NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The Republican cohort of presidential candidates is considerably more fleshed out than that of the Democrats. For better or worse there’s much more of a contest on the Right to see who will be the party’s nominee in 2016. Better because it allows the party to avoid the tasteless spectacle of having a candidate polish her scepter in the back of a Scooby Doo van. Worse because it means that anyone seeking the nomination has to preserve a shred of dignity for the general election while still winning the support of voters who chant “keep your government hands off my Medicare” and mean it.
Economically there’s not a whole lot of daylight between many of the Republican candidates. Much as with the Democrats, the party is coalescing around a few general principles, and for pocketbook voters, the big choice will really be Blue Team or Red. Still, there are some variations on the theme, and those can matter. Below MainStreet has broken each candidate down into our three almost-certainly speculative categories.
Let’s get to it.
- Big Picture – A hard return to supply side tax theory, which means heavy cuts focused largely at the top. Although Bush is trying to position himself as a new breed of Republican, different from his brother or Mitt Romney, his advisors have largely been assembled from the teams of George W. Bush and Romney. In particular, Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard has a large role in the nascent campaign. Although we don’t know any details yet, Hubbard was a major author of Romney’s tax plan in 2012, and the bones of his economic thinking will almost certainly play a role in Bush’s.
Because if there’s one thing the past 15 years have taught is, it’s that more money at the top ensures rich drippings for the rest of us.
- Long Shot – Zombies! When Bush was elected governor of Florida in 2003, he reportedly said of the state government offices that “there would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we make these buildings around us empty of workers." One imagines he hasn't left that philosophy behind him.
Bush is a vigilant crusader against government overreach. His zeal for shrinking the footprint of the state would involve fewer government jobs (and as such, those empty offices he spoke longingly of), if he could get people onboard with his Walking Dead vision of a capital lined with empty buildings. Given that government workers are the Overly Attached Girlfriend of the employment sector, however, don’t expect this utopia to come true any time soon.
- Dark Horse – Bush would like to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Jebsurance, a nationwide catastrophic coverage plan which does away with the individual mandate.
Catastrophic coverage plans have gained traction among the right as a possible replacement for the ACA, because they only cover the eponymous high-cost events. The risk pool can be smaller and the insurance is less expensive for both providers and customers, but such plans also don’t cover mid-range expenses or routine medicine. It will be interesting to see if Bush actually puts out a nuts-and-bolts plan to make that happen.
- Big Picture – Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cut his teeth on labor, almost literally. His signature achievement was cracking down on collective bargaining in Wisconsin, and there’s no question that he’s itching to take this fight national. In fact, given that Walker thinks that this experience has prepared him for the Situation Room, the only question is whether he envisions rolling across picket lines in an Abrams tank.
Labor has been on the ropes for a long time. While some public sector unions, such as the teachers, still have power, even they are starting to struggle in the face of unpopular decisions. Walker wouldn’t have much problem waging his war from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
- Long Shot – Walker would have a harder time enacting his vision for sweeping budget cuts. This is an issue that politicians love to run on, but once in power, they have a surprisingly hard time following through. There’s a reason for this. Americans, by considerable majorities, simultaneously support cutting spending and oppose cuts to any individual programs.
Walker wants to cut spending and balance the budget, all of which makes for a great slogan and is easier to do in the states that can’t run deficits. Once in Washington, he’d have to come up with a line item that could get majorities to the table, and that’s ink of a different color.
- Dark Horse – Recently the Walker administration kicked up a storm back in Madison when it tried to change the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin. What received considerably less attention was his proposal to cut $300 million from the school’s budget.
Walker has promised to deliver rock bottom tuition for students at the University of Wisconsin, and how much you believe the truth of that depends on your view of these cuts. Do they make a bloated system leaner and more efficient, or does taking money away from an organization mean that it will have to start charging its consumers more? (PolitiFact has judged this promise completely false.) Either way, we know what to expect from a Walker White House when it comes to education funding.
- Big Picture – Unlike the other potential candidates, Rubio has a fairly well defined platform which gives us a good sense of what he would bring to the White House. He also has just a little more than half the funding of Scott Walker, which gives us a good sense of what he won’t bring to the White House: luggage.
Aside from a tax plan similar to that put forth by most prominent Republicans, one of the biggest issues for potential voters is Rubio’s vow to end Net Neutrality. Take a moment to think back at just how much time you spend surfing the Internet every day (we won’t tell, we promise). Now compare it to how many times you’ve grumbled at or threatened your cable provider with horrors that would make Jigsaw blush.
This is one you’re going to feel.
