In September 2008 I was visiting distant relatives in Ireland. The topic of conversation was “Sarah Palin.” All the Irish people at the table were genuinely worried about her. “We can’t afford to have another Bush Administration — that affects many people not just in America. This Sarah Palin seems formidable. Why on earth didn’t Obama pick Hilary Clinton to be vice-president?”
I had to smile at this reaction. Obviously, as an American I saw things from a different perspective. I got to see how insiders viewed McCain/Palin and Obama. I knew that many Americans had considerable enthusiasm about Obama, and many people were sick of a Republican in the White House. I knew that McCain didn’t generate as much enthusiasm, didn’t accept federal election funds, had several out-of-touch scandals and had several mishaps. No matter how great Palin was, (and I knew that she was not by that time), these were insurmountable obstacles.
I had that same sort of feeling after Romney nominated Paul Ryan as his running mate. Romney was smart and capable, but he was very domineering in political debates; he also had the arrogance that came with wealth. During the primary to prove his conservative mettle Romney took on some pretty hardline positions, and I knew that would come back to bite him. Paul Ryan has always seemed to be a dishonest politician, but in TV appearances, he seemed sincere and focused (two very good qualities for a presidential ticket). Tactically it made sense to pick him, but it ended up making Romney and Ryan seem out of touch with mainstream America. Even after that first presidential debate fiasco, I knew that demographic trends favored Obama; it wasn’t that Obama won the election, but that Republicans lost it spectacularly.
I realize that it’s too soon to talk about 2016, and I find the premature talk of it to be amusing. I don’t know who will win or who will be nominated, but I know who will NOT be nominated.
- Ted Cruz. Sure, he’s a rising star, but he has irritated many people inside his party and out. That’s not how presidents get started. He may get campaign contributions (and often this kind of money goes to show support of a position rather than an individual), but he will burn out pretty quickly. I think his positions are too extreme for the country, but I don’t even think that will matter.
- Rick Perry. He’s good at raising money and politicking (and I mean that in the most cynical way) But he has bungled so many things in Texas (I mean major scandals), really doesn’t understand national issues and really has not faced a major challenger in Texas. He’s also a lousy debater and he refused Medicaid funding. That might play well in Texas, but almost nowhere else.
- Hilary Clinton. Too old, and Americans have tired of the Clinton brand by now.
- Elizabeth Warren. I love Ms. Warren’s spunk and advocacy, but she is too old and doesn’t really have a track record as a politician. Also, although she has the gift of gab and good political instincts, you can’t get to know the American political landscape by teaching at Harvard.
- Joe Biden, Howard Dean, Kathleen Sebelius. Too old.
- Rick Santorum. Too ideological.
- Kirsten Gillibrand. Probably a good candidate, but too young and if Cuomo were to run against her, he would probably win (Gillibrand worked for him at HUD).
- Mike Huckabee/Sarah Palin/Pete King/Jan Brewer/John Bolton. Too strange, even for Republicans.
- Chris Christie. Although his numbers look good now from the recent jerryrigged election and he polls well with the Bubba vote, he is too abrasive, doesn’t really show a mastery of policy and the fact that Romney didn’t want him in 2012 speaks a lot.
- Bobby Jindal. Probably a competent and articulate Republican, but Louisiana is a puny political base to start from, and Jindal is too young. On the fence though; Jindal has made it a point to get involved in national issues, so I wouldn’t count him out yet. But Louisiana is too small a pond to test your political mettle (at least with a state like Maryland, you are dealing with DC and more national media)
- Rand Paul. He has brand name, youth and cachet with the Tea Party. He also has the tendency to say crazy things and get involved in all kinds of minor scandals. I think his positions are really too crazy even for Republicans. Still, he’s the nicer version of “Ted Cruz” with more heart and passion for social issues. But as his policies become better known, he (like Paul Ryan) may find his popularity declines.
