Last month, a total of seventeen Republican presidential candidates engaged in the first debates of the nascent presidential campaign. We are not here to pick winners and losers at this very early stage. (We do predict, though, that Donald Trump will be but a memory when the convention rolls around next summer – unless he chooses to run as an Independent, in which case he likely will cost the Republicans the election.) Instead, my colleague Jeff Bush and I want to provide a framework for evaluating the candidates going forward.
In our view, to be elected president the Republican nominee must execute a difficult — but far from impossible — political maneuver. He or she must exhibit sufficiently conservative credentials to win primaries, particularly in the South, and yet convincingly pivot to more moderate positions to win the general election. This view is based solely on numbers, not on the appropriateness of any particular political position. According to the Gallop organization, only about 25% of the country identify themselves as Republican, the lowest percentage in twenty-five years. About 42% of the country say they are Independent.
Speaking very broadly, many Independents support the Republican mantra of fiscal responsibility, but are less comfortable with some of the conservative Republican social positions. A Republican candidate who emphasizes the former and de-emphasizes the latter likely has a greater chance to win.
Some conservative Republicans disagree with us on this position. They note, correctly, that the Republican Party nominated moderate candidates in the last two elections and lost both. But we don’t know how a more conservative candidate would have fared. He or she might have lost the elections by larger margins.
The above concern is not unique to the Republicans. As Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren push presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to the left, she too must be careful not to lose more moderate Independent voters.
Next up: Another Republican debate on September 16 and the initial Democratic debate on October 13. As you watch and evaluate the candidates, keep in mind that winning the nomination is not the same as winning the general election.
Stay tuned, as we will be providing periodic updates and predictions throughout the campaign. Also, our bookings for 2016 are filling up. Please let us know if you’d like us to speak at your meeting or election year event.
We’ll end this serious topic with a bit of humor. There are plenty of great quotes to come out of the campaigns. But my favorite so far is from Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the Republican candidates in the “kiddie” debate. Graham is in his 60s and has never been married. Here is what he said a few weeks ago, speaking about Mitt Romney: “[Last election] we tried tall, good looking, smart, nice, great family. We’re not going down that road again!”
Andrew H. Friedman is the principal of The Washington Update LLC and a former senior partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm. He speaks regularly on legislative and regulatory developments and trends affecting investment, insurance, and retirement products. He may be reached at www.TheWashingtonUpdate.com.
Neither the author of this paper, nor any law firm with which the author may be associated, is providing legal or tax advice as to the matters discussed herein. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. It is not intended as legal or tax advice and individuals may not rely upon it (including for purposes of avoiding tax penalties imposed by the IRS or state and local tax authorities). Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed herein and before entering into any estate planning, trust, investment, retirement, or insurance arrangement.
Copyright Andrew H. Friedman 2015. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
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