The Dropout Clock: How and When the GOP Presidential Field Thins Out

clown-carThere’s an interesting story today in The Hill attempting to predict which of the 17 Republican candidates for President will still have active campaigns by the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus on Feb. 1, 2016.

From The Hill’s perspective, there are 7 Republican Presidential candidates who might not make it to the Iowa caucus: Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore, and George Pataki. The Hill is making the prediction here that Carly Fiorina could have some staying power after only making the Junior Varsity team for the first GOP Presidential debate, in effect replacing Rand Paul in the top tier of contenders.

With The Hill story as inspiration, we decided to start our own feature here on Colorado Pols. We’ll call it (for now) “The Dropout Clock” as we attempt to forecast the end of the line for the bottom tier of contenders.*

*Yes, we know it’s early. Yes, we remember how John McCain nearly bankrupted his 2008 Presidential campaign before recovering to win the GOP nomination. Yes, we understand that the rise of “Super PACs” has changed the way the game is played.  This is just our best guess, with the current information at-hand, of how the 2016 field will begin to thin on the Republican side.

We’ll break this up into a couple of categories, with numbers assigned to individual candidates representing when we think they’ll bow out of the race. This is one list where being #1 is not good news. Click after the jump to get started.


Please Make Your Way Toward the Exit

#1: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
Things have not gone well for Paul since his official campaign announcement in early April. Fundraising and polling numbers are on the decline, and a recent federal indictment of two of Paul’s top supporters — including the guy in charge of the Paul Super PAC — were indicted by the Justice Department for alleged illegal campaign work in 2012.

Yet with all of these problems, Paul should still have enough national stature to remain in the Presidential race for some time…right?

Maybe, but here’s where things get tricky — and the main reason we think Paul could be the first Presidential candidate to exit the stage on the GOP side: Paul may soon have to choose between running for re-election and running for President in 2016. Paul and his supporters have been lobbying Kentucky Republicans to change their bylaws to allow him to run for both the Senate and the Presidency at the same time, with a looming deadline of August 22 to make the necessary changes. If Kentucky Republicans do not accommodate Paul, he’ll face increasing pressure to publicly declare his intentions for 2016; the way things look today, Paul would be foolish to not seek re-election to the Senate so that he can live to run for President another day.


#2: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Once upon a time Perry was a rising national star who seemed destined to make a big run at the White House…and then he started talking. Perry has a lot of true believers who still think the two-time Texas Governor can make a run at the title, but his campaign is running out of money and he recently stopped paying staffers in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina…and even at his Austin headquarters. Unless he can do something to give his campaign a jolt in the next couple of weeks, the wheels are just going to fall off altogether.


#3: Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore
Gilmore waited until late July/early August to make his Presidential aspirations official, and his late start has made it difficult for him to gain a foothold in the media (or anywhere else, for that matter). Gilmore’s polling numbers are so low that he was not invited to September’s CNN debate — even if CNN continues with the two debate tiers that Fox News initiated — and his fundraising has been predictably weak.

Nevertheless, Gilmore isn’t facing any real pressure to drop out of the race, and since he’s only been an official candidate for a few weeks, there’s no rush for any sort of decision. Gilmore almost certainly will exit the race at some point in the near future, but he might need to first concoct a story that will limit his embarrassment.


#4: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
Jindal may have been the least-impressive candidate in the first Junior Varsity debate, which is saying something in itself. It’s difficult to envision the scenario whereby Jindal gains enough momentum and support to still have a functioning Presidential campaign in February 2016. Unless Jindal can quickly convince aggrieved conservative Christians that he is their guy — which seems to be his strategy — there won’t be enough resources to sustain his bland personality. Jindal probably won’t be the first candidate to exit the race, but he won’t be far behind.


Thinking More About How to Exit than How to Continue

#5: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham
Graham’s real purpose for running is to be “The Defense Hawk” in the field, making sure that foreign policy issues remain a top priority while perhaps positioning himself for a top job in a future Republican administration; fortunately for Graham, he already has his narrative in place for exiting the race. Graham could hold on for awhile and hope that a big foreign policy issue emerges that can vault him into the top tier, but he’s not raising much money, his polling is abysmal — he’s running sixth in his own state of South Carolina — and he looked uncomfortable in the Junior Varsity debate. If Graham can’t crack the top tier in the next month or two, he’ll likely start thinking about when to bow out and save face.


