National, Harbor, MD -- On Friday afternoon, Salem Media Group hosted a five-person, break out session at CPAC with Townhall’s Political Editor Guy Benson titled “Presidential Madness: The Road to Sweet 16.” Ed Morrissey, Erick Erickson, Mary Katharine Ham, and Katie Pavlich, all of whom write for websites under the Townhall Media empire, weighed in and discussed the pros and cons of 16 different potential 2016 GOP hopefuls. Check out the bracket below:
To be clear, none of the panelists endorsed candidates—as this was, as Benson put it, merely a “fun” exercise. There were, however, some interesting issues raised. Most intriguing to some attendees, perhaps, was the impending candidacy of Dr. Ben Carson. Does his lack of political experience disqualify him for the nation’s highest office, Benson asked the panel, or can he navigate a path to the nomination despite having never served in government?
Mary Katharine Ham offered some cautious analysis.
“I don’t like to say disqualifying,” she intoned. “I think the problem Carson is going to have is one of a disciplined message.” She added that, while he is a tea party darling and capable messenger, his delivery can sometimes veer off track.
“He’s an electric speaker, people gravitate towards him, but that electricity can ultimately shock,” she added. “So he has to be careful.”
He also addressed what one might call the inevitable “senators vs. governors” dilemma. That is to say, how do relatively inexperienced federal legislators—like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), for example—convince grassroots activists they are more qualified to be president than seasoned and proven state chief executives?
“Everyone knows that governors are usually better presidential candidates than senators,” Townhall's Katie Pavlich said. “Because they often have to negotiate with people on the other side of the aisle. [They] have to come to terms with getting things done in their state.”
“So although we have these incredible candidates in the Senate who quite possibly might be running for president,” she added, “they are brand new.”
She pointed out that leaders like Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) have tangible and impressive accomplishments attached to their names, which might give them an advantage early in the nomination process.
Still, Hot Air's Ed Morrissey underscored an X factor that could alter the dynamics of the race.
“We are seeing in both parties a real impulse for populism, and significantly, anti-establishment populism,” he said. This is why primarygoers may take a hard look at candidates a la Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz, he suggested, despite their relatively thin resumes. This is also a reason why Hillary Clinton may struggle in the general election, he said.
“She is the ultimate Washington insider,” Morrissey continued, a point RedState’s Erick Erickson quickly seconded. Erickson, however, went a step further, and actually predicted Hillary Clinton will lose the Democratic nomination in 2016.
“I do not think that Hillary Clinton will be able to run a machine, and figure out what the rest of the party hasn’t,” he said. That [base of support] is not the Democratic coalition; it is Barack Obama’s coalition. And good luck letting the Secretary of State run as the world goes to hell in a hand basket—and she has to own it.”
“I think Hillary’s absolutely running and will be the nominee and is probably the nominee at this moment in time,” Benson later added. “But she’s going to keep coming back to the raison d'etre of her campaign, which is ‘woman.’ It’s going to be a gender election.”
At the end of the discussion, the panelists were asked to weigh in on potential 2016 presidential tickets. The following are the match ups they found “most intriguing”:*
Ed: Scott Walker, Susana Martinez
Erick: Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez
Mary Katharine: Scott Walker, Susana Martinez
Katie: Scott Walker, Susana Martinez
Guy: Scott Walker, Marco Rubio or “something like” Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz
*These are not endorsements.