By John David Dyche
Three members of the crowded Republican presidential field stand above the others in electability and presidential potential. They are, in alphabetical order, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio.
This triumvirate is forward-looking and optimistic. Each one is solidly conservative, has strong personal and political assets, and can attract Democrats and independents in the general election.
Before discussing this trio in more detail, however, here is the process of elimination for the other 14 major candidates in order from worst to best.
Donald Trump is divisive, evasive, un-conservative, vulgar, and utterly unsuited to the presidency. No explanation or rationalization can justify support for Trump. His popularity is a dire portent for America.
Former governors Jim Gilmore of Virginia and George Pataki of New York simply have no chance. Neither do Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, but at least they provide valuable perspectives on certain issues.
Former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rick Perry of Texas have appealing aspects, but also fatal limitations. Huckabee wears his religious conservatism on his sleeve, which turns off many. Perry is still perceived as an intellectual lightweight after his unforgettable "Oops!" moment during a 2012 debate.
Brainy Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will make a great cabinet secretary, but has failed to capitalize on multiple opportunities to break into the Republican top tier. Surgeon Ben Carson is smart and likable, but is plainly not ready for the responsibilities of the presidency. His apparent openness to being Trump's running mate is a disqualifier regardless.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul incredibly calls himself a "Reagan conservative," but his libertarian non-interventionism is out of step with the GOP mainstream. Republicans will not nominate someone with close associates under indictment.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz is much preferable to Trump as a protest candidate, but would polarize the electorate as he has his party. Eventually Cruz will pay a price for his Senate showboating and indiscriminate condemnation of what he calls the "Washington Cartel."
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has been a dull and disappointing candidate. He won praise for producing a replacement plan for Obamacare, but it carries a huge price tag. Walker is also all over the board on immigration issues.
Many conservatives will never forgive New Jersey governor Chris Christie for his embrace of President Obama during the 2012 campaign. Christie's confrontational style may play well back home, but is not a good one for a national leader who will in American homes via television every day for four years.
Jeb Bush is a fine man and has a good conservative record as Florida's governor, but no amount of money can overcome the baggage of the Bush family name. Neither the party nor the country needs another Bush now. Dynastic issues aside, nobody wants to deal with issues from his father's and brother's administrations.
That leaves Rubio, Kasich, and Fiorina. They are not perfect, but they are better than the alternatives.
Rubio, a first-term senator from Florida, is the most inspiring speaker in the GOP field. At 44, he is future oriented and describes an upbeat vision of a New American Century. A fluent Spanish-speaking Cuban-American with a compelling family history, Rubio could win Latino votes and carry his electorally critical home state.
He has sensible and substantive conservative positions on economic growth, education, national security, and taxes. Burned by his attempt at comprehensive immigration reform, Rubio now advocates a centrist, step-by-step approach. Recent polling shows him beating Democrat Hillary Clinton in key swing states.
Kasich, a two-term Ohio governor, combines success at the federal and state levels. As House Budget Committee chairman he helped produce a budget surplus. He has led Ohio to fiscal soundness and solid job growth.
Some conservatives question Kasich for supporting Common Core academic standards and expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. He gives a spirited defense of both and could turn these issues into assets in a general election campaign.
Kasich is smart and tough on national defense, compassionate and religious about helping the less fortunate, and refreshingly authentic and occasionally pugnacious in his personal manner. A ticket comprised of Kasich and Rubio, in either order, is probably the pairing Democrats fear most.
Fiorina, the former head of tech giant Hewlett-Packard, has been dazzlingly impressive. She cannot put her home state of California into play as Rubio and Kasich do theirs, but as a female she offers another asset that could help Republicans.
Some conservatives are comparing Fiorina favorably to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Fiorina’s clarity, fearlessness, and intelligence make her the best communicator in the GOP field.
Yes, Fiorina was fired from Hewlett-Packard and lost a Senate bid. Her answer on the former has gotten better, and political history is full of leaders who overcame setbacks to achieve greatness. Names like Churchill, Lincoln, and Truman come immediately to mind.
It is still early. There has been just one debate. But the GOP nominee should be Rubio, Kasich, or Fiorina.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche)
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