- Scott Walker. Occasionally a politician who stirs national attention for being intractable is rewarded politically (especially if he survives intact), but in this case he will serve as a lightning rod for hostility (just like Rick Perry). Although he survived a recall challenge, the visuals of having been so vigorously opposed by students, teachers and labor unions should help him in the primary, but not in the national election. I could be wrong on this, and certainly he is not the laughing stock like Perry. Reagan had enemies too, but he also had a Hollywood background and lots of charisma, something Walker doesn’t have the benefit of. Ultimately the key litmus test for whether a Republican can win a general election is whether you accepted Medicaid expansion. Opposing the expansion wins you points in the primary, but not in the general election (unless Obamacare has major setbacks, which I do not expect).
This still leaves a lot of people: Andrew Cuomo, John Kasich, Martin O’Malley, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan. Aha, I see no woman on my list. As I said, Warren would be my top choice if she ran, but she doesn’t really have a deep command on policy issues outside of banking and finance.
I am predicting that Obamacare will not be a train wreck and that governors who blocked it for their state will face inherent difficulties winning the general election. That leaves two Republican governors who accepted expansion (Bush and Kasich) and senators who can oppose it rhetorically but never had to block it in that person’s own state. That gives Marco Rubio a built in advantage.
On the Democrat side, I would love to see candidates make one or two issues their own (rather than just pointing to executive skills as governor). We may say that Ron Paul or Bill Bradley or Dennis Kucinich had very small chances of winning, but they had major platform differences with the leading candidate. I would love to see a candidate seize on climate change as an issue. Maybe a top tier candidate won’t do this (Cuomo?) but a second tier candidate probably would, and frankly, none of the potential Democrat candidates have treated climate change as anything more than just another issue. I would love to see an outsider like Sheldon Whitehouse, Alan Grayson or Bob Inglis run for president, but that’s what the Green Party is for.
Postscript: I should add that I don’t think I’m demonstrating “ageism” by saying that candidates are too old. It’s just that it has to do with energy level, “passion” and the ability to campaign tirelessly for 2 presidential campaigns. I suppose a 70 year old with a well-managed schedule could do these things (the Senators seem to have no problems, and a lot of them are 70 and older). What really gets you though is all the travelling. I think Hilary and Elizabeth Warren could manage it, but barely. Both woman (and especially Hilary) are supremely qualified and competent. But asking them to campaign in 50 states and then to jaunt to Europe and Asia every two or three months seems to be torture for anyone (much less a person over 65).
Postscript 2. If pressed to predict, I would say Martin O’Malley for Democrats and Marco Rubio for Republicans.
Postscript 3 (one year later in November 2014). Looks like Rubio totally misread climate politics, giving me the impression that he’s not really ready for the national scene. Cuomo and O’Malley haven’t seen to have risen in prominence, and Rand Paul seems to be winning the “Likable Tea Party candidate” race. I think Kasich, Bush, Walker and Paul would be 4 strong Republican contenders with moderate policies, crossover appeal and no real skeletons (well, except Scott Walker). I would love to see Clinton win as president (and the liberal agenda needs her to succeed), but a Republican with a fresh face and a moderate climate change policy could pose a strong opposition. Despite the fact that the 2016 Senate races are tilting Democrat, it seems that the Republican presidential candidates have executive experience.
Postscript 4 (July 2015). There are really only 6 Republican Candidates in this race. Walker, Bush, Kasich, Cruz, Perry and Rubio. Out of those, I would knock out Cruz (too extreme to be electable), Rubio (lacking in political leadership though a great VP pick) and Perry (lots of baggage and unexpectedly poor in fund-raising). That leaves three candidates: Walker, Bush, Kasich, each with their own minuses: Scott Walker (might be too extreme), Bush (too lightweight and reminds people of his brother) and Kasich (people don’t know or remember him). Of course, Bush has already won the “money primary” (His campaign is raising $760,000 PER DAY). With a fundraising record like that, is it any wonder that Republican candidates oppose entitlements for the mooching class?
