OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Who’s Really Left in the GOP Field?
Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you lack a unique, differentiating value, your only play is price.

In business, you command the price play by being very, very big and very, very efficient. In presidential politics, you’re unique or you close up shop and go home. Commodities don’t win executive offices. Usually.

Even though it’s early, only four Republican candidates for president have differentiating value propositions:

  • Ben Carson
  • Donald Trump
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Ted Cruz

Everybody else is a commodity, especially Jeb Bush. (But watch Bush.)

Two stories put this idea in my head. First, Rand Paul’s campaign is imploding (h/t Chris Arps). Second, Scott Walker seems to be imitating Donald Trump. When you’re mimicking your opponent, you’re in trouble.

I could probably make a case for Mike Huckabee being unique if Ben Carson were not in the race. Huckabee is a fabulous speaker, especially live. He has the best comedic timing I’ve seen in a politician, maybe ever. He’s one of the few politicians I’ve seen who can deliver a canned joke perfectly. And he is sincere and humble in the process.

But Ben Carson is equally sincere and humble. While Carson may not have Huckabee’s delivery (yet), it’s impossible not to respect Dr. Carson’s decency and optimism. And that unifying optimism is Carson’s differentiator. Dr. Carson is the most comfortable in his own skin of all the candidates in the GOP race. He might have done well financially as a neurosurgeon, but no one doubts he would have worked just as hard to save lives for minimum wage. His life’s work involves improving people’s lives, especially those with little hope. That’s a life people can rally around. Ben Carson’s unique value proposition is unifying optimism.

The opposite of humble decency is Donald Trump. Trump is just plain rude. He’s the guy New York sends people to to learn how to perpetuate the New Yorker stereotype. While I might say that Rand Paul appears unprepared for this level of campaigning, Trump says, “Rand’s campaign is a total mess, and as a matter of fact, I didn’t know he had anybody left in his campaign to make commercials who are not currently under indictment!” Ba-ding! When I read that line, I hear Rodney Dangerfield’s voice. Sadly, in the age of Real Housewives, egomaniacal rudeness is a differentiator.

Perhaps the most fascinating candidate so far has been Carly Fiorina. Her performance in the undercard bout last week prompted me to dig into her conservative credentials. I trust that she is authentically conservative. As I wrote yesterday, I have a big question she must answer for me, but if her performance to this point is any indication, she’ll knock my question out of the park. That’s because Fiorina’s super power is communication. Carly Fiorina can distill complex issues to their essential qualities and explain them without demeaning her audience, even if they’re experts. That’s an indispensable skill for US President, if not for a candidate for president.

Finally, there’s Ted Cruz. Cruz is probably the best qualified candidate in the bunch. I should warn that “best qualified” is not the same as “likeliest to win” or even, necessarily, my favorite. Cruz has a big burden to overcome–a lot of people think there’s something creepy about him. That’s his challenge to overcome. But Cruz is cool in an early 1960s Hollywood way.  Like George C. Scott in The Hustler. Not Paul Newman cool, but old school cool. It takes a cool cat to compliment Donald Trump when every political playbook since Caesar’s says to pile on. Cruz’s superpower is coolness.

That said, I still have a sinking feeling Jeb Bush will win the nomination. Yes, I said that Jeb Bush is undifferentiated. Yes, I said that commodity candidates don’t win presidential primaries. But it’s possible that my playbook is outdated. Maybe the power of money and monied interests is enough to overcome commodification in 2016. Jeb Bush is certainly the Walmart of GOP politics, and only a fool would bet against Bentonville, right?

I hope my playbook still works. Three of the four differentiated candidates seem like great choices for America. The fourth might have some good ideas, but a country that would have a rude egomaniac as president might be a country destined for a great fall. I wouldn’t want everyone in America to behave like Donald Trump, but if he were president, we’d have a hard time telling people to eschew rudeness.

Go ahead and hate me, Trump fans. America must be bigger and better. Cruz, Carson, or Fiorina seem able to restore American prestige and prosperity without becoming a nation of jerks in the process.

Who wants to find out, after all, that the “shining city on a hill” was actually just a louche casino. 

  • Something “Creepy” about Cruz. Please keep your personal insights to your self. There is nothing “Creepy” about defending our Constitution and our Liberties. What is “Creepy” is the the Fact Shillary is still in the Running.

    • First, I greatly respect your opinion and you readership and support. So your note hurt.

      But I’m surprised by one part of it. My blog is all about my personal insights. Do you really think I should keep my insights to myself? If so, should I contain all of my insights, or only those insights you don’t like? Should I stop blogging and tweeting my insights about Obama? Hillary?

      Finally, yes, Ted Cruz has a creepiness factor. That’s not a personal insight, but it does emerge from a small sample size. I’ve had at least five people tell me they like Cruz, but there’s something about him that bothers them–something they can’t quite put their finger on. When one woman said “a creepiness factor,” I seized on it.

      Maybe “creepiness factor” isn’t the right phrase. I don’t know. But there’s some reason that Ted Cruz doesn’t poll very well.

      I’ve also blogged that Ted Cruz is the most qualified candidate to be president. Why do you perseverate on the negative as opposed to extolling that ultimate praise? (You realize, of course, that readers of this comment thread will have seen “creepy” and “Ted Cruz” together about seven times, but “most qualified” and “Ted Cruz” but once.)

  • Ellen Elmore

    Thanks Bill for a great analysis of the Republican candidates. Of the four, Trump is the only one who has good poll numbers in spite of his arrogant rudeness. His critical comments about women and his opponents take the campaign for president right into the gutter. No matter how much money he has he is still classless. Cruz, Fiorina and Carson are gracious competitors with true conservative credentials. I hope you are wrong about Jeb Bush winning the nomination. This country does not need another Bush in the White House.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons
Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE
%d bloggers like this: