The Republican and Democratic potential presidential candidates are beginning to focus on 2016, evaluating their chances and building on the contacts they’ve accumulated over the last few years. Some have been at it for some time, some are still thinking about running. While many candidates are being discussed or having their supporters see about getting them discussed, this long list will shorten in the months ahead.
Some have already let it be known that they won’t be running. Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, widely reported as considering running, announced last week that he would not be a candidate in 2016. While perhaps still pondering a race, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan has begun talking about how he intends to focus on what he can do as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and his desire to spend more rather than less time in his home state.
The Democrats have, or think they have, a potential winner in Hillary Rodham Clinton. She leads all other potential contenders, but when the leading competitor is Vice President Joe Biden, the candidate every Republican would like to run against, that’s not surprising. We’re told by her supporters in the media that she’s a slam dunk for the nomination and, of course, would win handily against any Republican. Maybe, but we were told the same thing in 2007 before she was blown away by an obscure Illinois senator as voters discovered that she wasn’t a very good candidate. Now she’s eight years older, served an undistinguished stint at State, and may not be quite as ready for the presidency as those proclaiming themselves ready for her assume.
If Mrs. Clinton proves once again to have a political glass jaw, her party has a problem. VP Joe Biden doesn’t pass the giggle test; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be too busy dodging subpoenas; and Maryland’s Gov. Martin O’Malley went down in flames by proxy on Nov. 4 as he tried to build support for his successor and create a populist legacy. That leaves Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a modern day George McGovern in a skirt and without a war record, who appeals narrowly to leftist firebrands within her party, but has yet to establish any reach, or maybe Vermont’s Bernie Sanders who seems to actually believe that the Birkenstocked crowd that elects him in Vermont is representative of the broader American electorate.
If they were race horses, most of them would be left at the gate or turn up lame on the first turn. To paraphrase former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld on countries and their armies, parties go to war with the candidates they have rather than those they might wish to have.
The Republicans seem better off. They have at least a half dozen credible contenders and more who are hoping lightning will strike if those who look like heavyweights today stumble early. Republicans have governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Ohio’s John Kasich, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Indiana’s Mike Pence, along with former governors like Texas’ Rick Perry and Florida’s Jeb Bush, Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee and even 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and long shots like former Maryland Gov. Bob Erlich and Virginia’s Jim Gilmore being talked about or laying the groundwork for what each hopes will be a serious campaign.
That’s a lot of potential candidates, but there are also senators like Texas’ Ted Cruz, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Florida’s Marco Rubio who may well run along with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and the aforementioned Paul Ryan.
Then there are “civilians” like U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, Dr. Ben Carson and former California Senate candidate and Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina to name three. All in all, that’s quite a cadre of pols and before it’s over there may be more.
Today’s polls mean little because they reflect name identification and because normal people aren’t yet thinking seriously about who they will support when the time comes. So today’s polls would suggest that the “front runners” are Mrs. Clinton and either Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney.
These are the best known of the bunch and will no doubt attract a lot of big money early if they actually run, although the idea that Mr. Romney has the stomach for a rerun of 2012 seems far-fetched. Many believe that if the American people discover their choices are once again between a Clinton and a Bush, millions of voters may tune out or slit their wrists.
Pundits like to talk about the future as if historical trends will hold true, but we are living in a new age politically, culturally and technologically and the old rules may prove as useful as the polls taken before this fall’s elections in predicting what’s going to happen as the 2016 cycle begins.
Midterm elections are about the past; presidential races are about the future. One suspects that both of these wannabes fear that try as they might it may prove difficult if not impossible for the Bushes and Clintons to persuade a skeptical public that the future is what their candidacies are about.
The upsets last November demonstrated one thing hidden behind the name calling and negative attempts of candidates of both parties to paint their opponents as Satan’s representatives on earth: candidates who focused on real solutions to real problems did better than those who played by the old rules. That, above all, was a sign that voters have had enough. They know the country is facing some real challenges and are looking for leaders who will face them rather than spend their time blaming them on others.
Only a fool would predict at this stage who will prove up to that challenge, but one thing we can predict right now: The race for the presidency in 2016 is going to be one heckuva spectacle.