Ranking GOP candidates on tech savvy, craziness, and electability

Which of the current crop of GOP candidates is better for tech, seems the most nuts, and can be elected? Read ZDNet Government columnist David Gewirtz' take on the field.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

It's always interesting comparing candidates after a debate. In the past week, I've had the opportunity to watch the current eight GOP candidates (Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich) go at each other on issues ranging from health care to social security to jobs.

Rather than take on these hot-button issues, I've decided to look at certain general electability factors and compare each of the candidates on attributes like business experience, governance experience, tech awareness, and just how crazy each looks in comparison to the others.

Before I begin, I should tell you that I haven't decided who I'm voting for, or even if I'm voting Democrat or Republican. Just like the rest of America, I'm looking at each of these candidates and hoping one of them stands out as the next, best thing for America, our economy, our jobs, and our future.

So far, well, my opinion on them all, President Obama included, is that we've got a long way to go before anyone stands out from the crowd and distinguishes himself or herself as a clear winner. None of them has yet earned my vote.

Next: Government executive experience »

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Government executive experience

There are two forms of governance experience worth measuring. How much experience each candidate has with national issues, and how much experience each has managing a large government organization.

This first measure, government executive experience, is almost always won by governors and former governors. The exception to this is Newt Gingrich, who ran the U.S. House of Representatives, itself quite the executive challenge.

  1. Rick Perry: almost 11 years as Governor of Texas
  2. Jon Huntsman: four years as Governor of Utah, ranks above Romney because of Ambassadorial experience as well
  3. Mitt Romney: four years as Governor of Massachusetts
  4. Newt Gingrich: four years as Speaker of the House

None of the others have any government executive experience at all.

Next: National governance experience »

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National governance experience

National governance experience means that the candidate has had the opportunity to look beyond local issues and has had to deal with issues impacting America as a whole.

  1. Newt Gingrich: As Speaker, he dealt with national issues constantly.
  2. Jon Huntsman: As Ambassador, Huntsman has more international experience than any other candidate.
  3. Ron Paul: Although not serving contiguous terms, Paul entered national service in 1976 and has served a total of 22 years in the House.
  4. Rick Santorum: Both as a Representative and a Senator, Santorum has served nationally for almost 20 years.
  5. Michele Bachmann: Bachmann has been in the House since 2007.
  6. Mitt Romney: Romney ran a national presidential campaign in 2008.

Although Mitt Romney hasn't had national governance experience, running a full Presidential campaign definitely exposes one to the issues facing America, so he's on this list -- but at the bottom. The other candidates don't even appear because...they have no national experience at all.

Next: Business experience »

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Business experience

When it comes to the economy and job-production, we need to look to the candidates with solid business experience, people who've created and saved jobs, and have had the personal experience of hiring and firing employees.

  1. Herman Cain: Herman Cain did it all in his rise to head up Godfather's Pizza.
  2. Mitt Romney: Romney's claim to fame is his experience at Bain, the management consulting and investment company.
  3. Jon Huntsman: His father runs the $8 billion Huntsman chemical corporation, and Jon Huntsman, Jr., the candidate, worked there in an executive role.

All of the others have had some level of business experience, either working for other enterprises or operating their own professional practices. But none show the level of broad experience that would help transform an economy.

Next: Pomposity »

« Previous: Business experience


The GOP is in a fight for identity. On the one side are the old-school, establishment Republicans and on the other side are the new, firebrand "I can't take it anymore" Republicans. When it comes to old-school, establishment Republicans, nobody can do pompous better. Of course, pomposity isn't necessarily a good attribute for electability.

  1. Mitt Romney: What can you say? We've all seen Mitt Romney.
  2. Newt Gingrich: Professor Gingrich manages to balance his "I'm smarter than you" personality with actually being smarter than most of us.
  3. Jon Huntsman: Huntsman is either pompous or unskilled at campaigning. Time will tell.
  4. Rick Santorum: Santorum is less pompous than he is infinitely self-satisfied. Sanctimoniousness is not a good trait for electability.

There's not a whiff of pompousness in the other four candidates. On the other hand, they definitely show up in our "appears crazy" rating.

Next: Appears crazy »

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Appears crazy

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the new, modern GOP is the level at which some of its members appear fully nuts. This gives pundits and comics an almost infinite source of material. A few of the current eight candidates certainly provide some entertainment.

  1. Ron Paul: We Americans love Ron Paul, but no one appears higher on the crazy chart than Paul. That's sad, because he may well be the sanest of the bunch.
  2. Michele Bachmann: Bachmann has come to be known as "Crazy Eyes" in some of the liberal press, and, because of her very, very strong religious stance, seems a little more looney than most.
  3. Rick Perry: The man has suggested secession from the union as a solution for Texas. Need I say more?

The other candidates seem to have their own weird ideas, but they're less likely to be off their meds.

Next: Likeability »

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Likeability is an interesting measure in a Presidential election. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush had it in spades, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush didn't, and, apparently, neither does President Obama (he was incredibly likeable as a candidate).

Likeability is a factor in winning elections, but it tends to have more of a sway in good economic times than bad. When people are worried about how they're going to pay their bills, they're more willing to elect someone they don't like or identify with, but think can help, than in times when they feel secure.

