With news Monday morning that Republicans have two new entrants into the 2016 primary field, there has inevitably been lots of talk about how diverse the GOP candidates are this time around.
Ben Carson, the retired African-American neurosurgeon, and Carly Fiorina, the female ex-CEO of Hewlett-Packard, add to the mix that has already seen declarations from two Cubans thus far.
To be sure, the Republican side is looking more diverse than the Democrats who only have two declared candidates so far in Hillary Clinton and firebrand socialist Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont.
But to focus on only the diversity of the field misses a much more important point about the Republican candidates. More than anything the five now declared candidates represent how deeply divided and dispirited the Republican Party is.
To my mind, this is the more interesting story to come from the early weeks of campaigning. The range of candidates clearly demonstrates that the GOP has failed, yet again, to find a consensus message or approach to presidential politics. This isn’t to say that it’s not useful to hear from a range of voices with differing opinions, but in a world where the Republicans are still polling behind the Democrats and quite obviously lacking in cohesion, it is all the more clear that these new names will not do any good in terms of re-building and strengthening the Republican brand.
They may very well tear it apart further.
Protest candidates on the Republican side have done well in the past. Herman Cain saw some success in 2008. And Ben Carson’s success at CPAC and in early polls shows that there’s an appetite to hear from a political outsider. To this end, expect to see a bump in the polls just like we saw for other candidates after they formally threw their hat in the ring.
The desire for a fresh face with an anti-establishment attitude in American politics is well documented. Polls have shown that over three quarters of Americans want to hear from new people with innovative ideas. Because of this, Carson may very well see some success and Fiorina will surely have an appeal to some.
But both of these candidates are not really running for president. Carson is almost certainly running for HHS secretary or surgeon general. And Fiorina is running for Vice President, which I don’t see her getting, or a senior job in the government based on a singular focus on attacking Hillary Clinton.
All this is not to say that the Republicans can’t win come 2016. They most certainly can. The general election will be a very tight race with Hillary Clinton and the major contenders within just a few points of each other in recent polling. Further, with the Obama administration still below 50% in approval ratings and likely to fail on trade bill and potentially on the Iranian nuclear deal, there will be plenty of opportunities for the Republicans to seize upon Democrat failures.
But the Republicans have had opportunities like this before and squandered them. It’s up to them to come together with a unified message that champions a pro-growth economic agenda, smart reform to our broken immigration and health care system and a vision for a strong American abroad.
It follows that it would be a mistake to see the entry of people like Carson and Fiorina as anything but a symptom, yes, of a more diverse field, but more so of a divided Republican party. And the more divided the Republicans are, the less of a chance they have at winning in 2016.