by Reed Galen
Author’s Note: Last week I sent a brief survey to several hundred friends, colleagues, reporters and contacts asking for their baseline opinions on the 2016 GOP presidential race. While many were very kind to respond, I didn’t receive the requisite number of responses to feel comfortable publishing the results. Needless to say, those that did respond strongly believe that jobs, the economy, and the middle class will be the top issues of the coming election cycle. Onward!
As we begin Christmas week, and a period of relative quiet until after New Year’s Day, we’ve already seen some of the coming attractions of the 2016 Presidential race. Here are a few to consider. As always, if you have items to add to this list, please email me at email@example.com
1. Jeb Bush’s Quasi-Announcement: Whether planned for weeks or done in response to the endless questions Jeb and his team receive, the non-denial-denial missive posted on Facebook had the dual effect of hitting the accelerator on the race in general but putting operatives and donors in a holding pattern as they wait and see how things shake out. People like myself and thousands of others across the country owe a great deal to the Bush family for our careers and experiences. It also has the ancillary benefit of ensuring any other potential candidates will spend their Christmas vacation staring in the mirror convincing themselves they can win.
2. The Hillary Clinton Campaign Manager Sweepstakes: Who will run a prospective Clinton effort is really big news to reporters and I assume Democrats who hope they’re close enough to Robby Mook to get an interview for the big dance when (and if) a) Hillary runs and b) the Mookster gets the captain’s chair. In fact, it’s such a hot topic, scribes write about the people who aren’t getting the job. While as the National Journal’s Ron Fournier reminded me, it is instructive to see with whom a candidate surrounds himself or herself, staff is still just staff. And as I can personally attest, being the first person in the door on a presidential campaign is often temporary-employment.
3. Cuba: President Obama has been on a holiday tear with his ballpoint and his burner phone. Last week he re-opened Cuba for the first time in 50+ years. There were immediate wales of incredulity about how this is a Christmas present to the Castro Hermanos. Senator Marco Rubio was the loudest of the bunch, criticizing the president and Senator Rand Paul (who agrees with the action) in the same breath and giving us our first “Obama Policy + Republican Candidate” formatic in the “Obama-Paul foreign policy” construction. While this is a major issue to many in South Florida (not for as many more, anymore), it’s hard to see how Cuba plays as a major issue in the race, long-term. There just isn’t enough impact to Americans still struggling economically to worry about whether Cubans can now buy a 1960 Chevy four-door. Also, as we’re trillions in the red to the largest Communist dictatorship on the planet, the idea that opening Cuba is somehow capitulating to the red menace is a red herring. We gave up on that some time ago – how’s that TV look on your wall?
4. Spring Training: What the Cuba kerfuffle did provide us, though, is a glimpse at how 2016 contenders will conduct themselves once the race comes into focus sometime next spring. Rubio, seeing his ’16 opportunity obscured by the Jeb Bush eclipse, used Cuba as a launching pad to bang his shoe on the desk of every Sunday show he could find. He immediately attacked Rand Paul – and Paul fired right back. Bush had a statement similar to Rubio’s in spirit but didn’t go on the offensive. Rubio needs a profile-raiser, Rand needs to defend his national security bona fides. The rest of the field watches and waits. Exercises like Cuba are spring training for campaigns – the pitchers and catchers have reported and are working out their processes, systems and early opposition research dumps. The Democratic National Committee didn’t even wait for 2015 to drop its entire file on Jeb Bush, to which the former governor basically responded, “That’s the best you’ve got?”
5. Mitt, Partie Trois: In the last few weeks Governor Mitt Romney’s name has resurfaced as a potential uniting force in the GOP for 2016. Politico reported that his finance chairman, Spencer Zwick, has been flying around gauging donors’ interested a third trip down the presidential circuit for Romney. If Mitt does decide to go again, the field this time is not the crew he went up against (and took so long to put away) in 2012. They will not shy away from a fight with him. Next, when given the opportunity, Romney didn’t provide a viable alternative to Barack Obama, nor did he answer some fundamental questions (Bain, what he’d actually do in office, etc.) that he would be asked to answer again.
