I’m actually excited to see the GOP presidential campaign begin

The other day, I was reading some news and I found an article on the upcoming presidential race that suggested that there is a realistic possibility that 20 people — 20! — could be running for the Republican nomination in 2016.

When I read that, I was immediately skeptical. Usually, a large number of potential candidates speculate about possibly running, but far fewer do.

In 2012, for instance, there were 10 “serious” candidates — Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman — but there were as many or more potentially “serious” candidates who considered running but ultimately declined.

And then there was Donald Trump. We’ll just pretend he doesn’t exist for the purpose of this column.

Still, when you look at the 20 candidates, it appears that nearly all of them are actually going to run. Think about a debate stage that would include Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina, with additional names such as John Bolton, Peter King, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, Bob Ehrlich and Mark Everson. OK, Everson barely counts, but seriously look at the rest!

Of course, in reality, at least a few of those people will probably not run. I would guess that Bolton, King and Ehrlich don’t run, and Everson isn’t serious enough to matter. But still, that’s 16 people on a debate stage. Even if a few more took a pass, we are talking about a much larger field than the already absurdly large 2012 field.

But oh, the better choices. 2012 featured a cast of undesirables and candidates simply not up to the task. Santorum? Gingrich? Cain and his 999 plan? Not exactly the most inspiring collection of potential presidents I’ve ever seen.

This cycle, you have (of course) a number of pointless retreads and voices from the past with absurd dreams of the White House — I’m looking at you Huckabee — but you also have a large number of not only fresh faces, but fresh faces that actually have a track record of successful governance.

Take Walker, an early contender for my primary vote. He has a fascinating biography and has won three elections in four years in a historically blue state. Far from governing like a blue state Republican, though, he pushed aggressively for bold, transformative change to his state, particularly its relationship with labor unions, and in one of the states that birthed the labor union movement.

You also have a group of fresh rhetorical leaders who have fewer raw accomplishments but inspire great passion among their supporters and have the opportunity to build a new coalition of Republican voters.

Paul is certainly a fascinating candidate, potentially able to bridge the gap between mainstream conservatism and libertarianism in a way that would be very dangerous for Democrats in the fall. Rubio brings a compelling life story with a diverse face and an authentic appeal to a younger generation. And as much as I may not like him, Cruz certainly has captured the imaginations of many a conservative voter and has his own advantages not typically seen in Republican primaries.

You’ve got accomplished technocrats such as Jindal, and eloquent, fiery defenders of the free market with large-scale business success like Fiorina. Hell, you’ve even got a neurosurgeon who makes a better case against Obamacare than just about anyone in Carson.

Even the voices of the establishment — Bush and Christie — are more wonkish and interesting than previous establishment candidates. (No, I still don’t like Bush, but you have to hand it to the guy, he loves discussing policy, and I can appreciate that.)

So however many of these people actually run, it seems clear that the end of the President Barack Obama era will feature a large, diverse and legitimately interesting cast of characters who seek to replace him.

In a year when they will be facing off with the full might of a Clinton machine desperate for power, the eventual nominee will have to be one of true quality. For once in my life, I’m actually kind of excited to get the race underway and see who that person actually will be.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.