Presidential Election 2016: Can Republicans do Web sites?

With the 2016 Presidential election season right around the corner, 16 Republican hopefuls have launched their campaigns, and their Web sites. In this gallery, ZDNet's David Gewirtz explores the candidates sites (and their chances).
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Presidential Election 2016: Can Republicans do Web sites?

We are just two short weeks away from the Happiest Day of the Year. No, I’m not talking about Christmas. Uh, uh. I’m talking about the very first televised presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle. Ten Republicans. Fox News. How could there not be entertainment?

Rather than waiting a whole two weeks, we decided to visit 16 candidates (because the more the merrier) and see what they’re doing with their Web sites. Can Republicans do Web sites? We’ll see. Lest you think we’re biased in any way, we are presenting the candidates’ sites in order of their latest polling numbers, per the Real Clear Politics polling average as of… now.

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Donald Trump

In a gift to all political commentators, Donald Trump is actually leading the pack — at least almost 15 months before the election. While it’s incredibly unlikely that Trump can make it all the way through the primaries without, you know, being fully Donald Trump, he is easily the most fun of all the candidates. Not even Michele Bachmann or Newt Gingrich, not even Sarah Palin is as much fun for pundits as The Donald.

While there’s no policy information whatsoever on his site, there is are big “Donate” buttons where you can’t miss them. Because he needs the money.

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Jeb Bush

Number two on our hit parade is Jeb Bush, brother to Bush 43 and son of Bush 41. While it’s incredibly early to be making predictions, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Jeb (excuse me, “Jeb!”) is most likely to be the Republican nominee. He’s got the name recognition (after all, this is the family business). More to the point, he’s a different take on a Bush, a little more centrist with a much greater appeal to Hispanic voters. He speaks the language and his wife, Columba, was born in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Bush also lacks policy information on his site, but it’s already bilingual. I expect to see another Bush vs. Clinton fight in 2016 and while I do respect both candidates, I sure wish we could move America out of the de facto monarchy we seem to cherish.

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Scott Walker

Scott Walker is the last candidate polling in the double-digits and it’s likely due to his controversial positions regarding many areas that are red meat for the party’s core faithful. As a six-year governor of Wisconsin, Walker has managed to gain hearts and minds of very right-leaning conservatives, but may have a challenge appealing to the middle of the electorate that generally decides who sits behind the Resolute Desk.

Walker’s site, too, has little in the way of policy. However, he already has a Web store, so if you want your Walker 16 logoware, you know where to shop.

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Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio is the currently serving junior senator from the great-ish state of Florida, known far and wide as the state of the hanging chad. At age 44, Rubio is one of the youngest candidates and while a compelling young candidate, he is perhaps best known for his unfortunate water grab during his State of the Union response in 2013. Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen that particular clip, you will. You. Will.

As for Rubio’s Web site, all I can say is "wow." And not in a good way. Once (if) you bypass the contest page you see above, Rubio actually has a relatively run-of-the mill site, except he’s the first candidate with an actual issues page. So if you want to know where he stands on everything from Cuba to ISIS, you can actually find out.

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Ben Carson

If you think that some of our previous presidents might not have been brain surgeons, then you’ll want to look at Ben Carson. Dr. Carson is a talented Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon with a hankering for politics. While it’s unclear how years wielding a knife qualify him for the presidency, there’s no doubt he’s compelling as a professional, if controversial as a candidate. Of course, when you’re running in a field as crowded as the Class of ’16, you need some controversy to stand out.

Carson also discusses the issues, and has a Spanish version of his site (although with a lot less content). More to the point, he’s the only candidate with a picture of a pooch, which automatically raises his standing with me.

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Mike Huckabee

As an ordained Southern Baptist minister, Mike Huckabee may well be one of the most qualified to bring religious issues into the discussion. Back in 2008, running with far, far less cash, he came in third behind John McCain and Mitt Romney and definitely deserves points for such a performance. But the one thing that makes Huckabee the most compelling as a presidential campaign is that Chuck Norris appeared in commercials endorsing him. Even more impressive, the New York Times reports that Chuck Norris (who counted to infinity…twice) is once again supporting the former Governor and Fox News commentator.

While Huckabee’s site has the unfortunate feel of the Windows 8 Charms bar, he is also the first we’ve seen to very actively involve social networking elements front-and-center (or actually on each side) of his site. Huckabee, who is number six on our hit parade, continues the trend of disclosing his position on issues. Sadly, it seems that if you want to be a double-digit Republican candidate, the best tactic might be to say nothing about your position.

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Rand Paul

In some ways, Rand Paul has taken on the libertarian mantle from his dad. The junior senator from Kentucky — also a doctor like father Ron, but in a different field, is making some inroads, but probably not enough. Powered by whatever is left of the Tea Party, the junior Paul has a long way to go in this race. His best chance, if he’s very, very lucky, might be to get a VP nod.

The Rand Paul Web site, as the image above shows, is all about killing the tax code. Unfortunately, to get into the main site, a visitor has to click the big white X, figuratively crossing out the candidate to see what he stands for. What makes Paul most interesting is that many of his stances are at opposition to typical Republican stands (particularly in terms of foreign policy), and yet the issues section is very small and way at the bottom (in the footer) of the behind-the-X Web page — which you only get to once you close the Paul landing page. It needs work.

