Published on TheHill.com on February 10, 2015
The Republican primary contest that is emerging for the 2016 presidential nomination is unusual for its extreme sensitivity to events and the slightest efforts by likely candidates to promote their causes. While most of those expected to run are still garnering support in the single digits and none moves up much beyond that, the ups and downs in the standings reflect the slightest gyrations.
All Scott Walker had to do to vault up in the polls was make some noises in Wisconsin, put out stories that he was running and hype a poll in neighboring Iowa showing him doing well.
Before Walker, the murmurs that Ben Carson might be running, as well as some good Fox News appearances, vaulted him into the top tier. Rand Paul is perpetually moving up and down based on his latest positioning on key issues. Marco Rubio sank down when people thought he might not run if Jeb Bush ran but then shot back up during his book tour. The exception has so far been Mike Huckabee, whose book tour, laden with controversial social policy remarks, has not produced any jump in the polls.
In the distant past — 2008 — candidates rose or fell based on how they did in the early primaries. More recently — in the 2012 GOP primary — they moved up or down based on how they did in debates. Michele Bachmann was the first to soar and then fade. Herman Cain was next. Rick Perry had his day. And then the contest settled down into the Romney vs. Gingrich vs. Santorum race.
Now, the same volatility is manifesting itself without any primaries or even any debates. A presence on the Internet and on cable news is all it takes to rock the seismometer.
Why the sensitivity to events?
Part of the reason is the desperation most Republicans and independents feel to be rid of Barack Obama. 2016 cannot come soon enough, and the voters feel better when they are contemplating the terms of Obama’s exit rather than the mayhem he continues to commit as president.
There is also a real feeling among primary voters that they are as much an auditioning committee as a focus group. Sure, the positions the candidates take matter, but agreeing with a potential nominee is a lot less important than figuring out whether or not he can win. Voters have a new willingness to compromise on their ideology to find a winner.
And, the field of GOP candidates is quite good. The party has a strong bench. Bush, Walker, Huckabee, Perry, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and John Kasich have fine records as governors, while Paul, Rubio and Ted Cruz have certainly distinguished themselves as senators, even though they are freshmen. So voters can feel free to switch allegiances easily.
Except for Bush’s apostasy on amnesty and Common Core and Paul’s opposition to tough measures against Iran, there isn’t much to choose from among the candidates on the issues. We can distinguish between the candidates based on personality, but not on ideology.
But probably the main reason for the early volatility is that everybody who votes in the Republican primary watches Fox News and follows the same websites. With the Internet keeping everybody in the race 24/7, a candidate can easily make a big splash and move to the forefront.
But … don’t take it too seriously this early.
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