The GOP will have an amazing field in 2016

Not only are these rising Republican politicians some of the most intriguing in recent memory, they’re also shaping up to be very well suited to the likely demands of the 2016 presidential campaign. After eight years of young, cosmopolitan Obama, the GOP will probably want to field a candidate who strikes voters as fresh and new—especially because people tend to get elected president (or vice president) only within 14 years of first winning major elective office, as journalist Jonathan Rauch has noted. By 2016 only Ryan will have passed his sell-by date, and he’s unlikely to seem stale, given his relative youth. The rest of the class of 2016 either has a short résumé or minority roots. Rubio, Jindal, and Haley have both. Freshness won’t be an issue.

But the strongest selling point for Rubio & Co. is that most of them have developed their political personae during the age of Obama. The perils of being a pre-Obama Republican in a post-Obama world are on full display right now, as Romney, Gingrich, and Pawlenty struggle to explain their support for policies (individual mandates, cap-and-trade) that were considered conservative before Obama came along, but now constitute apostasy simply because he has endorsed them. In contrast, Republicans such as Rubio, Jindal, Haley, McDonnell, and Christie, who were elected between 2008 and 2010, have had the luxury of defining themselves in clear opposition to Obama. Even Huntsman, whose governorship preceded Obama’s presidency, has an opening here: After serving as the administration’s ambassador to China, he can argue with some authority that his boss was wrong on trade, and deficits, and so forth. With so much talent in the pipeline, Republicans may be tempted to call for a class-of-2016er to take the plunge in 2012. But the GOP would be wise to recognize the risks of jumping the gun. The class of 2016 is impressive, but no one has a better shot than, say, Pawlenty of defeating Obama next November: Some are too green to contend against a sitting president; others are too moderate for today’s GOP base. By running now, they would risk revealing their inexperience or tying themselves in too many Tea Party knots for future audiences.