By I-Hsien Sherwood | ( | First Posted: Nov 12, 2012 12:42 PM EST

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses the final session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 30, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)

With Republicans licking their wounds after a resounding defeat in this year's presidential election, the future of the party uncertain. Who will be the face of the Republican Party in 2016?

And since Barack Obama cannot run again, who will the Democrats choose to continue Obama's winning streak?

The midterm elections in 2014 should give some clues as to the new direction of the Republican party. Will they try to embrace minorities and women? Or will they double-down on conservative talking points?

For now, let's look at the most likely candidates in 2016.


The Republican strategy depends on the Democratic candidate, especially if Obama has a successful second term. So who might the Republicans be up against?

The most popular choice for the Democrats in 2016 would be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a former senator and first lady, who came a narrow second to Obama in a bid for the Democratic nomination. She has very heavy support on both sides of the aisle, and she has been acclaimed by both Democrats and Republicans in her role as America's foremost ambassador.

She also has the support of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who has become a celebrity among Democrats.

Clinton would also continue the streak of historic firsts for the Democrats, following the first African-American president with the first female president.

But Clinton is still circumspect on whether she'll run.

She'll be retiring from the State Department early in Obama's second term, and she's stated she'll take some time off to relax.

That recharging will likely involve deciding whether she's up for a shot at the presidency.

If not, the traditional choice for the Democrats would be Vice President Joe Biden, who ran for president in 2008 before dropping out of the race and joining the Obama ticket.

Biden is well-liked by the public, and is generally regarded as an honest and relatable politician. But often he isn't taken seriously. Jokes about him are rampant in the media, and he's notorious for speaking off-the-cuff.

While these candid moments sometimes serve him well, like the time he came out in favor of same-sex marriage, prompting the president to officially follow suit, often they cement his reputation as a wild card better suited for a secondary role.

If Hillary Clinton wants the nomination in 2016, it's likely hers. If not, Joe Biden has an excellent chance of securing it, though I'm skeptical of his appeal at the top of a ticket.


The Republican field is wide, but whoever is nominated will have a difficult time getting through the primaries, which favor hard-right candidates, in a condition still palatable to the rest of the country.

Defeated vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan wouldn't have that problem, as he's already far-right on most issues, though that didn't serve him well this time around.

Whatever direction the Republican party moves in, Ryan could be an effective standard-bearer. If they shift to the right on social issues, Ryan is already there waiting for him, and he won't have to moderate his views as much as he did as Romney's running mate.

And if the Republicans move to the center on social issues to woo women and minorities, Ryan still has the fiscally-conservative chops to lead them.

But failed VP candidates don't do too well in national elections. Sarah Palin tried to turn her newfound stardom into political legs, but she bailed on Alaska too soon and has settled for being a second-tier celebrity pundit.

Ryan won his House seat, so he'll still be in office for a while, and that might give him a chance to rebuild credibility.

If the Republicans do moderate their tone, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would be the obvious choice.

He won accolades from Democrats when he toured the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. He's one of the few Republicans in the national spotlight who tries to work across the aisle on occasion, so he might be an easy sell for independents and moderate Democrats, especially those who still bear a grudge against the Clintons.

And it would put New Jersey's 14 electoral votes in play, and perhaps move nearby swing states like Pennsylvania.

But party loyalists tried to convince him to run this year, and he refused, so he may not be interested come 2016.

Republicans might split the difference between Ryan and Christie with Marco Rubio, the popular Cuban-American senator from Florida who introduced Romney at the Republican National Convention in August.

Rubio lost the VP nomination to Ryan, but perhaps the Republicans are rethinking their decision, since the Latino vote in Florida, Colorado and Nevada was crucial to Obama's victories in those states.

Rubio embraces all of the usual Republican policies on abortion and the economy, but differs on immigration reform. But the Republican stance on immigration was more moderate under George W. Bush, when they held the presidency for eight years, so moving back to the middle on that issue could be a winning strategy.

And it would give the Republicans a first to offer the public: the first Hispanic president.

Rubio will be running for reelection in the Senate in 2016, so maybe adding a presidential campaign on top of that isn't so implausible.

And finally, could 2016 see another Clinton-Bush showdown? Rumors abound that Jeb Bush, son of George H. W. Bush and younger brother of George W. Bush, could run.

Bush is the former Republican governor of Florida, is married to a Mexican-born philanthropist, and is Roman Catholic.

But electoral math isn't in his favor. While it's likely he could bring Florida back to the Republicans, the Democrats didn't need it to win this year, and politically he serves the same purpose as Marco Rubio, but he carries the heavy baggage of the Bush name.

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