Top 10 Up-and-Coming Republicans: Possibilities for 2016

Created: 29 August, 2012
Updated: 13 October, 2022
7 min read

With the 2012 presidential election still in campaign mode, it may seem premature to discuss the possibilities for 2016, but since it is also convention time, it is interesting to examine the biggest movers and shakers at the Republican and Democratic conventions.

A lot can change during the next presidential term with the possibility of the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, comprehensive fiscal reform including altering the tax code, Middle-East conflicts, and countless other factors. Since President Obama and Gov. Romney provide such contrasting views on the role of government, the next four years will be pivotal in the country's direction.

This list covers the top 10 up-and-coming Republicans who, barring a Romney victory, are likely to run for president in 2016. If Obama wins another term, then 2016 will carry both main party primaries and more political fodder. A great place to start on the Republican side is to view who Romney didn’t pick for VP and who his primary opponents were. There was also a time during the Republican primary when several other prominent Republicans urged for an “Anti-Romney candidate” and an open convention.

Another good source is 2016election.com. That site encompasses many other individuals, but it wouldn’t be right to select their order verbatim. Below are the top 10 up-and-coming Republicans who may run for president in 2016. What do you think?

1. Chris Christie The first-term NJ governor was a favorite in the “Anyone but Romney movement,” but he assured his constituency and fans that he would not run in 2012. However, he left the door open on the possibility of a 2016 run. When he rallied his support behind Romney in October, suspicion turned to Christie as a VP pick. As a governor of a traditionally blue state, Christie's views can be moderate and his forceful tone carries weight, he may not exactly prove the ideal Tea Party conservative candidate, but his popularity is growing.

2. Marco Rubio The freshman senator from the largest battleground state in terms of electoral votes, Marco Rubio has a ton of Tea Party support. His Latino-heritage also adds to his appeal. His star power is currently riding high. Rubio was the leading running mate pick in a public opinion poll with 28% right before Gov. Romney selected Ryan. Ryan and Christie tied for second place with 16% in the CNN/ORC conducted poll. The setbacks arise with his stance on illegal immigration as it does not move many Latino voters over to the Republican side. Rubio also has some controversy over his personal finances.

3. Paul Ryan Obviously this is a “what if Romney loses scenario,” but it is certainly not uncommon for the previous election’s running mate to stick around. Sarah Palin is on this list. George H.W. Bush was Reagan’s VP for 8 years before becoming the 41st president. Bob Dole and Nixon were also the #2 name on the Republican ticket. Ryan has youthful energy on his side and a keen mind, able to come up with fiscal solutions when the country is in dire need of some ideas. His name recognition was already high before his selection as a result of his budget plans and his skills at articulating them. Those budget plans have been under attack by many Democrats and some Republicans like former OMB Director and House representative David Stockman (R-Mi.).

4. Tim Pawlenty Tim Pawlenty was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate since 2006, but decided to run for a second term as governor of Minnesota. He was a surrogate for Sen. John McCain and was a possible VP pick, but lost out to Sarah Palin. Pawlenty then served as the National Governors Association chairman. For a short time, Gov. Pawlenty ran for president in 2011, but dropped out before the primaries began. His name reemerged as a possible VP pick as he was a close surrogate to Romney. His main drawback was when he signed a “tax increase” on cigarettes as governor and his personality. He isn't as unrestrained as Christie or Rubio, and has too much of a nice guy persona.

5. Bob McDonnell Perhaps what helps Bob McDonnell the most is that he is a successful governor from a swing state. Virginia has an unemployment rate below the national average and is in good fiscal order with over $1 billion surplus between 2010-2011. Gov. McDonnell, in 2012, earned stellar approval ratings from Republicans (77%), Democrats (35%), and 53% from independents. Whether or not it is because of his doing, McDonnell still has a way to go in name recognition.

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6. Rick Santorum In terms of the Evangelical vote, Rick Santorum won this in spades in the early primary and caucus states. The only problem was that this demographic was it for Santorum. He won the Iowa caucus by 34 votes because 56% of the participants claimed to be born-again Christians. The primaries in Oklahoma (74%) and Tennessee (72%) were also notches under the Santorum column, but he couldn’t even win Pennsylvania, the state he represented in the House and Senate for 16 years.

7. Rand Paul As the son of a three time presidential hopeful dating back to 1988, Rand Paul has been around politics most of his life. As a freshman senator, he may be a little green, but President Obama served just four years as a junior senator before running to occupy the Oval Office. His father, Ron Paul, developed a vast support base of young voters and will pass the libertarian mantle over to his son, and the crowd will follow. The senator’s support for Gov. Romney is also a subtle way not to anger the Republican base for when Rand does decide to run for higher office. It is just a matter of when, 2016 or 2020.

8. Sarah Palin As the Republican VP on the 2008 ticket, Sarah Palin may be higher up on this list, but she has some major setbacks. She had a handful of verbal gaffes from “Gotcha!” questions and her conservative views seem better fitted as a Fox News contributor. She stepped down in her previous executive role as Alaska's governor. Her endorsements carry weight and she may be more of a kingmaker (and queenmaker). Even if the people she endorses win the primaries, they still have to win general elections, a la Palin-backed Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. This shows how far to the right she is.

9. Bobby Jindal Gov. Jindal is a two term governor of the southern state of Louisiana and is Indian-American. What Paul Ryan is to fiscal policy, Jindal is to health care, a policy guru. As a policy guru, he could be the Republican voice against the Affordable Care Act. He is also ambitious, having been Louisiana’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals at 25 and by the time he was 40, he ran for governor three times, including his unsuccessful 2003 attempt. His poor performance in giving the Republican response to Obama’s first State of the Union hurt his profile, but he is still young, smart, and can rebound.

10. Mitch Daniels Gov. Daniels of Indiana has the business background (former executive at Eli Lilly), executive background (two term governor), and he had a pivotal place in George W. Bush’s administration. That last part is his greatest drawback. As Director of the OMB, he grossly underestimated the costs for the Iraq War in 2003. Aside from that miscalculation, his ties to Bush as a budget director at a time, in hindsight, which saw the budget exponentially expand hurts his chances at running for president. There are several other rising stars that come to mind, but it may be too early for real consideration.

Those notables and honorable mentions are John Thune and freshmen governors of bellwether states, Gov. Nikki Haley of SC, Gov. John Kasich of OH, Gov. Rick Scott of FL, and Gov. Susana Martinez of NM. There were other Tea Party favorites in the freshmen class of 2010, and likely to be more come 2013, but their results are unknown so it is too early to tell.

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