#6: Former New York Gov. George Pataki
It’s difficult to predict when Pataki might exit the Presidential race, in large part because it’s so hard to understand why he jumped into the field in the first place. Pataki’s polling and fundraising have been terrible, and there’s no obvious slot where his particular expertise (whatever that may be) allows him to carve out a niche position. But Pataki is also in a similar position as Jim Gilmore in that nobody is really trying to get him to exit the race, so he might just keep running for awhile until he finds an opportunity to sneak out the back door.


So You’re Saying There’s a Chance…

#7: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum
Santorum just recently named his New Hampshire state director, and supporters say that he plans to significantly increase his Iowa staff. Things are not trending well for Santorum, but he won the Iowa caucuses in 2012 and hung on to finish second in the GOP field that year, and he appears to be gearing up to take one more shot at rising into the top tier. Because of his prior success in Iowa, Santorum will likely try to keep the engine running until Feb. 2; whether he can find the resources to keep campaigning for another 6 months is the key. Santorum probably won’t exit the race until he feels like he has no other choice, so we’d expect to see his campaign continue into the holidays unless he can find a way to leapfrog half of the field.


What say you, Polsters? Who will be the first GOP candidate to exit the 2016 Presidential race?


34 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. mamajama55 says:

    Dr. Ben Carson is going to have a hard time egg-splainin' why he used fetal tissue in a research study, but then lambasted Planned Parenthood for providing donated fetal tissue for such studies.

    Quoth the Doc:

    “At 17 weeks, you’ve got a nice little nose and little fingers and hands and the heart’s beating. It can respond to environmental stimulus. How can you believe that that’s just an irrelevant mass of cells? That’s what they want you to believe, when in fact it is a human being,” said Carson.

    Only problem – that's the same gestational age as the fetal samples he used in his study on "colloid cysts in the 3rd ventricle", whatever the heck that is. Dr. Daft?

    I think Doc Carson will be #5 out the door.

  2. OrangeFree says:

    With a 16 person race, it's hard to make a proper call on when anyone will exit. In a 16 person race, 20% wins you the primary, and that takes significantly less resources than the ~35% or ~40% you'd need in a race with much less candidates. That will lend to more candidates staying in for longer than they would otherwise. 

    That being said, Paul may be polling poorly, but he's still pulling in a lot of money. If he comes off as plausible in the next debate, instead of the asshole he looked like in the first, his numbers will probably go up a lot. Do I expect that to happen? No. I expect him to remain an asshole. He will fight with Christie again, and it will drag them both down. But you're right it noting that if Kentucky law doesn't change, he'll live to fight another day and bow out (which also has the added benefit of preventing him from running in the VP slot, too). 

    Perry will be the first to go. He's a bull in a china shop, and donors have long memories. I don't care how much PAC money you have – if you don't have boots on the ground to get more boots on the ground, you don't even make the radar of people in Iowa and NH. 

    Jindal is running on long since expired enthusiasm, and Gilmore and Pataki, jesus, I think they're just running for giggles and future lecture circuit gigs. All three can raise enough to drive an RV around the early states for a few months then quietly fade away. 

    Iran being the meal of the day gives Graham more life then he would have normally. If foreign policy becomes an actual focus of the campaign, he could suck in even more oxygen. His stance on foreign policy is all wrong, but he can talk intelligently about it.

    Santorum's running for vanity, and any chits he had in Iowa from '12 have already been pledged to like minded and more electable candidates. 

    But who knows, really. Give it one more debate, and if we start to see support coalesce around Trump, Jeb! and Rubio, the whole field could come tumbling down. 

    • BlueCat says:

      There won't be 16 left by primary time. 20% won't do it in the remaining field. The question will be where do all those 5%, 2%, 1%  votes go  as their candidates drop out. Take Trump (pulease)…. is his 20% an indication that he really will remain on top or is it his ceiling when there are only a few left? Considering that many polls already have down to 17% with 22% in Iowa which tends not to be a good predictor, I'm thinking ceiling.

