Is 2016 the year of the Republican ‘clown car’?

June 4, 2015

Top row, left to right: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum. Bottow row, left to right: Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz. REUTERS/files

This is getting ridiculous. We now have nine declared candidates running for the 2016 Republican nomination. Another seven are likely to declare in the next few weeks. 16 for ’16!

When seven Democrats ran in 1988, Republicans referred to them derisively as “the seven dwarfs.” Soon Democrats will start talking about the 2016 Republican contenders as “the clown car.”

Politicians today are independent political entrepreneurs. They’re in business for themselves. The online world makes it easy to start a presidential campaign. A good political entrepreneur can gain attention, cultivate a following, raise money and burst onto the scene virtually overnight. You don’t need any political experience. Three of the 16 Republican contenders have never been elected to anything.

U.S. Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks with fellow presidential candidate and Texas Senator Rand Paul at the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa

Ben Carson (L), candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, speaks with fellow presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul in Des Moines, Iowa, May 16, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Republicans look at 2016 and see a rare opportunity. An open race is always an opportunity. There’s no incumbent president and no current or former vice president running. And no Republican candidate of formidable stature comparable to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush? His name is as much a burden as an advantage, even among Republicans. There are two Republican contenders who ran before — former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in 2012 — but they don’t scare anybody off. Every Republican politician gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, “Why not me?” You’ve got to seize the opportunity when it’s out there. There’s not likely to be another open race like this until at least 2024.

Moreover, after two terms of the same party in the White House, voters are typically hungry for change. Not invariably. (In 1988, they voted for a third term for Ronald Reagan by electing his vice president, George H. W. Bush). But usually (1960, 1968, 1976, arguably 2000 and 2008).

Wisconsin Governor and potential Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Scott Walker greets supporters at a rally for Congressman Rod Blum (R-IA) in Cedar Rapids

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) at a rally for Representative Rod Blum (R-Iowa) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, April 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

The more candidates who get in, the more candidates are tempted to get in.  Because anyone might win. The rules for next year’s Republican contest enhance that prospect. The early primaries (Feb. 1 to Mar. 14) will award delegates proportional to the vote. If you get 10 percent of the primary vote, you get 10 percent of the delegates.

As the race stands now, anyone could be a winner. Three polls taken in late May show no Republican front-runner. Four candidates are tied at about 10 percent each:  Bush, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Huckabee. The other 12 are in single digits. “Don’t know” leads the race, with 12 percent.

Beginning Mar. 15, states can choose to award their delegates winner-take-all.  The idea is to shut the process down quickly. The Florida primary is set for Mar. 15, with the winner taking all 99 delegates. The state is likely to be a steel-cage death match between the state’s two favorite sons: Bush versus Rubio.

Suppose Bush wins Florida. That wouldn’t be a big surprise. And there are many other states that would revolt against that result, which would keep the race going as different candidates eked out plurality victories all over the map. Moreover, super-PAC money and unlimited contributions from billionaires can keep dead candidates alive. Hope and cash are huge enticements to get into the race and stay in.

Candidates rely on the debates for lightning to strike them and electrify their campaign. But how can you have a debate with 16 candidates? You can’t. The television networks are planning to invite just the top 10 candidates in the pre-debate opinion polls. CNN has announced a “junior varsity” debate in September among the lower-ranked candidates, to be followed immediately by a “varsity” debate among the top 10.

Campaign buttons of Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum are seen in Pennsylvania

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s campaign buttons laid out before he formally declared his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Cabot, Pennsylvania, May 27, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

Right now, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Santorum, California businesswoman Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former New York Governor George Pataki and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal would be banished to the junior-varsity stage. You think the second-tier candidates and their supporters are not going to raise a ruckus?

Being on the big debate stage establishes a candidate’s credibility. Excluded contenders will claim the network is denying their legitimacy before a single primary vote is cast. The networks’ response? “It’s not our job to make you credible. You have to prove your credibility for us to invite you to the main event.”

As it stands now, the line would be drawn between former Texas Governor Rick Perry (in, with an average of 3 percent in the polls) and Santorum (out, with an average of 2 percent). No statistician could defend that distinction.

The first debate, hosted by Fox News, will be on Aug. 6 in Cleveland, with only the top 10 poll-ranked candidates invited. We can expect a political circus in the weeks leading up to the debate. Republican candidates will be staging stunts and competing desperately for attention-grabbing headlines in order to pump up their poll ratings and make it into the top 10.

Is this any way to choose a president of the United States?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

My favorite line,

“Is this any way to choose a president of the United States?”

The answer is, unequivocally no, but it’s been this way since the 2008 election. Many of the elections leading up to 2008 were laying the ground work for this travesty. I fear any future president elect, will be required to be a celebrity; answering AMA’s on Reddit, tweeting selfies, and getting cameo’s in Hollywood blockbusters.

Posted by Libertarianism | Report as abusive

You know what? I don’t care if they dug up Adolf Hitler and he won the nomination, I’d vote for him over Hillary.

Wake up, America- Bill Clinton should be in PRISON for causing the housing/banking crash when he and his cronies repealed Glass-Steagal and made fannie/freddie mortgage lending a racist, minority vote-buying scam.

And Hillary made MULTIPLE attempts to STEAL VALOR, she said “we ran from snipers in Bosnia, now that is what happened.” Then when caught with VIDEO by one honest reporter, she lies again and said “I misspoke”.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

Not really a difference between any of the GOP clowns…They all are running on the same tired old rhetoric ….Obama bad me good….throw in your usual anti abortion and gay rhetoric and spice it up with some religious freedom bullshit and bing bota bing they are all clones of each other.

