It’s been just weeks since Mitt Romney lost his job as the party’s standard bearer, but the jostling to succeed him as the party’s nominee is already off to a busy start. Several likely 2016 contenders are raising their profiles this week, with some offering explicit nods to a future presidential run.
Decisions made by presidential hopefuls early in the cycle can have major consequences down the line (Romney’s “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” op-ed came out in November 2008), so it’s not surprising to see candidates taking the immediate election aftermath seriously. Here’s a rundown of what some of the big names have been up to lately:
The former Florida governor met with his old administration aides in Washington this week, prompting immediate chatter that he’s laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign.
“I’m here to focus on educational reform, and that’s what I’m going to tell people,” Bush told the National Review when asked about his 2016 ambitions.
Even before the election, Bush began taking on a more visible role. In a New York magazine profile in October, he warned that the GOP was in danger of losing Texas to the Democrats in just four years if it didn’t shape up on immigration, offering up a good preview of what his own role might be going forward.
Bush was in Washington to put his signature issue — education — on the national stage. He hosted a conference for his “Foundation for Excellence in Education,” where he called for education reform.
The GOP has a tradition of nominating its silver medalist from the last primary contest, and Rick Santorum seems to think he might qualify in 2016. He told the Weekly Standard on Monday that he’s already considering a second run.
“I’m open to it, yeah,” Santorum said. “I think there’s a fight right now as to what the soul of the Republican Party’s going to be and the conservative movement, and we have something to say about that. I think from our battle, we’re not going to leave the field.”
Gingrich looks like he’s thinking the same thing as Santorum. At a book signing in Florida on Sunday, he told the Naples News that he’s still thinking about another run but only after the party engages in a “very serious analysis” of its 2012 loss in order to “modernize and adapt.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced he’s running for re-election in 2013, possibly against Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who’s still considering a bid. Booker will have a lot to think about since Christie’s poll numbers are hitting stratospheric heights in response to his handling of Hurricane Sandy. Quinnipiac pegs his approval rating at 72 percent and an even higher 95 percent approve of his storm response. Republicans grumbled about Christie’s embrace of President Obama during the disaster, but he’s boosted both his state and national profile immensely in the process.
On the way out as Virginia governor after 2013 thanks to term limits, Bob McDonnell is entering sensitive territory this week by proposing an increase to the state’s gas tax to keep pace with inflation. If 2012 was any indication, revenue raisers of any kind are likely to come up in a presidential primary.
Jindal has gone the farthest in promoting himself as party savior, telling anyone who would listen after the election that Romney screwed up by “dividing American voters,” that Republicans needed to stop being “the stupid party,” and that all of this could be accomplished without compromising the party’s current positions. He’s also suggested he’ll take an aggressive role in attempting to undermine the Affordable Care Act in his state, which could garner national attention as its main pieces go into effect.
Considered by many in the party to be the GOP’s best hope for winning back young and Hispanic voters, Rubio looks ready to embrace a national leadership role immediately. He scored some major press with a GQ interview this month, but the biggest story to come out of it was his non-answer regarding the age of the earth, a question that has tripped up a number of possible Republican candidates in recent years.
In contrast to many of the names on the list, Paul Ryan has been relatively quiet since Romney left the stage. But the spotlight is coming soon regardless as Ryan figures to be a central player in negotiations to defuse the austerity bomb in Congress. The chair of the House budget committee and the GOP’s most prominent voice on budget matters, whether Ryan decides to put his clout behind a grand bargain or take a hard conservative line is the first major test of his place in the party.
While other potential 2016ers are talking about the future of the Republican Party or establishing themselves as reformers, Ryan’s still largely staying on the sidelines. His biggest recent headline came when he and his 10 year-old daughter bagged some bucks on a hunting trip over Thanksgiving weekend.
Ryan plans to step back into the game soon. Politico reported last week that Ryan “will begin a new push on a more modern approach to alleviating poverty, focused on education” in a speech at a Washington banquet next month.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.