running?

Who Is Next?

voting-voteAs the GOP field is slowly whittled down, discussion turns to guessing who the next candidate to give up the ship will be. While former Senator Rick Santorum is polling at 1% or less (numbers similar to Graham’s,) he remains defiant. Reminding supporters that he won Iowa handily during the 2008 election, even though he was only polling 3% to 4% in the weeks before the caucus. The next four candidates (Paul, Fiorina, Kasich, and Huckabee) are polling three to four times Santorum’s numbers – 1.8% to 2.6%.

It is doubtful that any of the four will drop out before the New Hampshire primary on February 9th. They may hold on until the South Carolina primary on February 20, if their numbers remain close to each other. South Carolina is seen as the “make or break” primary for those candidates on the bubble. Look for the current GOP field to remain stable until late February or early March.

Current Standings

Using the RealClearPolitics average of the four most recent polls, we’ve arranged our Presidential Primary chart by popularity. Trump still leads, with double the approval rating of anyone else, while Cruz pulls ahead of Rubio for second place. Christie has regained momentum to vie with Jeb! Bush for fifth place. Ron Paul and Carly Fiorina have less than 3% support, with Kasich and Huckabee both under 2%.

Since the few supporters of Graham and Pataki were mostly moderates, Kasich and maybe Rubio might attract enough of them to move up a half point to a point in the standings.