Looking back at how things turned out (and keep in mind that the race doesn’t really begin until the first debate), I didn’t expect that Bush would lead would have so much money. Also I didn’t expect that climate change was actually going to be a front-burner issue (horray!) or that the nepotism issue of Bush would be offset by Hilary, so now we’re even steven. I still think Kasich has a chance, but how on earth will he overcome the disadvantage in fund-raising?
Postscript 5 (October 2015). Well, Hilary Clinton seems to be the most viable candidate on the Dem side. The GOP side has been too weird for words. Walker is out, Trump and Carson are near the top, the superficially impressive (but ultimately unelectable) Carly Fiorina is still in the race, and a lot of Republicans who have no chance of winning are still in the race for vanity reasons. I still think we’re going to end up with Bush, Rubio and Kasich and one of the 3 extremist populist candidate (i.e., Trump, Cruz, Carson). I think the question boils down to whether the GOP voter wants a candidate who is “authentic” (but not politically correct) or “politically savvy.” (By the way, I would put Clinton into the “politically savvy” camp). So far the “authentic” voices have been dominating the debate and few of them have paid any political price for their untoward words. I find it interesting that the GOP really hasn’t tried to co-opt the climate change issue — one might expect politicians from Florida to be attuned to polls on the subject. Ultimately the GOP message depends on the voter’s susceptibility to the “lower taxes” meme. Right now, that does not seem to be a big issue (especially when Democrats are counterprogramming by raising the issue of “tax fairness.”)
Postscript 6 (February 2016). I’ll admit it. These past few months have been fascinating for presidential politics. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the popularity of Bernie Sanders. I suspect many Americans are receptive to his overall message and just want to hang their hopes on a non-Hilary Democrat. (He is also helped by the GOP concern trolling). It’s ironic that someone who rails against money in politics seems to have have attracted so many (grassroots) donations. I hate to say it, but the Republicans really don’t seem to be playing any issues except foreign policy. While it’s perfectly ok to criticize Obama/Clinton on foreign policy, it overlooks the fact that 1)Obama’s foreign policy overall has been run very deftly, 2)Clinton has an in-depth knowledge of the subject (not to mention personal relationships). Really, all the Democrats need to do is point out how shrill the GOP positions seem to be about any foreign policy issue. Strangely, Trump is the only person who spends any time talking about the “business” aspects of globalism. (Cruz does it very eloquently, but he seems more worried about UN encroachment on US sovereignty than anything else).
I still think that this race is Hilary’s to lose, but perhaps a winnowing of GOP candidates might allow a credible GOP candidate to inject values without sounding like he’s grandstanding. Interestingly, in the last week the attention seems to have drifted to the ex-governor candidates, which I would argue is a good thing. Kasich/Bush/Christie all seem to have “leadership qualities” missing in the junior senators. While Bush and Kasich fight over the remaining slot for moderate, I’m convinced that there simply can’t be two candidates from Florida; both pose existential threats to the other. So right now, it looks like a Trump vs. Bush vs. Cruz matchup.
The more I follow this race, the more convinced I am that Mitt Romney would have been the ideal candidate for this cycle. (I am feeling a lot of Romney nostalgia right now). Against Obama (who I regard as the type of leader who appears once in a lifetime), no Republican could have beaten him. But Clinton is beatable. Reflecting on the presidential race, I just realized that the most likely matchup will be HILARY CLINTON/JULIAN CASTRO vs. JEB BUSH/NIKKI HALEY. That would be a remarkable matchup because 1)both sides would consist of a man and a woman, 2)both sides would consist of 1 Caucasian and 1 person with a mixed ethnic background. Even though the MCCAIN/PALIN team was seriously defective, I think it’s a good template to have for a leadership team. Obviously there’s a fine line between inclusiveness and tokenism, but I expect that from now on, having a coed presidential team will be the norm rather than the exception.