As of the RealClearPolitics polling aggregate published yesterday, the list of candidates outside the top ten includes Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsey Graham. Some of these candidates we know will be written off at the end of the day: Santorum might not actually understand how the constitution works and fails to exhibit any critical thinking ability on foreign policy. Jindal probably can't defend the direction he sent Louisiana in over the course of a campaign. I feel like Graham isn't seriously running, he just wants to push the party in a more hawkish direction (and in that is succeeding). But each of these could mount a noticeable campaign along the way, while Perry has worked hard to redefine himself, Fiorina could grab all sorts of suburban soccer moms, and some other candidates such as Chris Christie and Ben Carson may still take flight.
We get it, there are a lot of candidates in the field. So what's the best spot? I'll take #12 (give or take one). That's money.
Being top dog early on carries great peril. During the 2012 primaries, the Republican field systemically destroyed each candidate that took a lead until Romney finally held on. Ignoring Donald Trump, Jeb Bush presently leads all candidates. That puts a target on his back, and he'll be attacked in the coming months by all comers. Yet how does a candidate distinguish themselves to eventually overtake that top spot in the first place?
Our Presidential debates are travesties of democracy that cable news relentlessly covers. The news doesn't cover the issues, it covers the horse race. Who won? Who lost? Who best positioned themselves for the next round? And that's where a #12 distinguishes themselves. Fox and CNN have stated the top ten polling candidates will have one debate, and the leftover candidates get a secondary platform (interestingly, while CNN has clearly established rules for defining top ten, Fox does not, leaving the door open for them to choose which top ten they actually want on stage to a degree. Think the refusal to acknowledge Ron Paul in 2012 from Fox). And the winner of the secondary tier is due for attention and fawning: "Which candidate from tonight could we see on the main stage next time," and "who among the second tier looked like a serious contender?" With the spin cycle of our 24-hour
entertainment news industry, that's phenomenal press. I guarantee the media will devote hours to the second tier debate outcome, and if one actor clearly outperforms the others, that's money. Even better, it doesn't carry the target of winning the big boy debate.
I've been chewing on this idea for a couple months, and it just seems right. Candidates polling at #8 or 9 have little chance of distinguishing themselves and will likely drop out. If you're not in the top five, there's one way to hope to win: beat everyone else polling outside the top ten.