Opinion: Columnists

'Twitter primary' can help reveal interest in GOP presidential hopefuls

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Opinion,Hugh Hewitt,Columnists,Paul Ryan,2016 Elections,Rand Paul,Campaigns,Chris Christie,Analysis,Twitter

With former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's Dec. 12 comments on his presidential ambitions -- "The Lord knows but he's not telling yet" -- the planners for the 2016 GOP debates have to ratchet up their potential stage sizes.

There are now 16 plausible candidates for those hopefully reformed and reformatted contests two years out, all of whom have cases to make as to why they belong at least on the first few stages:

— Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton

— Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

-- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

-- Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

— Huckabee

— Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

-- Ohio Gov. John Kasich

— New York Rep. Peter King

-- Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry

-- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

-- Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan

— Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum

— Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

— South Dakota Sen. John Thune

-- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

The only one who has declared, King, is the only one with little genuine hope of nomination or a remotely plausible path to the nomination, but it is hard to see a neutral rule governing debate participation excluding the long-time New York congressman and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

There's already a primary of sorts underway, in fact, and not the ill-defined contests in the recruitment of campaign talent or the lining up of donors and bundles, though those efforts matter and are watched closely by all concerned. (As are announcements of book deals for tomes due out in early 2015.)

No, the only objective "primary" data we can look to today are the results from the "Twitter primary," a measurement of online interest, negative or positive or simply journalistic, among the 16.

Twitter "followers" have made choices to keep tabs on the 140-character messages of those they track on the service, and that number is at least a constant that can be compared across the field, one that separates out the vagaries of Facebook "following" stats to the relatively hard-core mix of activists, opponents and news junkies who are addicted to Twitter feeds.

We won't know until three years from now what percentage of Twitter followings as of Dec. 13 turned into actual campaign activists or contributors, but there is no reason not to think that the "Twitter followers" number doesn't mean something given the importance the MSM talking heads pay to their own running totals. These totals are at least a measure of the potential candidates' online efforts.

Here's the Twitterific facts on the Twitter primary as of that day. Where the potential candidate has more than one account, I used the higher number of the two (or three). I have also rounded to the thousand. Their relative rank in "Twitter power" follows their actual number of "followers."

— Bolton: 108,000; 10

— Bush: 101,000; 11

— Christie: 420,000; 3

— Cruz: 234,000; 6

— Huckabee: 318,000; 5

— Jindal: 143,000; 9

— Kasich: 56,000; 13

— King: 17,000; 16

— Paul: 351,000; 4

— Perry: 210,000; 8

— Rubio: 475,000; 2

— Ryan: 561,000; 1

— Santorum: 222,000; 7

— Snyder: 30,000; 14

— Thune: 27,000; 15

— Walker: 73,000; 12

What to say about these numbers and this ranking?

First, any GOP debate planners want to use Twitter totals as a debate qualification should know that Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert has 5.6 million followers.

Second, every would-be GOP nominee has to figure out how to amp up their social media staff abilities.

And finally, Ryan-Rubio-Christie as a top three cheat sheet makes some sense (if one assumes Jeb Bush is not really running.)

And that makes the Twitter primary more interesting than you may have thought.

HUGH HEWITT, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.
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