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The Republican lawmakers and celebrities who would be president

Four GOP legislators with national profiles lead the rest of the field

December 27, 2014 2:00AM ET

In my last column I assessed the Republican governors and former governors who may run for president in 2016. Now I turn to the legislators and the rest of the field. Other prospective Republican presidential candidates for 2016 include four young national legislators who will dominate the party in the first quarter of the 21st century.

Two of the national legislators, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, have a surprising amount in common: Both have Cuban backgrounds, both arose from the tea party boom of 2009 and ’10, and both represent powerful states in the Electoral College.

The third, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, also a tea party standout of 2010, is knitting together the more orthodox libertarian principles of his father, former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, with his own more calculated stances.

The fourth, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, slated to be a major voice in the 114th Congress, enjoys high regard as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick for the 2012 campaign.

While none of these candidates are likely to attract the scale of money needed for a national campaign in the primary season, each one will represent, with a distinct, vivid personality, the ideals and principles of the GOP for the primary debates. The longer these candidates stay in the contest, the more attention they will gather for their ideas and themes.

The four legislators

Cruz of Texas advances theatrically the restive tea party themes of anti-Washington, anti-Obama, anti-Establishment. He is a zestful, articulate iconoclast who already enjoys feverish support in his home state and throughout the GOP conservative base. This enthusiasm guarantees that he will remain in the race late into the cycle.

At the same time, Republican politicians in Washington often speak poorly of Cruz’s decisions and obstinacy. In the scramble to pass the so-called CRomnibus (short for “continuing resolution” and “omnibus”), the spending bill for the 2015 budget, he managed to force a Saturday session that discomfited and consternated his Republican colleagues. “I think this is ridiculous,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., remarked.

Rubio of Florida presents a softer version of the tea party and is much closer to the moderates who dominate the GOP. Rubio is attractive and compelling, and he can quickly tell a personal story of Cuban immigration and success that dominates the debate about the values of liberty and industry. President Barack Obama’s recent declaration that his administration will seek better relations with the long-standing dictatorship of Fidel and Raúl Castro ignited Rubio to decry the decision and to define himself ever more clearly as a Republican hawk.

Rubio is an ironclad conservative vote for the incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Rubio’s strength for the party is his work on immigration reform, and he has learned to work with the party, not to defy its limitations. For example, after Obama’s speech on immigration, Rubio paid mind to those in the party upset with the executive action, saying, “The right way to do it is to first bring illegal immigration under control by securing the border and enforcing the laws, then modernizing our legal immigration system.”

Rand Paul has notably softened his libertarian aversion to foreign policy by baldly reversing himself on military interventions and following a policy in Mesopotamia that resembles the White House line.

A significant check on Rubio’s candidacy is the newly strong possibility that former Gov. Jeb Bush will run, in which case, Rubio may well reconsider competing with a senior Florida voice.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has been hard charging for the nomination at least since the 2012 election. A rock star to his young libertarian supporters, Paul has already built the financing, Rand PAC and the staff to move quickly from a Senate re-election to a presidential bid. He has even explored how he can work around the Kentucky rule that forbids candidates to run for two offices at once. (So much for states’ rights.)

Paul has notably softened his libertarian aversion to foreign policy by baldly reversing himself on military interventions and following a policy in Mesopotamia that resembles the White House line, saying “I support a strategy of airstrikes against [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant]. Our airpower must be used to rebalance the tactical situation in favor of the Kurds and Iraqis and to defend Americans and our assets in the region.”

Ryan of Wisconsin is a brainy, tireless chairman for the Ways and Means Committee, which he regards the most important work in the 114th Congress. His time on the campaign trail as Romney’s running mate in 2012 is remembered as substantive and dazzling, and his young family responded to every demand of the national party.

However, there are two points that undermine a Ryan bid. First, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is very likely to run, and this would undermine Ryan’s strength in his home state. Second, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy depend on Ryan in the extreme major for policy work on taxes, health care and the budget.

The rest of the field

The four legislators may be joined by other personalities who have less chance of success.

Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon retired from John Hopkins University turned Fox News personality, will start the New Year on the campaign trail speaking to the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention. He may be looking to follow the success Newt Gingrich enjoyed in 2012 in the South Carolina primary.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina recently traveled to New Hampshire to speak of the strengths of a private citizen and not a career politician running for the presidency. She would bring to the primary debates a fresh voice of a successful female executive who does not fit the tea party or conservative mold of ideological purity and said on the Concord, New Hampshire, radio station WKXL, “We need to expand the base of this party.”

Finally, Mike Huckabee found a hearty audience in the 2008 primary presidential campaign against Sen. John McCain, especially late in the cycle in Kansas and Louisiana. Huckabee teased but did not run in 2012, and his success as a Fox News host makes it likely that he will repeat his ruminations and then remain a celebrity.

The debate stages prior to the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire will be so crowded with contestants — perhaps more than 10 — that the early polling advantages will go to those who present the most vivid contrasts with the likely Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Each of these candidates speaks to a part of Clinton’s candidacy, like the proverb of the seven blind men trying to describe an elephant.

As to which GOP candidate has the strongest potential to speak to the whole Clinton, I leave that question for a future column.

John Batchelor is a novelist and host of a national radio news show based in New York City.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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