Now Running for President, Someone Just Like Me

The early 2016 verbal jockeying has become as unrelenting as it is brazen

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Scott Walker aren’t running for President yet — but they think Republicans should pick someone just like them.

“I think [Americans] want someone outside of what’s been going on,” Paul, the Kentucky Senator, said on Monday night on Fox News. “For example, someone like myself who has been promoting term limits.”

Walker, the Wisconsin governor promoting a new book this week, has been telling anyone who asks that the GOP’s 2016 nominee has to — just has to — come from within its gubernatorial ranks, of which he is a proud member.

“I think both the presidential and the vice presidential nominee should either be a former or current governor, people who have done successful things in their states, who have taken on big reforms, who are ready to move America forward,” Walker said on Sunday on ABC.

And Christie, recently re-elected as New Jersey governor, used an appearance on Monday to say the problem with Washington is “nobody in this city talks to each other anymore” — unlike, say, in Christie’s Trenton.

“If you’re the executive, you’re the person who is in charge of making that happen,” Christie said at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “Members of Congress, members of a state legislature, they don’t have a responsibility to lead, and they always have an excuse if you let them.”



All of these Republicans are at least a year away from declaring their 2016 intentions. But to a striking degree, the verbal jockeying has become as unrelenting as it is brazen. And it’s noticeable difference from previous candidates-in-waiting.

“You know, you really don’t think about that until the time comes when you need to make a decision,” Mitt Romney, the eventual 2012 GOP nominee, said on Fox News in January 2010. “It’s always a possibility, and you keep the options open, but you concentrate on the task ahead. For me that’s trying to get some good people elected in 2010.” John McCain, the 2008 nominee, noted to ABC in January 2005 that “I have no PAC. I have no exploratory committee. I have no, nothing. I want to work on being a good Senator.”

In short, what four years ago might have been faux pleas of “I haven’t decided” are now giant, fluttering rhetorical flags planted in the ground declaring, “I’m the right kind of candidate.”

It’s the latest characteristic of nominating contests that seem to start before the previous one ends, fueled by the need to win over tuned-in conservative activists, court big-money donors and feed insatiable media interest in a race that’s three long years away.

“Now all these guys have to move the chess pieces much earlier than they used to, to get things set up,” says Republican strategist Rick Wilson. “There used to be fake modesty. Now it’s obvious what these guys are doing.”

Even when politicians make the pretense of deflecting, they are finding ways to shine a spotlight back on you-know-who. In a Politico op-ed published on Tuesday, which professed relative indifference toward 2016 in favor of a focus on the coming midterm elections, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made sure to brag on the gubernatorial ranks.

“Republican governors are leading the way with successful records that can help us win elections again,” Jindal wrote.

Each candidate doing the early maneuvering has his own motives and is speaking to his own audience. Paul, who never misses a chance to needle Christie as a “moderate,” is trying to make early inroads with the conservative base. Christie is seeking to cement and build upon an early advantage with Republican donors. And Walker is trying to assert himself as the man behind some of the biggest Republican policy wins of the Obama era. What’s changed measurably, compared with some previous elections, is the ease of delivering these broadsides.

“All the friction has gone out of politics,” Wilson says. “It used to be to get a message out a candidate had to go slog through editorial-board meetings all over New Hampshire and Iowa. As the cost of delivering messages has declined toward zero, you have to deliver more of them sooner to make it effective.”

And even as all the White House hopefuls profess their commitment to helping the party make gains in the 2014 midterm elections, don’t expect them to take their eyes off 2016 for even a moment. Every day, campaigning on behalf of a gubernatorial or congressional candidate is an opportunity to tout one’s bona fides to both donors and activists.

“I beg candidates to stay focused on 2014, do not chase the rabbit,” Wilson says. “But they just can’t resist it.”