A few weeks ago, Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) announcement to seek the presidency officially kicked off the 2016 election cycle. In addition to Senator Cruz, Rand Paul (R-KY) has thrown his hat into the ring, and Marco Rubio (R-FL) followed suit earlier this week. The Republican Party has not yet rallied behind a favorite candidate, unlike the Democrats, who have found a clear frontrunner in Hillary Clinton ‘69. Many Republican strategists are worried that the failure to coalesce behind one candidate could weaken or even delegitimize the Republican nominee against the behemoth — assuming that she wins the nomination — of Clinton’s operation. However, there are some potential benefits to in-party rifts.
As a recent New York Times article pointed out, the willingness of the Republican Party to engage with such different opinions will not necessarily appear as an unseemly, cacophonous echo chamber. It could demonstrate to the American public that the party is not a homogeneous group of like-minded people, but rather a diverse group who is not afraid to engage with contentious issues in order to determine who is the best candidate to lead our country. Furthermore, the existence of the Tea Party and Establishment branches could give candidates with a less well-funded and streamlined operation a chance to stand out and appeal to the traditional voter base.
Since the rise of the Tea Party, the Republicans have been trying to present a united front; yet, there are significant differences between those who have become known as “The Establishment” and tend to favor more moderate policies, and “Tea Partiers” who want to revert back to “traditional” conservative values. The field for the 2016 elections is cluttered by both candidates and the diversity of opinions. Jeb Bush, who announced that he was running for president in late March, is seen as the Establishment candidate, while Senators Cruz and Rubio are backed by the Tea Party and Senator Paul is the token libertarian.
Although Bush is seen as the favorite, the other three could put on a fight by appealing to those in the Republican Party who are skeptical of Bush’s “watered-down” brand of conservatism. By pointing to the sharp differences between their own ideologies and that of the establishment candidate, these three contenders could cause some trouble for the former Florida governor. Without him in the race, they do not have a clear way to stand out to the more traditionally conservative base.
This is especially true for Senator Rubio, who has had a special relationship with Bush since his days in the Florida state legislature. This situation could provide a way for him to break decisively with Bush, his long-time mentor, and establish himself as an independent and, most importantly, viable candidate. This is a very different Rubio from the one who, as he contemplated a senate run back in 2010, said he would not run for the empty seat if Bush wanted to. Fast-forward five years, and Senator Rubio has risen rapidly within the ranks of the party and become someone who is viewed as having the potential to be the future of the GOP. His candidacy would assert that he does not need anyone’s approval to seek the highest office in American politics. The Tea Party vs. Establishment dynamic that characterizes the Bush/Rubio relationship will pit mentor against mentee in a tense race, leaving the voters to decide which brand of conservatism they want to have a shot at the Oval. Who will win this time? Will the Bushes succeed in perpetuating their influence in the White House, or will a new, fresh face get the chance to make history? With a race characterized by multiple candidates holding highly distinct ideologies, anything is possible.
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