Now that Mitt Romney has decided not to run, the shape of the 2016 presidential race is clearer. I hate to break it to you, but as of Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017, the White House will be vacant. All of the remaining potential candidates have flaws that will make it impossible for them to win.
Hillary Clinton is tied to the Clinton administration’s scandals and the Obama administration’s foreign policy. By a two-to-one margin, Americans want the next president to offer different policies from the incumbent administration – similar to figures in the second Bush term. And then there’s age. Born Oct. 26, 1947, she would be 69 years old on Election Day, which would make her the second-oldest president after Ronald Reagan.
Elizabeth Warren, born June 22, 1949, is almost as old as Clinton. She has won only one election, in liberal Massachusetts, and her progressive politics would travel poorly in a general election. (Think Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.)
Martin O’Malley was governor of Maryland. Even though that state is among the nation’s bluest, his policies were so unpopular that voters picked a Republican successor. Also, he was the inspiration for a character on the classic TV series "The Wire" – which is not a good thing, since the character was an unprincipled double-crosser.
Mike Huckabee is well-liked. He also tends to make the kind of gaffes that would sink candidates who reach the top tier. Even some commentators on the right have taken him to task for his recent comments on women who cuss at work.
Chris Christie flunked his 2012 vice presidential vetting. Bridgegate might not bring him down, other elements of his past would weigh him down. To the delight of opposition researchers, his temper will produce damaging YouTube moments.
Scott Walker won reelection in 2014 despite a campaign finance scandal. In a presidential race, however, the relevant documents will be subject to scrutiny by a large cadre of more-skillful and better-equipped opposition researchers. The e-mail trove will be like a natural gas well that reopens when a new technology becomes available. Call it political fracking.
Ted Cruz has irked colleagues in the party with counterproductive legislative tactics. Many Republican officials hate him, and they will undercut him in ways both obvious and subtle.
Like Jindal, Rick Perry is still living down an old embarrassment: In his case, the infamous "oops" moment in the 2012 campaign, when he could not remember one of the Cabinet departments that he wanted to scrap. Perhaps it will lower expectations for him. But another problem is that he will no longer be governor of Texas, and will not be able to gather "access money."
John Kasich expanded Medicaid, which might not hurt him in a general election but would cost him conservative support in GOP primaries. And with Christie and Bush, it is hard to see that there will be many votes left in the “establishment bracket.”
Dr. Ben Carson is a world-class surgeon but has never held office or run a large organization. Every president has had one of those two experiences. His oratory may give him an early boost, but at some point, his lack of qualifications will kick in.
Carly Fiorina, like Dr. Carson, has never won an election, but she has run an organization (HP). That's her problem: HP sacked her for poor performance, and her stewardship opens her up to the kind of "callous clueless rich person" attack that hurt Romney. And at least Romney could make a plausible case that he was successful at Bain.
Others may be waiting in the wings, but they too undoubtedly have fatal liabilities. So we’ll just have to make do without a president, right?
You’ve probably figured out that my premise is a fib, which is the point. As we read all the punditry about candidates who are absolutely certain to lose, we should remember that there have been similar comments about nearly everyone who has gone on to win. In 1979, for instance, journalist Richard Reeves wrote an article titled, “Why Reagan Won’t Make It.” Reagan did make it, of course, and so will one of the flawed human beings who seek the presidency in 2016.
Jack Pitney writes his Looking for Trouble blog exclusively for the Monitor.