Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Republican presidential field is like the broom that keeps endlessly splitting into more brooms in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” section of Fantasia. By this time next week, there will likely be 10 officially declared candidates — and that doesn’t even include the sitting governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, Louisiana, and New Jersey, the former governor of Florida, or Donald Trump.

Many Democrats would give their eyeteeth for even a fraction of the credible contenders in this crowd. All joking about Hollywood Squares aside, how to handle debates when you’ve got a field nearly the size of two baseball teams is a good problem to have.

But does quantity equal quality and an advantage in a general election? Or does it mean endless coverage of positions that could hurt the eventual nominee?

Two recent developments point up the divergent trend lines between the country and the GOP, or at least the base that will be influencing its early nomination process.

One is a new Gallup poll that shows pronounced leftward shifts on moral issues since 2001. For instance, 63 percent consider gay and lesbian relations morally acceptable, up from 40 percent 14 years ago. There are also new majorities that find doctor-assisted suicide and having a baby outside marriage morally acceptable, and double-digit increases in existing majorities on sex between unmarried men and women, divorce and stem-cell research using human embryos.

“Moral acceptability of many of these issues is now at a record high level,” writes Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport. “Americans have become less likely to say that two issues are morally acceptable: the death penalty and medical testing on animals. But Americans’ decreased acceptance of these practices actually moves them in a more liberal direction.”

Newport adds that the attitude shifts could significantly affect politics, “with candidates whose positioning is based on holding firm views on certain issues having to grapple with a voting population that, as a whole, is significantly less likely to agree with conservative positions than it might have been in the past.”

Who's in the race?
Click to enlarge

There are multiple Republican candidates with firm but out-of-step views, and it’s not out of the question that one or more will do well in early contests in Iowa and South Carolina. But such a nominee would hold limited appeal, particularly to young voters, in a general election.

A similar dynamic is playing out on immigration. So far, conservatives are winning the legal battle to block President Obama’s sweeping executive actions to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, most recently this week with the 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans to keep in place a lower court’s injunction against the program.

But poll after poll has shown that on immigration policy itself, majorities agree with Obama that there should be a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions. And while a handful of Republican contenders are open to the idea, that’s not the takeaway from the 2016 field. They stress border security, denounce Obama as an overreaching tyrant, and, in at least one case, call for less legal immigration.

GOP candidates who weren’t inclined to attack the substance of Obama’s views seized on the executive actions as a way to set themselves apart from him. But their legal victories notwithstanding, there’s no mistaking which side Republicans are on. Nor is there any doubt where Hillary Clinton and other Democrats stand. They’re with Obama and in some cases inclined to take his policies even further toward protecting undocumented immigrants.

That’s no small thing for Hispanics. Six in 10 know someone who is undocumented and 36 percent know someone who has faced deportation proceedings, according to a Latino Decisions/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll in March. The anxiety and concern are community-wide — but the GOP doesn’t seem attuned to that.

And that’s no small thing for a Republican nominee. Hispanic voters could determine who wins Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, Virginia, and North Carolina next year. In other words, who wins the presidency.

The issue splits go on and on. Majorities in polls say corporations and the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes, while Republicans want to lower taxes for both. Majorities want a nuclear deal with Iran, even as Republicans attack Obama and the whole idea of a deal.

This is not to say a Republican won’t capture the White House next year. But win or lose, the party is on an unsustainable path. A field of 16 can’t change that, and it might even make it worse.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at 

Image: DonkeyHotey via Flickr. Graphic showing who is officially running for president: Tribune News Service 2015

  • Dominick Vila

    Other than a logistical nightmare, the problem affecting the GOP campaign strategists has nothing to do with the interminable list of candidates, but with the lack of substance that characterizes their political platforms. Saying no, criticizing everything the opposition does, and never offering solutions or a vision may play world at a Tea Party rally, it is not going to get them very far at a national level.

    • ralphkr

      The biggest problem is that it is so much more difficult to come up with a good policy than to just scream NO about everything. In addition, having a good plan may or may not garner more votes but screaming NO will definitely capture the hearts (I was going to say “and minds” but it is hard to capture that which is practically nonexistent) of the rabid Flat Earthers, i.e., TEA Party.

  • atc333

    It is almost as though the winner of this primary election contest will be the contestant who can yell “ME TOO!” the loudest. No plan,no answers, no solutions, just more of the same . This is the “New GOP”.

    • Dominick Vila

      Unfortunately, for the USA, there are a lot of people among us whose preferences are limited by the letter after the name of a candidate…and what that letter represents to them.

  • Paul Bass

    GOP problems are the same as in 2012.
    In order to pander to their right-wing yahoo flat-earth primary voters, they all look like out of touch simpletons/fools to the general election voters.
    Although A. Stevenson said it well ‘ I need MORE than the thinking voters, I need a majority!’

  • Bosda

    The problem with the big field is that an army of hicks, rubes & yokels…is still made up of hicks, rubes & yokels.

  • Insinnergy

    The GOP failed to learn from the last two presidential elections… even after their own post-mortem, they still didn’t do anything on their own list of key issues that lost them the top job.
    It’s going to take a true catastrophe to inspire some self-analysis and reformation.
    They still seem to believe that pandering to evangelicals, white men, billionaires and business is a winning strategy. It used to be.
    It’s rapidly not going to ever be that way again.
    Here’s to 2016…

    • Roscoe79

      that post-mortem was dropped when the Right felt the ObamaCare roll-out was so bad they didn’t need to change…that short-term thinking is what’s killing their chances at the White House

      and if they don’t understand the direction the country is headed after this week, I don’t know they ever will

  • Stuart

    When you have this many candidates, you know there’s money to be made. Cashing in.

  • Steve Batchelor

    What is going to hurt the GOP more than anything is what the people that are leaning on the fence hear from the more despicable members of the clown car…ie…”tea party nutz”. The ones interested enough in the election process that are willing to listen to the candidates…:the aforementioned fence sitters…are going to hear Cruz,Santorum,Huckabee and Carson spew their crazy BS and label all the Repugs as insane. To which I say hallelujah!

    • Bob Eddy

      To which I say — all of them are insane!

  • Bob Eddy

    I suppose any party would like to have this many credible candidates to choose from, by i dont see a credible candidate in the bunch any credible candidate (if there is even one left in the party) would have to turn nutso to appeal to the party — remember John McCain who believed in global warming, believed in women’s choice and even believed in cooperation to the extent that he worked with a Democrat to build and pass finance reform legislation, but then went nutso when running for the Republican nomination and never recovered his sanity.