April 30, 2013

Handicapping 2016 yet?

It's early.  2016 is a political lifetime away.  But there are already some indications of what might happen in the next presidential election.  True, these indicators should be taken with a block of salt, but it sure looks like certain things will come to pass.  Other things are less clear, and of course nothing is certain this far out from the election. But the 2016 election already has me thinking and so far I'm not feeling warm and fuzzy.

Not my numbers - click for source odds.
In a series of recent polling and news items it looks like it's a fait accompli that Hillary Clinton will be the next Democrat presidential candidate. Others in the race who may have a chance to contend - Cuomo, Biden and Kerry - will all have their work cut out for them. As CNN noted, she's lapping the field. She probably has already locked up New Hampshire. She hasn't said she'll run, she's busy making gobs of cash in different ways. The sort of cash one might need for say a presidential run. She's going to run. I'm not suggesting she has an impressive list of accomplishments but that doesn't matter - the press was able to make a threadbare Obama resume into the greatest guy EVER for audiences. Clinton has no business answering the 3 a.m. call (Benghazi or Bosnia ring a bell?), but it just doesn't matter.  She's the next liberal superstar heir apparent.  She's going to run, and she's going to be the Democratic party's nominee.  She's going to be the press' nominee.

She's going to have to be beaten.  Unfortunately things on the Republican side seem muddled for the time being.  In the same poll extolling Clinton's extended lead, the Republican field is understandably unclear.  There are some apparent front runners - Rubio, Christie and yet another Bush among them.

As CNN noted,
While the race for the Democratic nomination is basically frozen until Clinton makes a decision, the hunt for the Republican nomination remains wide open. The new poll, as with past surveys, indicates that there's no front runner on the GOP side.

Eighteen percent of self-identified Republicans or those who lean towards the GOP say they support Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, with 16% backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and 14% supporting New Jersey Gov. Christie. Nine percent back former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate who battled eventual nominee Mitt Romney deep into the primary calendar, with 21% preferring someone else and one in five unsure.

"Republican uncertainty mirrors the identity crisis the party is facing as it redefines its message in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential loss. Republican voters seem to be saying they remain on the lookout for their party's Mr. or Mrs. Right," says Krista Jenkins, professor of political science and director of FDU's PublicMind.
While the identity crisis may be an over-the-top misnomer gleefully perpetuated by the left-leaning mainstream media, it is not entirely without merit.  The 2012 primaries proved there was a rift between conservatives in trying to achieve what William F. Buckley advised - nominate the most conservative candidate in the field who can win the election.  No one clearly, has a solid understanding of what that actually means in the real world. Electability is an amorphous concept.  Was Sharon Angle electable before she lost her election bid? Was Pat Toomey before he won?  Similarly "most conservative" may mean entirely different things to different types of conservatives - social conservatives, libertarians, defense hawks, economic conservatives and other conservatives constituencies will have differing definitions.  Hence the confusion.

Another problem on the Republican side is timing.  Clinton will likely lead the Democrats wire-to-wire.  But for conservatives, is it better to decide the primary early in order to focus fundraising on the general election as early as possible?  That didn't work for Mitt Romney. But he also didn't spend effectively and clearly was not the technocrat, economic whiz he presented himself to be.  On the other hand, is it better to have a nominee determined as late as possible in order to avoid the slings and arrows of the left and media yet foregoing name recognition building opportunities at the same time?  I'm not sure but I'd lean towards doing the opposite of what both Romney and prior to him McCain did against Obama.

That means come out fast, furiously and unrelentingly as early as possible and sustain the message, and sustain the attacks on Clinton.  Not attacking Obama did not work for either GOP nominee.  Both were attacked and yet wanted to come across as above the fray and empathetic.  It worked for Bill Clinton and even more so for Obama. because they had the media on their side.

Getting back to the Republican field for 2016, I think that the party that wants to internally debate ideas may shift gears in the run-up to 2016.  It may come down to who they think is the best fighter and who can best undress Clinton (politically and rhetorically only please). Conservatives are not only sick of losing, they are sick of losing because their nominees aren't fighting tooth and nail for victory at every turn.  We are going to need a battler. Conservatives would do well to modify the Buckley rule to look for the most (effectively) combative conservative in the field.  At least that takes electable to a more granular level, right or wrong.

So who does that mean in the GOP contender field right now? Jeb Bush isn't made of that sterner stuff, but he will still poll well. He may win but I don't think he will at this point.  He's still too Bush, in an era when Bush 43 memories have not faded.  Marco Rubio on the other hand is very intelligent, and a likable conservative. But he may be too nice to dig in for a battle.  We haven't seen if he can win a street fight yet.  If my presumption is right, then the likely nominee will be electable, but not the most conservative candidate in the field - Chris Christie.  He wouldn't be my choice, but this early on, unless someone else better positions themselves as a fighter, he's the likely nominee.

There's my worthless way-too-early prediction.  Modifications will undoubtedly follow.

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