The Republican Threshold

Aggregate poll averages from RealClearPolitics, as of 14 June 2015.

Steve Benen raises an interesting point:

We’re nearly through the initial phase of the presidential campaign – we know who’s running, who’s well positioned to compete, and roughly what the candidates’ platforms are going to look like. If this were a literal race, the runners have all effectively taken their place in the starting blocks. The next phrase tends to get a little … livelier.

On ABC yesterday morning, “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos said, in reference to some of the shots across the candidates’ bows, “The gloves are off, I can see that right now.” I think that’s probably a little premature, but there appears to be one Republican presidential hopeful who’s more eager than most to throw some jabs.

As political pugilism goes, all of these jabs are pretty mild, and we’re still months away from televised attack ads.

But let this be a reminder to campaign observers: one of the under-appreciated byproducts of a crowded Republican field is the inevitable crossfire. These GOP candidates have spent the last few months complaining about President Obama and Hillary Clinton, but we’re slowly reaching the point at which they start turning on one another – they have primary rivals to dispatch before they can prepare in earnest for the general election.

We may have reached a threshold, to be certain. But this is happening for a reason. With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie mere days away, the field is ready to shift. As Mr. Christie begins jabbing at his soon to be opponents, so also is Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin aiming at or near his fellow Republicans. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced today, and that creates a new dynamic that bears considering.

In April we considered an episode in which Sen. Ted Cruz, anxious to sound presidential, waxed wingnut about President Obama as an “unmitigated socialist”, and passed over what was the Texas junior’s actual point, which was to pick a fight between candidates with Senate experience to the one and gubernatorial experience to the other.

And now Mr. Bush is in, and Mr. Christie is rumbling before he roars. Add in former governors Rick Perry (Texas), George Pataki (New York) and Mike Huckabee (Arkansas), as well as the eventual arrival of Bobby Jindal (Louisiana) and probable candidacy of John Kasich (Ohio), and we’re up to what, eight governors?

Mr. Walker, for instance, isn’t even officially running, yet he stands in second place, and has every reason to start swinging; soon enough it will become painfully unavoidable that he is not the only “winner” among a field of “fighters”. We might give him points for the brass, though, while reiterating that he technically isn’t even on the field yet.

Yeah. Never mind.

But it also seems true that the fight is near to beginning in earnest. And while it is easy enough to suggest, as pretty much anybody might, that things will get ugly once this new, (ahem!) “livelier” phase gets underway, it is also important to remember that the rhetoric will be nothing short of defining.

____________________

Image note: Aggregate poll averages from RealClearPolitics, as of 14 June 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Republicans start to throw some elbows at each other”. msnbc. 15 June 2015.

Scott, Eric. “Is a Christie presidential announcement just days away?”. New Jersey 101.5. 13 June 2015.

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