      • OrangeFree says:

        It will be easily 13 or 14 by Iowa. And about that many in New Hampshire. We've got some big egos and some big money behind a lot of candidates. It's going to be a large field for at least the early states.

        As for where the 5, 2 and 1 %ers go, depends on who drops out. Establishment lower tier will probably go to Jeb!. Tea party lower tier, who knows, but they could go to Trump, which just keeps boosting his 20% base.  

  3. Diogenesdemar says:

    Wait, "Thins"??   Still waiting for Tancredo to join the GOParade …

    • mamajama55 says:

      He's mulling it over. He's a little bummed that Trump has sucked all the anti-immigrant oxygen out of the room. Really, there's hardly any space left to get to the right of Trump before going over a cliff. But if there's money and fame in hatin' on Muslims, Tommy's your candidate.

      Tommy T fancies himself as a pundit, too, and apparently he knows football:

      To win the White House in 2016, the Republican Party needs to keep Trump on the team. He’s not the right candidate to be the quarterback, but he is certainly one hell of a running back who knows how to score touchdowns. Only a fool would bench him or encourage him join a different team.

  4. Gilpin Guy says:

    Jindal – Losers loser

  5. DavidThi808 says:

    Here's my guesses:

    1. Rand Paul is the only one likely to drop out (due to the issues around running for Senate & President at the same time).

    2. Some of the ones getting no traction (Gilmore, Pataki, Jindal) may drop out, but only when they have no money left (campaign and PAC). Or if we get down to few enough that there's no JV debate going forward.

    3. The rest (10+) are in until enough states have voted that they don't stand a prayer. They have the example of McCain, they have sugar daddies, and they have well funded PACs.

    And here's the biggie – I think Trump is the likely winner. Yes all of the political class thinks he's going to flame out. The political class is more often wrong than right. Bush is the anointed one with the most money, but can't get in the groove. So he sucks up a decent number of votes, money, support, etc. without getting enough. Walker & Rubio are both compelling to the business and not crazy part of the primary electorate, but they divide that vote 3-way with Bush and neither is looking to break out over the others. Finally, they'll all wait too long for Trump to self-destruct and then when he doesn't lash out desperately.

    Which then leads to a very interesting general election. I think Hillary is eminently beatable in the general election. Including by Trump. But that's a topic for another day…

    • Davie says:

      Oh come on David — Trump the winner?  Even if Trump stays in all the way to the GOP convention, there is no way he'll gain a majority of delegates to win the nomination.  As other candidates lose support and run out of money, a majority will coalesce around some other candidate.  JEB! certainly has enough money, etc. to have plenty of staying power, and is still the most likely candidate.

      It will be interesting to follow the many ups and downs of the GOP primary races, but Trump no more wants to be President than you or I.  He's in it to assert influence, and maybe make a buck or two on some business deals.

      Most ludicrous of all is the notion that he could somehow convince 50% +1 voters in America to make him president (or even 33% +1 in a third party run).  Never gonna happen.

      • mamajama55 says:

        Women, even conservative Republican women,  will not vote for Trump. After his disgusting remarks  about Megyn Kelly, now he's bringing flowers and candy to kiss and make up with GOP women.

        That's why his latest pandering move, embracing "the concept" of a female VP. Here's  Kossack  Meteor Blades suggestion for Trump's concept female VP.


        • FrankUnderwood says:

          But the Donald says, "Women love me!" (Well, that was true… the least the three models who married him over the past 30 years claim to have loved him at some point in time.) Just like he rants, "Mexicans love me!"

          I was reading that Jesse Ventura has offered to be the Donald's running mate if it gets that far. He's going to have shove Oprah out of the way first.

        • Davie says:

          Good one!

          My personal pick for the GOP ticket is either JEB! or Walker for Prez, and Carly or Rubio as VP.

          On the Dem side, I don't think Biden's (rumored?) commitment to a single term (Hey, I promise to be a lame duck from Day One) will increase his appeal.  Gotta go with Hillary for the win.

