As opposed to 2012 and 2008, in 2016, the Republicans are blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to presidential candidates.
We will see four or five well-rounded, successful governors who’ve proven they know how to make decisions and get re-elected, including Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Jeb Bush. Throw in Chris Christie and John Kasich, too, if you like.
When the field is finally complete, virtually every candidate – with the exception of Donald Trump – will have something to offer, even those who have no hope of gaining the nomination.
Marco Rubio is the most impressive of the senators running, and seems to be a quick study with a broad range of knowledge. Lindsay Graham has exactly one thing going for him – he’s serious about foreign policy – but even that’s something, and not nothing. Rand Paul whose deep unseriousness about foreign policy is nevertheless matched by equal deep feeling about liberty issues, something more applicable to the domestic sphere. Ted Cruz, for all of his lack of strategic thinking about the government shutdown, has argued and won cases before the US Supreme Court. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson know something about business and health care, even if neither has any business in the Oval Office. Even Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who are well outside my band-pass filters for acceptable presidential nominees, both have a talent for showing the interdependence of social and economic issues.
In some respects, this success is the outcome of a decades-long campaign by the national party to cultivate state legislative talent, and develop a strong farm system. The results have been high-water marks in both percentages of Republican state legislators nationally, and governors. Whether or not that farm system can be extended further down to the low minors of city councils and school boards remains to be seen, but that’s a topic for another day.
So what happens if a Republican wins in 2016? Typically, the response would be to look to the field of governors for executive talent, at the risk of robbing the farm system of its leadership. In some cases, that’s not a problem. A President-elect Perry could pick Scott Walker for his cabinet, knowing there was a popular Republican Lt. Governor behind him, and likewise, former governor Perry doesn’t have anything to do with Texas government any more.
But in other cases, it could be problematic. Many of the candidates are young, and in a position to run for Senate (or for re-election to the Senate), and accumulate experience and seniority. Cabinet positions are rarely springboards for further elective office.
What the Republicans could use is some way of making use of all this talent without pulling them away from their day jobs, or foreclosing options down the line. Is such a thing possible? President Obama has made liberal use of so-called “Czars,” but for all the sturm und drang surrounding these appointments that require no Congressional approval, it’s unclear what actual effect they’ve had. The real power continues to reside in the cabinet heads and the White House itself, which is as it should be. But it’s also possible that, as in the case of Valerie Jarrett, more influence is being exercised behind the scenes than we know about.
Of course, actual elected politicians won’t do anything like that without credit. Could such a system be formalized in the face of institutional turf-protections? And is it compatible with limited executive authority?
Probably and I could see it taking a number of different forms. The National Governors Association or the Republican Governors Association could be asked to elect regional representatives (if indeed they already don’t). The NGA already has policy committees for federal relations; while those currently represent state interests, perhaps they could be given a higher profile, turned over the term-limited governors who are looking for public successes and Washington experience in advance of the next elective step.
The legislative side may be a little trickier. The Senate was jealous of its privileges, at least before Harry Reid tried to turn it into an extension of the Executive Branch, and a healthy return to Constitutionality would have respect, if not encourage Congressional independence. Committee chairmen don’t like being bypassed, and may well just ignore weak liaisons. And in any case, Senators are largely Made Men in this operation, have no term limits, and can, if so inclined, grandstand their way to at least temporary prominence. But if the president persists, access to the White House or the relevant bureaucracies, and insight into the regulatory processes, can create power independent of the committee gavels. As in show business, Senators don’t have to like each other, they just have to work together.
These ideas hardly exhaust the possibilities, but they’re a start. They’d take a president supremely confident in his own abilities to lead, not only his cabinet, but also people who ran against him for the job, and who still harbor ambitions of their own, and someone capable of keeping those personalities in line.
Add that to the list of necessary qualifications when you’re deciding who to support in the primaries.