The question that I am asked most often, particularly by those who know that I am a Republican pollster, is: “Who will win our party’s nomination for president in 2016?”
It’s just far too early to say. But that doesn’t mean it’s premature to lay out some broad parameters for identifying the characteristics, qualities or backgrounds of those most likely to succeed in the quest.
So in this column, while I won’t mention any specific names of potential candidates (save for one — Jeb Bush), I will identify some desirable traits.
Jeb Bush would be my own personal choice at this time, but there are myriad good reasons that he might choose not to run. It’s his call entirely. Either way, he satisfies most of the criteria I set forth for a potential nominee.
Let’s start with some things that won’t matter in 2016 as much as they might have in prior nominating cycles.
First, there is no “it’s his turn” candidate. No runners-up Republicans from 2012 can lay claim to deserving the nomination for their performances last time as candidates and vote-getters.
Sure, someone like Rick Santorum can perhaps claim success in a particular state or with a certain constituency, but no one “almost won” the nomination last time and no one was especially covered in glory in defeat.
My advice to anyone who ran last time and wants an encore would be to do things very differently this time around, and make it clear that last time was not their best stuff. They would need what marketers call a “replacement image” to try again.
It’s hard for most tigers to change their stripes. So in truth, 2012’s losers would probably do best to move along and find another quest besides the presidency.
I also think that being the “right-most legitimate conservative,” a key positioning to victory in past nomination contests, might not be the ticket in 2016.
I think enough GOP voters next time will be hungry enough for victory and smart enough to project that being too far right doesn’t bode well for November success.
The winner will be conservative enough to satisfy all but the most hard-core conservatives, and even take a right-wing position on guns or selected social issues, but have a few other libertarian positions that would have been troublesome in the past.
Voters will be looking for proof of electability, and that doesn’t mean a 100 percent record on every conservative totem.
The winner will almost surely come from outside Congress and the D.C. insider clique. A governor, former governor, retired military officer, professional athlete, celebrity, civic leader or successful businessman will doubtless win.
It won’t be anyone in this or any recent Congress. They are tainted goods. America and the Republican mainline long for something fresh, someone new and different.
If businessmen like Ross Perot, Morry Taylor, Michael Bloomberg or even Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKasich: The media is 'an important part of democracy' Former Obama national security adviser blasts decisions in Syria as a 'colossal mistake' Democratic senator: Trump's immigration policy amounts to 'mass deportation' MORE —who have all flirted with Republican nominations or independent bids — were to run in 2016, they might finally get some traction.
For those specific individuals, it’s too late. They are now officially not new and fresh. Look for one or two candidates of their ilk to run well three years from now.
Republicans in 2016 will also be looking, as intimated above, for a winner.
Sometimes winning takes a back seat to ideology. But Barack ObamaBarack ObamaRand Paul: We’re very lucky John McCain’s not in charge Limbaugh: 'The media did not make Donald Trump and they can't destroy him' How dealmaker Trump can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict MORE surprised many with two wins, so now the mainline GOP voter recognizes that potential for success should be taken into account, not just litmus-test issue positions.
There’s a Republican out there that fills the bill. We can only hope that person steps up and runs.
Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.