          • BlueCat says:

            I'm afraid you're right. But not about Carly.

            • mamajama55 says:

              Carly Fiorina's moment of decency now undermines her Presidential aspirations.

              Fourteen years ago, 9/26/2001, Carly Fiorina addressed HP employees, expressing concern about their safety in light of increasing anti-Muslim, anti-Arab violence and hate crimes after 9/11/01.

              In her speech, Fiorina lauded the contributions of ancient Islamic civilization to modern American society, saying that the "gifts [of Muslim civilizations] are very much a part of our heritage."

                How was CEO Fiorina to know that, 11 years later, any serious Republican candidate had to be virulently anti-Muslim? Who knew that racism and paranoia would be the must-have fashion accessory for the rising GOP star? Her speech cited facts, history, and science  in her defense of Islam – and these are, of course, fashion blunders for Republican candidates.

              GOP women have been assigned the task of taking down a fellow female, to save the guys from the "War on Women" label. Former Rep. Michelle Bachman, who is still trying to remain relevant on the political scene, tweeted out a link to Bethany Blankley's "Christian Headlines" hit piece.

              It will be interesting to see how much traction this gets, and whether Fiorina now walks it back, and says that she fears and hates Muslims after all.  Prince Waleed owned most of Fox news until early 2014, and still is one of the world's richest men, certainly one of Trump's competitors in the hotel and resort markets.

              Will she recant her 2001 speech? Will the other candidates try to outdo each other on anti-Muslim propaganda? How will Trump pacify his investors and feed the carnivores in his base? Stay tuned.

          • VanDammer says:

            JEB! not gonna pick a wannabe pres as running mate.  He'll pick a reasonably acceptable woman (and not being sexist — just not sure such a running mate exists be they man or woman) to drain votes from HRC and try to counter that stink of anti-woman wafting from so many GOP men.
            Walker not gonna be the candidate so not giving much thought to his sidekick.  He certainly wouldn't pick any of the other clown car azzes for his run and the GOP backroom would demand an older & wiser (wiser being very easy to accomplish) Veep to rein in the young'un. Hell Scooter is a college dropout so even $arah beats him on academics. 

            I see Rubio as going much further with chance he's gonna win-place- or show come Iowa & NH.  Yes, there's hella $$s behind most of these clowns but even those folks aren't gonna be happy if their boy wonders are still treading water with 5% & under polling by end of year.  The clown car is gonna belly up by year's end and we'll see the field cut in half if not more.

      • Trump's momentum says otherwise. It doesn't really matter how irritating, abusive, egotistical, or stupid he is or what he says… He has the attention of the GOP base according to every poll out there. In fact, he gains support when he says and does these things.

        Trump's a horrible candidate IMHO. But he's like the Kardashians – he's a media spectacle that way too many people follow.

        I wouldn't be surprised if Trump makes it all the way through while all the other candidates burn their Sugar Daddys' money by the tens of millions.

        • Diogenesdemar says:

          Trump the President, a Ryan Seacrest production …

        • mamajama55 says:

          I stand by my statement that female voters won't support Trump.  CNN /ORC  polled voters August 7-11. That's where you're seeing Trump "momentum". But Trump's numbers only go up when all voters are added together, regardless of gender. (27% men plus 15% women averages to ~ 22%) The more gross and outrageous things he says, the more his popularity with Republican men goes up- you're right about that.

          But his popularity with GOP women stayed at 15%,the same as it was on July 30 when Quinnipiac polled likely Republican caucus-goers.

          Here's a screenshot from the August CNN poll:



    • VanDammer says:

      Yep, that's a "biggie" but you ought to flush that down.  Trump & your other prognostications at least make me giggle.  I'm gonna make sure I remember this post come Spring 2016 & let's see how you do.

    • Andrew Carnegie says:


      I think your guesses are spot on. 

  6. MichaelBowman says:

    Think of them as 'Lines of Credit'

  7. FrankUnderwood says:

    Trump is now attacking Joe Biden (re:  plagiarism – not just the Neill Kinnock stuff in '88 but stuff in law school, too), which lends credence to the theory that he is a tool of the Clintons.

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