Anybody can be president?

The old adage that every mother's son can grow up to be president -- now revised to include her daughter -- is being put to the test with a vengeance in this current election cycle.

The latest batch of Republicans -- businesswoman Carly Fiorina, retired surgeon Ben Carson and former ArkansasGov. Mike Huckabee -- joins three freshman senators, Ted Cruz of Texas,Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio ofFlorida, in the 2016 race.


Others on the edge of the pool include Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and real-estate tycoon Donald Trump. The lure of the Oval Office, or at least of free television time in debates in early caucus and primary states, is producing a bumper crop of presidential hopefuls.

The phenomenon in GOP ranks is in sharp contrast to the picture on the Democratic side, where only a long shot candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has so far ventured forth to take on Hillary Clinton. She is so loaded with dough and endorsements that only two tentative challengers, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland, are yet pondering the race.


The stampede of Republican newcomers can be explained by the absence of a sitting president seeking re-election, and also by the well-established hostility toward the former Democratic first lady and secretary of state that seems to dwell in the hearts of so many of the opposition party.

Many of them also abhor the lame duck, President Barack Obama, with the same intensity that moved the GOP to paralyze much of his agenda over the last six years. Yet they no doubt remember his emergence as a longshot freshman senator from Illinois in 2008 -- and hope to follow his successful path.

The public has grown weary of professional politicians in general, and of those in Washington in particular. Thus the so-called citizen candidates like Fiorina and Carson who claim to be unblemished by politics and government service, and one-termers like Messrs. Cruz, Paul and Rubio with short track records in the Senate to defend.

It's true that today's presidential elections cost billions to run, thanks in great measure to the Supreme Court's opening the door to a flood of unlimited contributions by multimillionaires and billionaires. (Sheldon Adelson or the Koch Brothers could keep a candidate afloat on their own nickel, if they wanted to.)

But even underfinanced, self-starting political amateurs and long shots can get ample attention via social media and the Internet. Any number can play, at least for a time, as Republican Herman Cain and Democrat Dennis Kucinich demonstrated in recent presidential elections.

Sometimes the voice of a little-known challenger can not only enliven televised candidate debates but also oblige a more prominent participant to come out of a safe, defensive crouch and be more specific on his or her campaign promises. That obviously is a catalyst for Mr. Sanders' entry into the fray against Hillary Clinton, in which he will get ample assistance from the GOP pack.

Nonetheless, the test for Republicans will not be which of them can outdo the others in Hillary bashing, but which one can most effectively put a winning and forward-looking face on their party, which has no clear identity after the Bush presidencies and the Romney candidacies since the Reagan years.

Of the long roster of GOP presidential aspirants, only Jeb Bush appears to represent the old moderate establishment line, for all his insistence that he is just as conservative as the rest of the field in this era of vanishing Republican moderation.


After the defeat of Mitt Romney despite his 2012 insistence that he was "severely conservative," the yearning for a true representative of the party's right wing goes on, with the more the merrier. Riding the anti-politician wave may be in vogue, but doing so may not be sufficient to carry someone to the Oval Office this time around.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is