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Ted Cruz

Texas junior senator Ted Cruz is also in the mid-single digits of the also-rans. Cruz is another Tea Party favorite, but tends far more to the party line when it comes to foreign policy. Cruz has gone out of his way to garner attention. The kind of attention he’s gotten has made him a crowd favorite, but to mostly very small crowds.

On the plus side, Cruz has one of the more workable Web sites we’ve seen. His home page clearly presents most of what he cares about, and offers a Spanish-language version. On the other hand, you really don’t want to visit a presidential candidate's Web site and be offered the opportunity to buy “drinkware" on the home page (the "Cruz 2016 Coozie 6-Pack" for $20 stands out).

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Chris Christie

We’ve passed the halfway mark in Republican hopefuls and finally reach New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who was on the top of everyone’s front-runner list… four years ago. Time (and his own actions) haven’t been kind to the governor, and as a result, he hasn’t even made it into the top half of the pack. He still has a chance to be in the debate, but that could change at any minute.

Christie’s site is topped off above-the-fold with a piece of video that looks more like a news story about “Bridgegate” than a puff piece about a leading contender. Christie’s theme is “Telling it like it is,” so I’ll tell you like it is. This may be the only time you ever look at Christie’s Web site. He has no chance of getting the nomination.

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John Kasich

Ohio governor John Kasich has once again entered the political fray. Oh, you don’t know his name? Then you won’t recall he was a candidate for president back in 2000. Here’s what Kasich has going for him: he’s the governor of Ohio, a major swing state. Here’s what Kasich has arrayed against him: nobody cares. No one. In fact, based on some of his own statements (for example, “I feel compelled to deliver a message like this. If they like it, great. If they don’t like it, I’ll play more golf”), it’s not even clear whether Kasich himself cares.

But hey, he has a Web site, so there’s that. Unfortunately, you can’t even buy “drinkware” on his site, but you can download a few pictures of a rolling Ohio field superimposed with the letter “K”.

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Rick Perry

Somewhere deep inside, it has to be dawning on former Texas governor Rick Perry that he should probably go on home to Haskell County and call it a day. He’s polling under Chris Christie and John Kasich, for Texas’ sake. Perry was a very bright star in the 2012 Republican road show.. for about a day. He blew the debate so badly that, well, you can see where he is in the standings as well as I can. He might win Haskell County. Maybe.

Perry actually has a relatively well filled-out Web site, but as the image above shows, there are perils to including too many swipe wipes in your home page video. It’s not a bad site. It does list his positions on the various issues. But Perry’s biggest issue is that he’s a non-issue. Let’s move on.

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Carly Fiorina

Oh, Carly, Carly, Carly, what can we say? Once the head of HP, now polling so far down the Republican roster that she’s not even going to be eligible for the Fox News debate.

On the plus side, her Web site doesn’t say she was fired from HP. In fact, it presents a short (a very short) list of accomplishments. Her site provides no discussion of issues or positions, but it does talk (a lot) about her. Basically, the Carly For President Web site is less presidential campaign Web site and more a very long resume.

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Rick Santorum

Speaking personally, despite disagreeing with just about everything Rick Santorum stands for, I have to give the little feller some credit. Even though he seemed to have a thing for sweater vests, Santorum came from nowhere and managed to hold his own through much of the 2012 presidential election cycle. There’s no way he’ll ever win, but even if you have political differences, you have to give credit for “scrappy.” And Santorum was scrappy. Here’s hoping he can pull out another surprisingly strong showing in this cycle.

The focus of Santorum’s landing page is push-back against President Obama’s Iran deal. If you click in, he has a good site, with a wealth of information about his past and how he differs with Democrats. But the highlight of the site is, without a doubt, the Official Rick Santorum for President Theme Song. The man has a theme song. I’m just saying’ you gotta love that. Oh, and don’t let your kids look up “Santorum” on Google.

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Bobby Jindal

Bobby Jindal is another promising Republican undone by is own performance in a State of the Union response speech. Still governor of Louisiana (at least for a little while), Jindal is polling in the single digits (the very, very low single digits).

There’s nothing wrong with Jindal’s Web site (well, except for the lack of a theme song). It’s well designed and clear, if a bit short on issues. But since Jindal is nearly scraping the bottom of the Republican field, he Web site, good or bad, won’t save him.

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Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, has the unique honor of showing absolutely zero support in the Real Clear Politics standings. Actually, that’s not quite true. It’s really zero-point-zero. Yeah. Graham’s not going to make it.

Oddly enough, Graham actually got some press recently because he and The Donald had some words. Not content with being the Hell-hath-frozen-over front-runner, Trump decided to give out Graham’s cell phone number, to which Graham posted the tweet above. How low in the standings is Graham? He has fewer Twitter followers than I do. Thousands fewer. I’m not bragging. Just a fact. ‘Course, you don’t see me running for President, although I'd probably poll higher than Graham.

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George Pataki

Finally, we come to former New York governor George Pataki, who doesn’t even show in the rankings (but was put on this list by my editor). He performed reasonably well as New York’s governor on 9/11, but Rudy sucked all the 9/11 juice out of the electorate years ago.

What can I say? He has a Web site. It’s not bad.

Hey, before I leave you wondering whether there’s any chance Donald Trump could become President (no, but it would be fun to watch), I want to point out another interesting resource my editor found for this piece: 4president.us. This site has links and grabs of Web sites, TV ads, and promotional gear for candidates going back to 1960. It’s well worth a visit.

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