State of the Mugwumps
Actually any year in the 90s. And the last two years in the 80s. And the first eight years of the 2000s. That’s because the Mugwumps are predicting a Bush v Clinton 2016 Presidential election, the political families that ran the executive branch of the federal government for eighteen years and occupied the Governor’s mansions of Arkansas, Florida, and Texas for more than a quarter century. A lot can change in eighteen years and so can people. Just look at Barbara Bush when she entered the White House in 1989 versus today.
I mean she might as well be a completely different person.
For all the waxing poetic about American individualism and exceptionalism, for all the pride in being a nation of laws instead of a nation of men, Americans love their political dynasties. Whether it be the Adams, the Harrisons, the Roosevelts, the Tafts, the Kennedys, (I feel like I’m just listing PBS documentaries) and now the Bushs and the Clintons, each generation of Americans seems to scorn the machine politics of their parents and embark boldly in anointing their own royal family. However, as Hillary Clinton knows better than most, the Presidency is never obtained easily and the White House is not retained by a party that does not have a clear objective.
Who will be the other? Democrats don’t have well-funded stuffy frontrunners that coast from Iowa to convention speech. They have well-funded stuffy frontrunners that take a public beating, get accused of selling out to moneyed interests, fight all the way to the floor of the convention, and procure the nomination to feigned enthusiasm or not at all. The question before Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire is who will embody the opposition to Clinton. Not because there are lot of Democrats opposed to Hillary, there really aren’t. They just hold on hope to get that Aaron Sorkin-produced PhD-level dream debate they think waits for them around the corner of the next primary.
Perhaps the obvious choice would be Joe Biden, whom the Mugwumps give a 14% chance. He’s qualified beyond reproach. 36 years in the Senate, where he chaired the Foreign Relations and the Judiciary Committees. Considering foreign relations, commanding the military, and nominating judges are the powers explicitly given to the President by the Constitution, that’s a pretty good start. Oh, and he’s been Vice President for what will be 8 years. But his own self-deprecating humor and his what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality have turned him into a joke. Literally, Ted Cruz once just said his name and Republicans laughed.
The consensus from the left flank is Elizabeth Warren, the Junior Senator from Massachusetts who sits in the figurative and literal chair of the former liberal lion of the upper chamber, Ted Kennedy. A combination of time and the Obama presidency has left a vacuum of liberal talent in the Senate, where as recently as 2008, Kennedy, Bird, Biden, Inouye, Clinton, and of course Obama stormed the halls of the capitol. Warren has filled some of that void, and risen in just 2 years into the Senate leadership. She’s an egghead Democrat and former Harvard Law professor ready to bust some trusts. Some argue she’s the next Ted Kennedy minus the drinking, Teddy Roosevelt minus the chauvinism, Jed Bartlet minus the Old Testament quotes, or Adlai Stevenson with balls. But she’s given a Shermanesque statement that she will not seek the Presidency in 2016; much in the way Obama did before he ran in 2008.
There’s no denying the political force that is Hillary Clinton, and the Mugwumps give her a 58% chance of winning the nomination a year and a half before the convention. If Biden and Warren clear the way, Clinton’s biggest challengers would be Governor Martin O’Malley (MD), as well as a few issue candidates like Bernie Sanders (VT). Democrats may be iconoclastic, but I doubt there exists the stomach to take out Clinton again, as in 2008, for the sake of Martin O’Malley.
Watching the 2012 Republican nomination fight was kind of like watching The Expendables, with a little more Arnold Schwarzenegger infidelity and a moon base. Much to the chagrin of Democrats, the 2016 Republican primaries will be much more down to earth. The C team quality of the 2012 field, one in which Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry were all front runners at any given time, has left a void in party leadership. It’s actually an interesting question to ask: Right now, who is the leader of the Republican Party? If you polled Republicans without prompts, I doubt any one person would break 15%. Republican voters, so eager to be told whom to vote for next, will be faced with an unusual amount of choice this primary season.
Technically, Rick Santorum is the next in line, finishing with 20% of the vote and carrying 11 states in 2012. They were dark times. However, just as 1996 didn’t leave a viable standard barrier for the party in 2000, this fight for the Republican nomination will include a host of fresh faces with a Bush at the head of the pack. How a moderate like Jeb Bush on issues like immigration and the common core obtains the nomination in today’s climate is murky at best. However, if Jeb can stick to his moderate positions and simply rail against President Obama, which releases a burst of dopamine into Republican limbic systems, he may win their acceptance without fundamentally compromising his proposed policies and remaining electable to the greater population.
It’s important to note that the two major Republican comebacks of the last 20 years were driven by Libertarian uprisings. Surely the Tea Party will attempt to rally against Jeb, fearing another abandonment by the Bush family and associates. But with a large field of Tea Party favorites, will they have time to consolidate around the one white male that represents them? The Mugwumps’ choices for that figure are Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Rand Paul, if not better organized than his father, is better suited for the nomination. He has never attacked President Obama personally nor his intentions, only his policies– a not well-known, but important prerequisite to winning over Americans that have voted for the President twice.
To a lesser extent Marco Rubio has a chance of being the darling of the Tea Party and really all thirsty Americans. He will be well insulated from attacks by a field wary of further isolating Hispanic voters, especially Cuban Americans in Florida. The roles Marco Rubio and Chris Christie play in splitting the Tea Party and establishment vote respectively are yet unknown, but there will be incredible pressure for them to drop out if neither wins Iowa or New Hampshire. Both are team players, but Chris Christie in particular will be looking for a new job, and he would make one mean Attorney General.
Besides the fact that both Hillary and Jeb are incredibly qualified, their biggest advantage is the ability to freeze money and endorsements. Both families have connections with major donors, Governors, Senators, former / current Presidents, and more importantly precinct captains in the early caucuses and primaries. It’s not clear whether issues or proposed policies will play a major role in 2016. They certainly didn’t in 2012. But for the sake of argument, the Mugwumps have put together primary lists of which issues are likely to drive debate.
The uncontrolled GOP reaction to the recent move by President Obama to extend working permits to the parents of young immigrants known as Dreamers, named after the Senate-passed legislation meant to legalize their immigration status, is just a taste of what the Republicans must face during their primary. This time, they must articulate as a party what they’re willing to do about the 11 million immigrants already living in the United States without permission. If the voters reward cries for electric fences and mass deportations, they will have to win while losing 75% of the Hispanic vote, and if victorious, take office with no intention of doing what they promised. Much in the way President Obama promised no mandate for health insurance while running against Clinton in 2008.
The Democrats need to find an issue they can win and that people care about. That probably means letting the GOP win immigration for them and somehow convince the middle class, whatever that even means anymore, that we need that Clinton magic (we’ll call it) back in the Oval Office.