- Long Shot – Rubio wants to overhaul higher education in America, and who can blame him? Something is clearly rotten. He’s put forth ideas like easier accreditation for “more innovative and affordable schools” as well as a loan alternative called Student Investment Plans in which private firms pay tuition in exchange for a fixed percentage of the student’s salary over a number of years.
Just imagine the freshman mixers. “I’m sponsored by McDonald’s, wanna go hang out with the Nikes?”
"Nah, they all want to just do it."
No argument with the idea of innovation in education, and it’s not like students don’t graduate with life debts as-is, but anything that involves the word “overhaul” is going to run quickly up against people who like the system just fine the way it is. This one’s a long shot.
- Dark Horse – Rubio’s tax plan is similar to that put forth by most prominent Republicans…mostly. In a surprising quirk, this maverick supports keeping the current top end tax rate of 35%. Love it or hate it as macroeconomics go, the bankers among us are going to like President Rubio a little less for this surprising bit of populism.
- Big Picture – Liberty and the Constitution. Those are two of the first words on Cruz’s website, so a vote for Cruz is a vote for… freedom and having a Constitution we guess? Also possibly mom, apple pie, getting Firefly back on the air and a puppy. Also, judging from Cruz's site, his economic plan centers around shaking hands with shop workers while wearing a leather jacket and riveting the metal with the steely strength of his eyes. $20 says the worker’s name is something rugged like Bill or Dave. My next paycheck says he’s honest, hard-working and American.
There’s also an end to Obamacare. It’s one of Cruz’s founding principles. If he were a Constitution, it would be the first Amendment. If Cruz were still in school, Obamacare wouldn’t be allowed to join his study group. This is more important for Cruz than other candidates, because while the others might drag their heels waiting for replacement plans once in office, Cruz would probably favor immediate repeal.
- Long Shot – In 2014 Cruz wrote an op-ed in USA Today calling for a national flat tax and abolishing the IRS, as opposed to our current system of progressive taxation. It’s simple, which may help to explain the plan’s appeal to Cruz, but like most countries we use progressive taxes for a reason. The first $25,000 means a lot more to someone who only makes $30,000 than it does to someone who makes $200,000. (And they both pay the same amount of taxes on that $25,000. Progressive taxes only apply increased brackets to the relevant range of income.)
Flat taxes sound good as drive-by politics, but they’re a non-starter economically and politically. No chance President Cruz could get this one down from the Hill.
- Dark Horse – He is a fiscal time bomb, primed by a profound bumper-sticker ignorance of how the U.S. Treasury works.
In the Oval Office, Cruz would work hard to manufacture an unnecessary fiscal crisis. As a Senator, he’s favored requiring a supermajority to raise the debt ceiling, and in the last round of budget negotiations tried to insist upon a commitment not to raise the debt ceiling before allowing any kind of deal to pass the budget. The problem is that this reveals a profound and dangerous ignorance on what the debt ceiling is and how it works. Oppose new spending all you want, future President, but not raising the debt ceiling is like not paying the credit card bill because you regret buying the TV.
- Big Picture – How long ago was it that Christie seemed like the inevitable 2016 Republican nominee? Like, 15 minutes? Certainly a lot less time than it took to get across the George Washington Bridge one fateful rush hour…
Christie runs as a tough, no-nonsense budget balancer, and I’d love to see how the White House Press Corps deals with being told to “sit down and shut up.” It’s more central to his identity than to just about anyone else's in the Republican field, so expect a more aggressive push from President Christie than any other potential candidate. Specifically, with Defense, Social Security and Medicare effectively off the table, expect those cuts to target social programs.
- Long Shot – The most important, least discussed issue in the 2016 elections will be the Supreme Court. Assuming a second term, whoever wins the Presidency will get to nominate anywhere from one to three justices who will set precedents that will last for generations.
Christie is known for appointing moderate judges as the Governor of New Jersey, and as the President, he’d probably try to do the same thing. Congress, on the other hand, might not play so nice. While Christie’s history would help smooth things over with a Democratic Senate, if Republicans keep the chamber, they’ll want one of their own on the bench in every sense of the term. Don’t expect them to settle for a moderate.
- Dark Horse – We're going out on a limb, but our prediction is heavy deficit spending. New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times since Christie took office, suggesting that he doesn’t have as much of a problem playing with budgets as his reputation suggests.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your perspective. Deficit spending isn’t necessarily a problem, especially to help goose the economy as needed, and once Christie is working with more flexible budget rules, that lid might come off the pot.
-Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website A Wandering Lawyer.