Posted by akita96th | Report as abusive

All of the GOP clowns are clones of each other.

Posted by akita96th | Report as abusive

Yes, this is the way to choose a president or do you prefer the Hillary ordination? The early primaries will rapidly separate the wheat from the chafe and this vetting will result in the survivors being stronger.

If there is a car, it is the decrepit car known as the Hillary, the one for “formidable stature.”

Posted by kevin2oh | Report as abusive

I do not think so!

Posted by jump2top | Report as abusive

What’s the problem again? Why did Reuters publish this screed? Is one or all of them not qualified under the Costitution? Geesh, find something to write about that doesn’t make you sound like the guy on the corner yelling a boy the end of the world.

Posted by lostinla | Report as abusive

I love the idiot poster who said Clinton should be prison for signing Gramm, Leach, Bliley – three Republicans who drafted Glass Steagal with a veto proof majority. If you think these guys were Bill’s cronies, then surely you would expect them to be in adjoining cells.

Posted by LucieLu | Report as abusive

Wait, a new idiot emerges. One who would vote for Hitler over Hillary. When you wonder where the GOP gets their ridiculous candidates from, this genius would be a good place to start.

Posted by LucieLu | Report as abusive

“Clowncar”, right, that’s not going to help you. Introducing pejoratives by attempting crude Pavlovian conditioning is no longer effective on a savvy and experienced body of concerned citizens. So, for every ‘c/car’ reference I see, I am going to post my version of their juggernaut line up. It is:

1. Madam Secretary Reset the Lying Bribetaker!!!
2. Weekend at Bernie Sanders
3. Martin ‘Who’ll Tax the Rain” O’Malley

…and yet another contender arises..

Lincoln Chafee, a man when his name in introduced in conversation, is most commonly followed by the words, “who the f$#k is Lincoln Chafee?” now heaves into view, standing on the deck of the democrat ship of fools.

Posted by fiftysevennomad | Report as abusive

I don’t see any problem with the number of candidates and I have yo wonder why the author does. He certainly has not explained why this constitutes a “clown car” other than to cast aspersions on the candidates without specifically mentioning why there should be fewer numbers.

Posted by lostinla | Report as abusive

Every year is clown year for republican politicians. These are people who thought Sarah Palin was smart. Sarah Palin is a person, who in turn, thought Africa was a country.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Ohh sarah palin jokes make you look so intelligent. I bet you think your so smart because you can parrot your liberal buddies. Good job, mindless drivel from mostly liberals. they depend on attacks based on character and generalizations than they claim to be for equality. ahhaha the most delusional people i have ever met have been die hard liberals…

Posted by timeisuponus | Report as abusive

Better a clown car than a limo filled with bribe taking Democrat liars and Chicago thieves. Liberals would vote for Hitler if he aped the party line.

Posted by maxconrad | Report as abusive

“clown car” — there are already 10 of them – they’re going to need a clown train at this rate.

Posted by webthree | Report as abusive

IMHO, the more, the merrier. I’d like to see dozens of GOP candidates pouring billions into a wishful-thinking political race. This could be Republicans’ best attempt to date at improving our economy.

An additional benefit: A whole bunch of discouraged supporters of the dozens of also-rans who won’t bother to vote in the 2016 election…

Posted by Lisztman | Report as abusive

Bill Schneider, a left wing extremist feigning to be a journalist. He is part of Third Way ‘think’ tank with former Clinton and Obama staff. Jonathan Silver, the director of the Department of Energy’s loan office, and a figure involved in the Solyndra loan controversy, resigned in disgrace and become a distinguished visiting fellow at Third Way. Wasting half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money gets a ‘distinguished’ title of honor at Third Way. So much for being a ‘think’ tank.

Bill Schneider is not a journalist but is a puppet of the extreme left.

The only people that take him seriously (other that himself), are the “Gruber stupid”

Posted by DTJ61 | Report as abusive

Or as republicans now call them….. “cars.”

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

It doesn’t matter how many republican clowns hump each other in that car. They won’t seat another president for 30 years. People remember what a disaster Bush and cheney were, and what a mess Iraq is now.

3 trillion dollars, 4,000 U.S. service lives…. to give ISIS a new home. Republican = failure.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

“crude Pavlovian conditioning is no longer effective on a savvy and experienced body of concerned citizens”

Apparently you have never learned how FOX keeps an audience. Not that MSNBC is much better…

Posted by Dehumanist | Report as abusive

What killed GOP hopes last time were the Looney-Tune GOP primaries, featuring Discount Pizza Economics; a candidate who couldn’t remember what agencies he wanted to shut down, The Billionaire Birther, The Anti-Gay Congresswoman with the Husband halfway-in-the-closet, and the eventual winner who lashed-out against health care based on the same plan he successfully implemented in his own state.

That, and the huge chorus of anti-everything, nativists claiming THEY were going o take THEIR country back (from you know who); alienating nearly every non-WASP descended voter in the process.

The fact is that the list of incredibly ridiculous primary-candidates of the last cycle, quite accurately represented the party itself- an amalgam of bigoted and willfully ignorant folks that were pissed-off that even a black-guy walloped the heck out of their party- TWICE!

The last time the party resoundingly rejected the reasonable, logical and practical Huntsmen; and this year Jeb will be roasted alive by his own party for daring to have compassion for brown-skinned Latins and other “not-your-average-Republican-types.”

Look at the right-wing commentators on this article and you can see that a rerun of the last surreal-circus is underway.

Posted by Interactidiomas | Report as abusive

Nope, this is NOT a way to choose a president of the United States. They’re simply choosing a Republican candidate … and none of them could beat Hillary Clinton.

Posted by MissMacy | Report as abusive