No one’s sitting out 2016 for Republicans

No one’s sitting out 2016 for Republicans
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No one appears to be taking a pass on the GOP race for the White House in 2016, setting up the possibility of a primary for the ages.

It’s a complete turnaround from 2012, when Mitt Romney was the clear favorite and big-name rivals took a pass on challenging either him or President Obama.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former governors Jeb Bush (Fla.) and Mike Huckabee (Ark.) are showing no hesitancy this time around — and there isn’t a possible Democratic candidate scaring away any Republicans.

New players like Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Senate confirms two Treasury nominees over Democratic objections Liz Cheney calls for 'proportional military response' against Iran MORE (Ky.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump faces difficult balancing act with reelection campaign Republicans wary of US action on Iran California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE (Fla.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks MORE (Texas) are sure to jump in the race, while former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is promising a repeat — this time with no missteps.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), who finished second to Romney in 2012, could be back, too, while Govs. Scott Walker (Wis.), Bobby Jindal (La.), John Kasich (Ohio) and Mike Pence (Ind.) all may choose to run.

Dr. Ben Carson is poised to be the biggest dark horse. He has a loyal following that may be underestimated: When I’m home, I get asked the most by family members and friends about the conservative physician and whether he really has a chance to win. 

The GOP free-for-all shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. 

In the 2012 cycle, many shirked from a reelection fight with President Obama — even with a reeling economy and dropping poll numbers. But Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonQueer Marine veteran launches House bid after incumbent California Rep. Susan Davis announces retirement Poll: Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Florida Former immigration judge fined, temporarily banned from federal service for promoting Clinton policies MORE doesn’t scare off Republicans; her weaknesses were on display during the 2008 primary against Obama.

Plus, winning the White House in a race with no incumbent is always easier. And history is on the GOP’s side. Democrats haven’t won three consecutive White House terms since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As a result, many GOP heavyweights see 2016 as their best, last chance to make a play for the Oval Office.

What a difference from the anticlimactic campaign of 2012 — particularly compared to the drama of 2008.

Sure, Santorum’s success was a surprise, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) upset Romney in South Carolina.

Ultimately, Romney’s path to the nomination was much easier because big players skipped the race.

Former Gov. Haley Barber (R-Miss.) pulled the plug on his campaign-in-waiting at the last minute, as did then-Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.). Both feared skeletons in their closets.

Major donors couldn’t convince Christie to run, while Huckabee wasn’t willing to leave a lucrative job at Fox News, despite his intense dislike for Romney.

Jeb, meanwhile, never seemed to really consider running even as several governors urged him to think about it and pledged their support.

Instead, the 2012 campaign ended up consisting mainly of Romney and a number of political gadflies such as then-Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannKlobuchar urges CNN town hall audience: 'That's when you guys are supposed to cheer, OK?' Michele Bachmann praises Trump: Americans will 'never see a more godly, biblical president' Will Biden lead a 'return to normalcy' in 2020? MORE (Minn.) and businessman Herman Cain.

But 2016 is already shaping up to be far more interesting.

Bush has jumped to the front of the pack with his decision to explore a run, but he’s far from a sure thing.

The former Florida governor is a favorite of the donor class, but his stances on immigration and education will be tough sells with conservative primary voters. He needs to win in New Hampshire and not be crushed in Iowa and South Carolina to survive.

Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, is a favorite of conservatives and could win Iowa. His decision to quit his eponymous Fox News show signals his seriousness about 2016. 

Still, his fiscal credentials have come under heavy attack from purists, so he can’t be labeled a favorite.

Christie hasn’t announced a run, but it doesn’t look like he’s interested in backing away from a fight this year. He seems to have survived the Bridgegate scandal of 2014, but he will still have to win over conservative voters skeptical of times he’s worked with Democrats and the White House. 

Paul wants to prove he’s more than his father and that his foreign policy aligns with the GOP. He’s working to make inroads with young voters and African-Americans, but surviving a Republican primary won’t be easy for him. 

Cruz just needs to prove his relevance beyond his Tea Party faithful. More stunts in the Senate could doom any chance he has of being taken seriously, however they might embolden his diehard supporters. If Republicans want to beat Clinton, nationwide electability will be key, and that’s Cruz’s downfall right now. 

Rubio needs to break out of Jeb’s shadow but also has his Senate reelection to consider, too. He made strides last month, coming out strong against the administration’s Cuba moves; foreign policy could be one of his biggest strengths. 

Santorum could be back, but with others in the pack who will also appeal to religious conservatives, he will likely struggle even more to break out of the pack. 

Perry, too, will have to really prove he’s up to the rigors of the campaign trail, unlike 2012. The outgoing Texas governor says he’s learned from the mistakes he made last time, but he will be scrutinized more than others thanks to those “oops” moments. 

Instead of 2012, when the question was who will drop out next, the best question for 2016 may be — is anyone actually going to pass this time around?