The Quinnipiac University poll from Dec. 2 shows political outsiders Donald Trump leading and Ben Carson slipping with two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas), gaining in double digits. The remaining 10 candidates for the Republican nomination rank at 5 percent or less among Republican-leaning voters.
Imagine if Obama had said this, instead of President Ronald Reagan: "I don't know what I expected, but my first morning in the Oval Office had a surprising ring of familiarity to it. It reminded me a lot of my job as governor."
Since 1976, four of America's six presidents were previously governors: Jimmy Carter, Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Obama had been a U.S. senator from Illinois while George H.W. Bush had been vice president (and also a Texas congressman, in addition to other political positions).
If Obama had first served as governor of Illinois, voters would have seen his executive leadership in action. However, because of the political dynamics in Illinois, Americans likely wouldn't have seen much difference between a Gov. Obama and President Obama. Because Democrats controlled the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate from 2003 to 2009, a Gov. Obama would have had a free political ride to do whatever he wanted.
In contrast, when Reagan, a Republican, became California's governor in 1967, Democrats controlled the State Assembly and Senate. Reagan had to work with them, which prepared him to work with the Democratic-controlled U.S. House as president.
Reagan needed all Republicans and many House Democrats to pass his signature domestic legislation, his tax-cut and spending-cut bill.
"I spent a lot of time in the spring and early summer of 1981 on the telephone and in meetings trying to build a coalition," Reagan reflected. "I met dozens of times with congressmen from both parties, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, trying to explain what it was we were trying to accomplish and to rebut erroneous reports."
Sometimes he made a convert. Sometimes he didn't.
Overall, though, Reagan succeeded. "We got 40 Democrat votes. On final passage almost 100 joined the parade, making it 330 odd to 107 or thereabouts. This on top of the budget victory is the greatest political win of the century."
In contrast, not a single Republican voted for Obama's signature domestic legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), which was pushed through by a legislative tactic and written by Democrats.
Candidate Obama had won over many voters through his inspirational rhetoric, especially his argument that "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America."
With Democrats controlling both the U.S. House and Senate, Obama didn't need Republicans to secure his healthcare legislation. Yet he lost the opportunity to bring in some Republican-backed ideas and create even a mirage of bipartisanship by picking off a few liberal Republican votes.
While it's true that voters would've known more about Obama's executive style had he been a governor first, he most likely would have led the same way he has as president — by ideology.
As Obama's term ticks toward the finish line, his ideology and priorities stand out more than ever. He is more progressive than pragmatist.
"The growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other," Obama declared on Nov. 30, 2015, a mere 17 days after Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists killed 130 innocents in Paris. With terrorism ranking as a top issue among voters, this former professor-turned-president lectures his opposition while playing to his base.
Reagan's ideology and experience mattered, too. As a candidate, he worried about America's lost global influence, an issue today. "Whatever the reasons, I believed it was senseless, ill-founded, and dangerous for America to withdraw from its role as superpower and leader of the free world."
Eleven years before the 9-11 attacks, Reagan also made this prediction:
"I don't think you can overstate the importance that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism will have to the rest of the world in the century ahead, especially if, as seems possible, its most fanatical elements get their hands on nuclear and chemical weapons and the means to deliver them against their enemies," Reagan observed in 1990.
The next president's worldview matters, as does his or her vision, experience, ideas, policies, principles, personal likability, practical solutions, temperament, ability to unite the party and beat the opposition.
Voters have the opportunity to swim through all of these before they vote in 2016. America's destiny depends on how well they dive in and which candidate catches the final wind.
Cook is a former White House webmaster and author of eight books, including "American Phoenix," which reveals the political resurrection of John Quincy and Louisa Adams. She is a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel and creator of revolution240.com. Follow her on Twitter @janehamptoncook.