But a direct comparison with the last Republican primary, in 2012, reveals how strong this bunch of candidates is for the 2016 nomination. And the comparison is surprisingly direct: For most of the 2012 candidates, 2016 has offered a stronger, better-prepared, and more qualified rough equivalent.
Jeb Bush, for instance, is more or less Mitt Romney — a respected, technocratic, big-money Republican governor from a gentler decade. Except Bush was actually a conservative at the time, and so he doesn’t find himself painfully rewriting his history or groveling to a movement he used to scorn.
Interesting observation by Ben Smith at Buzzfeed on the 2016 slate of Republican candidates. The meta point is that Democrats shouldn't make the mistake of thinking 2016 will be a replay of Obama vs. a Republican joke.
Beyond that, the analogies get a little thin. Trump is a singular figure, a product of the New York tabloids with no 2012 equivalent, though Newt Gingrich, with more will than rationale, filled some of the same space, as did Bachmann. Rick Perry 2.0 appears to be pretty much Rick Perry. Mike Huckabee becomes a somewhat weaker candidate every cycle, as his demographic ages out and his charm wears thin. Santorum 2.0 is a poor man’s Santorum 1.0. And Marco Rubio’s generational campaign has no 2012 equivalent.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a weak field, or that most of these candidates would get run over by the Clinton juggernaut. The Democrats are plodding toward the nomination of the sort of solid establishment candidate John McCain was in 2008 for Republicans. The Republicans onstage tonight represent a generation of their party’s stars.