WASHINGTON – Let’s say, for a moment, that America has given you the job of picking the perfect candidate for president. Good luck, Mr. or Ms. Voter, deciding what they’ve got to have – and what they can do without.
There are all sorts of things to start the list: leadership, vision, charisma, communication skills and foreign policy cred. And more: fundraising prowess, authenticity, empathy, a keen understanding of the presidency and maybe a little familiarity with running for the office.
And even more: good looks are always a plus, even if people don’t want to admit it. For many, being an “outsider” is a must at a time when “Washington” is on the outs with a lot of people.
Where do you even start? For Republicans, you can’t do much better than this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
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There are as many as two dozen GOP hopefuls eyeing the party’s nomination in 2016, and many of them will be offering themselves at CPAC as the perfect prom date for conservatives in search of a winning candidate.
Can anyone claim the total package? Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, sees a strong lineup of potential candidates and says that now, “they’re going to preen and strut and we’re going to see a president emerge.”
But you know how schoolgirls may dream up the perfect boyfriend by imagining a mashup of the jock, the hottie and the smart kid, with a whiff of bad boy for excitement? What if Republicans could do the same to assemble their dream candidate to go up against the Democratic nominee, who most expect will be Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Here’s a look at a few qualities they might want to pick from, and some of the candidates with something to offer.
Pick a governor. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are among at least 10 current and former governors considering a bid. Says Walker, “Governors are the ones who get things done.” One other option: Carly Fiorina, a former tech executive, has the initials “CEO” on her resume.
Grab a senator. Boy, do they know how to talk. There are at least five current and former senators considering running, and Florida’s Marco Rubio, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Texan Ted Cruz are all known for giving a good speech. Rubio has the added benefit of a compelling back story to share on the stump: he’s the son of Cuban immigrants who came to the U.S. seeking a better life.
Walker is a Harley-riding preacher’s son who’s been governor since 2011 and cultivated the image of the outside-Washington upstart. He’s best known for a taking on public unions, and surviving a 2012 recall election after that brouhaha.
UNDERSTANDING THE PRESIDENCY
Hands down, this is Bush – he’s the son and brother of former presidents. No one else can claim the same intimacy with the office, says Schlapp, who calls Bush a “historical anomaly.” But, then again, that whole Bush dynasty thing is a downside to those with bad memories of presidents 41 and 43.
A handful of White House potentials have been here, done that. How much did they learn last time out? Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was the last candidate standing in opposition to Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination in 2012, a role played by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee against John McCain in 2008.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee who has traveled extensively to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and more, and serves in the U.S. Air Force Reserves at the rank of captain, has a fluency with foreign affairs that stands out. Rubio, who serves on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, is well-versed on Latin America.
Foreign policy is typically a weak area for governors, which may be why Christie, Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have all trooped to London in recent weeks. In a recent speech on foreign policy, Bush stressed that he had lived in Venezuela for a time, led 15 trade missions as Florida governor and traveled extensively since then. “I forced myself to go visit Asia four times a year to learn about the dynamic nature of the region,” he said.
Bush. Most voters don’t really care about campaign finance, but raking in cash is an essential skill for any successful candidate. Veteran GOP fundraiser Fred Malek predicts Bush will raise twice as much money as any other GOP candidate, but he says other leading candidates, including Christie and Walker, can raise enough to compete.
Paul has a reputation for candor that endears him to many, but sometimes gets him into trouble. Christie has the authenticity factor in spades, for better or worse. His tell-it-like-it-is bravado is a plus to some and a huge turnoff to others. “The knock on him is that he is who he is,” Schlapp said. “Some people love that, and maybe some people don’t.”
There’s no People Magazine list of the hottest candidates. But you can bet most of these candidates like what they see in the mirror.