6. Whither Iowa? Who wins Iowa? If they win, will it lead to the nomination? In 2008 and 2012, Iowa Caucus-goers picked staunch social conservatives and saw their choice lose the nomination to the eventual New Hampshire victor (and establishment choice). Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are circling, and they’d seem to have the inside track in the Hawkeye state. Ted Cruz is veering to the right to attempt to pick up SoCon support. Rand Paul believes he can reconstruct the pieces of his father’s Iowa organization, Rick Perry has both social conservative credentials and an economic story to tell (and has been to Iowa a ton) and Scott Walker is next door, a couple hours drive from the Iowa border. How well any of the contenders can slice and dice the caucus-going universe remains to be seen – even if they do, will it lead to the Promised Land?
7. We Want Warren: Senator Elizabeth Warren must be enjoying the warm glow of the efforts of liberal activists in Iowa to draft her into the 2016 race. While she does populist rhetoric as well as anyone, it remains to be seen if she could truly knock off Hillary, and if she did, if she has any sort of appeal outside a political bloc that makes Barack Obama seem downright centrist. Her mere existence, though, does create discomfort within the Hillary camp – and as we saw in 2008, knocking Clinton off her game and out of her comfort zone is the best way to beat her in an election. And if Warren decides not to run, the uber-left always has Bernie Sanders.
8. Bush v. Clinton: Dynasty! It’s Un-American! We shouldn’t have two families running the country and the world for decades! If we replaced the name “Bush” or “Clinton” with “Kennedy” what would happen? At least half the country would welcome the return of America’s first family of politics. Let’s not forget we had two Adams run the country at our founding, when we weren’t exactly fans of primogeniture. Let’s not forget that two presidents who are considered among the greatest are both named Roosevelt (each side gets their own.) If Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are able to build the political, financial and ultimately electoral support to pit them against one another for the 2016 General Election, it will be a race for the ages. If another candidate has the ability to show that Jeb or Hillary (who has not driven a car since the 1990s) as out of touch with voters and the problems we as a nation face, they will lose. The race in and of itself says more about the rest of the respective parties and their inability to groom new talent to rise through the ranks and take their rightful places in the Pantheon.
9. The Three Faces of the GOP: While the GOP enjoyed success on Election Day last month, the prospective presidential candidates will act as proxies for their preferred wing of Republicanism. The Establishment has Bush, Governor Chris Christie and Rubio. The social conservatives have Santorum, Huckabee and Dr. Ben Carson. The Tea Party and Libertarian types have Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. The Establishment appears to have reasserted its dominance with their preferred candidates winning many primaries, and ultimately new seats in 2014. And the GOP tends to go with the Establishment choice for their nominees, driving activists to distraction. Don’t look for it to be that easy this time around. While each candidate should look to solidify their position within their respective tranche first, they’ll be unable to leave the other wings alone in debates and in their rhetoric. Purity makes small segments happy, but rarely leads to victory. (Side Note: Why is Christie going to so many Dallas Cowboys games? A game in Philly I understand. Are we missing out on the Jerry Jones primary?)
10. What’s the “New New Thing” for 2016? In 2008, we learned the power of Facebook. In 2012, Big Data became the game changer. What will 2016 give us? As fast as technology moves, how will the campaigns leverage the ability to draw more information on more people than ever before into an organization with finite resources and a finite amount of time? Could it be possible that we regress from the technological terrors we’ve constructed and get back to solid blocking and tackling? Campaigns need good candidates with clear, positive visions and specific plans for the country. All the data in the world won’t help a bad campaign or a bad candidate. Knowing what someone believes is the first step in a political conversion – convincing them you’re worth their time, money and ultimately vote, is the hard part. And, that doesn’t even begin to explore what happens if a candidate’s entire technology system gets Sonyified...