In this election, likeability is a factor, but it's probably not what's going to make or break any candidate. That said, here's the leaderboard.

  1. Ron Paul: Ron Paul stands out as incredibly likeable. Strident, angry, a little nuts, there's nothing more fun than listening to Ron Paul rant.
  2. Michele Bachmann: Michele Bachmann was a surprise. She's quite likeable, hits hard in debates, and seems to be able to hold her own.
  3. Herman Cain: Herman Cain was another pleasant surprise. He knows who he is, what he knows, and isn't afraid to show he actually has a plan.
  4. Mitt Romney: Mitt Romney has apparently taken some likeability pills. Granted he's not standing next to and being compared to the nearly infinitely likeable Mike Huckabee, but Romney seems to have softened a bit over the years.
  5. Rick Perry: I had expected Perry to be far more likeable, but although he always goes for the sound bite, I don't think he'll appeal to the broad range of voters. He even got booed at a Tea Party debate.
  6. Newt Gingrich: Newt is Newt. I, personally, like him a lot, but he's an acquired taste for most people.
  7. Jon Huntsman: Huntsman was a disappointment. I think it's his lack of experience in the debate spotlight, but he came across sour and off-key.
  8. Rick Santorum: Santorum blends into the background. It's hard to remember he's even there. It's not just a lack of likeability, it's a lack of personality.

Next: Tech savvy »

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Tech savvy

It's been tough gauging technical savvy and policy with the current crop of candidates, because none of them has mentioned tech (with the exception of Romney's mention of smartphones vs. payphones) in any of the recent debates. While there will be a more exhaustive look at each candidates' tech policies in the future, let's see what we can find out.

  1. Ron Paul: Ron Paul's pro-tech freedom policies are almost too numerous to count. On tech policy alone, we should just elect Ron Paul already and be done with it.
  2. Herman Cain: He may have headed up Godfather's Pizza, but he has a masters in computer science. It's from 1971, but, even so, you gotta love that. Plus, modern retail chain operations require a tremendous amount of IT support. Cain may know more about IT issues than any other candidate.
  3. Michele Bachmann: Bachmann is a prolific Facebook poster, with more than 14,000 posts. She gets major points for voting to permanently ban taxing state and local Internet access and loses them by voting against net neutrality.
  4. Newt Gingrich: Gingrich has indicated a strong interest in science and technology education although he's not a fan of NASA. He's also quite proud of his Twitter count.
  5. Jon Huntsman: Huntsman doesn't have a lot of tech policy under his belt, but the fact that he understands the China cyber-threat bodes well for him.
  6. Mitt Romney: You'd think, coming from Massachusetts, Romney would have more of a technology-centered policy stance. Apparently, he doesn't.
  7. Rick Perry: Perry approved a pile of technology grants for students, but wants to balance sales tax for "mainstreet" and the Internet.
  8. Rick Santorum: With the exception of voting to make the R&D tax credit permanent, Santorum has little record with technology.

Next: Electability »

« Previous: Tech savvy

Electability chance

Electability is an interesting question. First, which of these candidates can appeal to the Republican voters and win the primary race? That's a tougher question than it's been in years past, because there are essentially two Republican parties, the old-guard and the red-meat Tea Party conservatives. It'll be tough for any one candidate to walk the middle safely.

Then, the key question for GOP supporters has to be which of these candidates can defeat Barack Obama? For anyone to stand a chance going against all the power of an incumbent (and still surprisingly popular) President, the GOP candidate has to have enough middle-of-the-road appeal to attract independents and not scare them away.

Then, there's the issue of the wild cards. The first primary hasn't been fought and there's still a chance Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, or some other wild card might join the race. That said, given the current field from the recent debate, here are my ratings, in order, of electability.

  1. Mitt Romney: Despite Perry's meteoric polling rise, he may well scare away the center. Romney has the experience, the organization, and he's benign and economically savvy enough that he stands a chance of getting elected.
  2. Ron Paul: Ron Paul is infinitely appealing and he says a lot that resonates with many voters. He's probably too old and probably too strident to make it, but, hey, if John McCain could get the nomination, so could Ron Paul.
  3. Michele Bachmann: Michele Bachmann suffers from the same lack of experience Barack Obama did, and she's probably not going to get the nomination. At this point, though, I think she's probably a top choice for the VP slot and, if Obama wins again in 2012, expect Bachmann to be a front-runner in 2016.
  4. Rick Perry: Perry has appeal, but when you really start listening to him, he gets more and more scary. Even the Tea Partiers weren't entirely comfortable with him. I predict he'll get a lot of play, but not hold on through the primary season.

Sadly, the others aren't going to make it. Herman Cain has no experience and that's going to weigh against him, especially compared to the front runners. Jon Huntsman makes a lot of sense, but his manner shows it's clear he's in over his head. Rick Santorum has absolutely nothing unique going for him.

Finally, while Newt Gingrich is probably the most qualified candidate for President (and would probably make a good one), there's no chance he'll get elected. The best Newt can hope for is a cabinet post or an ambassadorship.

So, there you go. Another round of election predictions. If I were to call it today, I'd say the GOP slate will be Romney/Bachmann. Stay tuned for ongoing coverage and more crystal ball readings. What do you think? TalkBack below.

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