As of the time of writing, there are fifteen officially announced candidates running to win the Republican nomination for President. Fifteen. That’s fifteen people all competing to acquire the same limited pool of votes, donations and support that’s usually spread out between a historic average of nine candidates. This absurdly high number of conservative presidential aspirants holds a lot of implications for the Republican Party, but most importantly it has set the stage for a completely unpredictable primary election.

The explanation behind this current state of affairs can be attributed to a number of factors. First and foremost, the American two-party system can be identified as a major contributor. America is one big, diverse melting pot, and yet there are only two parties in government to represent its population. These two parties thus adopt the representative role of an all-encompassing rainbow coalition, as they attempt to appeal to the dozens of societal groups that make up the constitution of the US.

What this means for the primary elections is that there is plenty of room for each Republican candidate to compete for these various voting blocs. You have someone like the fresh-faced Marco Rubio vying for the millennials and the Cuban-American vote; or Tea Party darling Ted Cruz attempting to placate the anti-Obama ultra-conservative demographic, not to mention Texan governor Rick Perry aiming for the evangelical conservatives. That said, there are currently more Republican candidates than Republican primary voter blocs, resulting in several candidates trying to compete within the same lanes. Considering this, and the fact that the Democratic field is populated by only three significant candidates at the moment, and it becomes clear that the two-party system can’t be held as the sole explanation for this unusually high number of Republicans in the running.

A second reason for why we have so many Republicans putting their hat into the race, is that in a post Citizens United world, they can all afford to. We’ve only just started the election season and already pundits are calling it the most expensive in history yet, which can be attributed to the fact that Super Pacs – groups that are set up to fundraise and campaign for a specific candidate but are separate to that candidate’s campaign organization – are proliferating with each passing year. These groups, unlike campaign organizations, aren’t limited by caps on donation sizes, and thus millionaires can pump their money through them in their support of a particular candidate. If a candidate can manage to secure the support of even a few of these wealthy donors or set up a super PAC, financing a campaign becomes much easier.

In the age of social media, organizing grassroots campaigns has also become less costly and easier to manage; several candidates announced their decision to run through an online live-stream or a video posted on You Tube. Running a campaign is no longer exclusive to the wealthy elite couched in their establishment networks, but instead you have everyone – from neurosurgeons to media moguls – being able to make a play for President.

Again though, these reasons don’t explain why it is the Republican Party that seems to be suffering from a case of too many cooks. What can be identified as an explanatory factor is the identity crisis that the party is currently going through. When you consider the party’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election, and an American population that is becoming more liberal with each passing day, you begin to see just how and why Republicans are struggling to define what their party stands for. This overcrowded field of candidates is a reflection of that, with each potential leader claiming to be the definitive face of what the Republican Party should look like. Whereas the Democratic Party, at least for now, only has one major fault line between its progressive and establishment wing, the Republican Party encompasses a whole ensemble of different beliefs and social groups.

The Republican field of candidates can thus be seen as a reflection of a very specific snapshot in time, in which the current climate spells out a very interesting primary season to come.

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