A Rebranded GOP – Which Philosophy Will Win?

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With the nation centered on changes in the Senate, smaller changes are happening within the GOP ranks. The Republican Party, which once stood on a central message of social conscience, individual responsibility, and small government, has seen fractures appear in recent years. As we head into the two-year fight for the 2016 White House, those fractures are likely to grow even more apparent.

Leading the charge to revamp the brand is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Taking over where his father left off, Paul wants to see Republicans move into the 21st Century. Only a couple of days before the midterms, Paul went on CBS’s Face the Nation to say that the “brand is broken.” One of the things that concerns him the most is the barrier between Republicans and African-American voters, with whom the party has – to put it mildly – struggled. Paul’s revolutionary rhetoric has kept him among the highest-polling potential 2016 nominees.

Though he isn’t polling nearly as well, Texas Senator Ted Cruz also has a vision for where the Republican Party should be headed: to the right. He has been one of the most outspoken conservatives in office, never afraid to slam establishment incumbents if he senses weakness in their philosophy. Voters who think moderate presidential candidates are keeping the GOP from the White House see a lot to like in Cruz.

Then there are those moderates. Chris Christie and Jeb Bush fall into this category. Bush is currently leading the pack when it comes to 2016 favorites, although it took some strong “I’m not running” language from Mitt Romney to finally allow Bush to displace him at the top. Both men are consummate professional politicians, and they both have gubernatorial leadership records to lean on when asked about experience. If history repeats itself, one of these two men will likely emerge to face Hillary Clinton.

It’s Still Early

But a lot can happen between now and then. The next two years will be interesting. At any time, Christie could implode (or explode), and he’s still carrying the unresolved George Washington Bridge scandal around on his back. Many conservatives – Rush Limbaugh chiefly among them – have bristled at Christie’s willingness to concede respect for the deeply unpopular Obama. And Cruz is vibrant enough to make big gains once the primary season kicks into gear.

If Cruz and Paul are to make an impact in 2016, they’ll need to do so by recruiting young conservatives. Both men – particularly Paul – lean heavily to the libertarian side of the Republican Party. If Paul faces challenges, they will come largely from the foreign policy side of the debate. Paul is not quite a pacifist, but he does believe that America needs to place greater importance on what’s happening at home. That may be a tough sell, depending on what happens with ISIS.

And then there are the spoilers. Dr. Ben Carson has many conservatives calling him the 21st Century’s answer to Ronald Reagan. Texas Governor Rick Perry isn’t faring well in the early polls, but he could easily make a big comeback once the wheels start turning. And there’s always the chance, slim though it might be, that Romney will decide to throw his hat into the ring after all.

We’ve still got more than a year before 2016 politics really kick into high gear, but the direction of the Republican Party will be fascinating to watch in the meantime.