I think the minimum requirement for a Presidential candidate should be that he or she have been elected governor of a purple state, a record of success in said position, reelection to said position, and continued popularity in said state such that it will be solidly in his column in any general election contest. Preferably said state would be a populous one. I’m not sure if there is anyone who fits that bill right now, but there is a pretty good crop of good candidates facing reelection between now and 2016, who would fit if they prevail: Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Susanna Martinez, Mitch Daniels, Terry Branstad, Rick Snyder, Brian Sandoval, John Kasich, Tom Corbett, and Bob McDonnell. With exception of McDonnell and Daniels, they’re all up for reelection in 2014.
Interestingly, Daniels is the only one of the group to get elected in a Presidential year, but then Indiana is probably the reddest state of the bunch. My 2016 primary line up would begin with those from the above list who have a record of budgetary discipline and economic growth, and who survive their reelections in 2014.
The only other political biography that I think we should consider is someone who has run a major federal agency, including the military, especially in the foreign policy arena. Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney are the only names that come to mind there, but the Bush taint may still be too strong. I’d actually be open to a Condoleeza Rice run if I get a better handle on her general philosophy. If she will at least say that abortion is best decided by the states, then I could give her a pass on that question.
Exit: given the demographic shifts that are absolutely killing all chances for the GOP and/or conservatism, something like a Martinez-Rice ticket may be just the things to really shake things up a bit.
I like your list of possible candidates... I agree that all of them could be strong contenders for this “next Reagan/next Coolidge” role. The one whom I think might fit best is Mitch Daniels. I know conservatives bash him for wanting to separate the social issues and focus on the economic issues, but I think Mitch is the reincarnation of Calvin Coolidge and a good possible Reagan-like principled guy.
With that in mind, since he is now out of office, I’d love to see Mitch do something similar to what Reagan did during his time-off from politics in the years before the 1980 election: go everywhere and “pitch” conservative principles and the conservative vision. Look to get a gig on conservative talk radio doing a “four minute conservative thoughts for the day”. Reagan did that for years — he was like a one-man think-tank, writing the scripts himself. This exercise (along with his GE days of making pitches on the rubber-chicken circuit around the country) got Reagan’s philosophy memorized and ingrained in his soul.
We need that kind of ingrained thinker (and speaker, and debater) articulating our message. Hone those talking points into 4 minute essays. People will hunger for that kind of thinking and that kind of clarity.