Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Coming 2016 Battle

Who's Running Against Her In The Primary? What Difference Does It Make!?
You'd think it was 2015 the way potential candidates have been raising money, taking provocative stances, and going to Iowa. It isn't: the presidential election is 3 years away, there's an important 2014 mid-term coming up ... and nobody cares. The question is Hillary vs. Who?

We know it'll be Hillary--because she has name recognition, would be a historic candidate, and so on. We also have Huma Weiner (Anthony Weiner's wife) who, according to his alter-ego Carlos Danger, has a place on Hillary's campaign (upcoming). She's also kicking off a series of speeches ... starting with Voting Rights. This is basically "playing hardball" with the GOP.

For one thing, Hillary's presumed dominance needs to bring a lot of African American voters to the table--so talking about Voting Rights is a good way to do that--and also, while she's set with moderates, the actual far-left will need some convincing to rally to her side ... and the coming Voting Rights War is a good way to do that too.

Who Will She Run Against?
I'd wanted to hold off on any speculation (other than a humor article saying neither Rand Paul nor Chris Christie will be the nominee) because, damn, man, it's way too early. However the battle lines are being drawn right now and there's no reason to ignore actual motion. Who is in play? What are their moves? What are their chances?

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum, second runner-up against Mitt Romney, has already started on-the-ground campaigning in Iowa. He won Iowa over Romney and he's back, driving hundreds of miles and making all the normal campaign stops. He's also giving speeches. He has railed against Hollywood (it's why we're losing the culture war!) and talked up populist help to the working-class.

Analysis: Santorum, as 'next-in-line' should be a shoo-in but he seems to generate relatively little excitement. I think the issue with him now is the same as it was before: Even So-Cons don't think a hard-core So-Con can actually win. In other words? Electability. His stances on issues like Same Sex marriage (lose the young), contraception (lose women), and Internet Pornography (lose men) make for an intrinsically damaged coalition.

In the Primary: Santorum will not fare well. Having lost to Romney--who then lost the election--is not a plus. Yes, the So-Cons say we need a 'real conservative' in order to win--but Santorum's record is full of spending and that will hurt him. His only claim to 'true conservativism' is on social issues and no one will really want to back that. I think his strength against Romney was more as a protest vote than his own merits.

Against Hillary: No. Back in the 2012 Primary the analysis from a Democratic strategist was that if Santorum won the nomination he would win, in the general, 'a Dakota' (presumably not both). This holds true today.

Chris Christie
The heavy weight in the ring--and to prove it he had stomach surgery to slim down! Christie's scores are popular with Democrats (kinda) and popular with Republicans (kinda). He scores hotter than Hillary on one poll. He had a very visible feud with Rand Paul and refused a 'beer summit' to patch things up. Christie does not need to 'patch things up:' Rand's base isn't up for grabs, anyway. Christie is high profile just by being him. He doesn't need stunts.

Analysis: He has the pole position on 2016. Despite the base's hatred, his extremely visible cross-over appeal makes him the gold standard for a party that has been told it may never win another national election. By virtue of holding a high office (and a sane one--governerships are a big deal) he can make news without having to work hard at it.

In the Primary: Yes. It comes down to whether you believe the base can really stonewall someone or not. If you believe for a minute that the base would stay home were Christie the nomination, I have a bridge to sell you. They'll rail against him--and then fold--like Boehner always does. We will see the angst of 2012 play out again.

Against Hillary: Maybe. Of the pack he undoubtedly has the greatest cross-over appeal. He's a blue-state governor. If he can thread the primary he has a good chance against Hillary. NOTE: if the Republicans DO win the Senate, though, that may work against him (voters may be reluctant to give the entire government to the GOP).

Rand Paul
Rand Paul scores high marks in polls. He's come out #1 on at least one. He's made himself visible (his filibuster, his speech at Howard University, and his feud with Christie). He's got panache. He clearly thinks he can harness his father's machine. Sarah Palin choose him in the Christie-feud so there's that.

Analysis: The problem with Paul's stunts is that they all make him look, well, kinda crazy. The Filibuster had sci-fi drone scenarios--it was exciting--but it looked like conspiracy hour. The Howard speech made him look like he was more stupid than brave--and his performance was not dazzling. The feud was okay--but getting shot down for having some beers (Christie said he was 'too busy' to go drinking with Paul) makes you look weak.

In the Primary: No. Paul's positions are still too far out for the mainstream and no one trusted his dad further than they could throw him. Ultimately he's wasting his time. Palin's endorsement was relative to Christie--which just means she's a conservative. It doesn't mean every Palin-fan in the party loves Rand Paul.

Against Hilary: No. Paul comes off as a less-than-serious candidate. Hillary--by virtue of frown alone--is 100% serious business. Paul would get crushed by her.

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz has been making waves by being more-conservative-than-thou. He's a Senator--with little experience--but he says all the right tea-party things. He's highly visible and has given fiery speeches. He is running against Obamacare and believes--or says he believes--a government shutdown would be a good idea.

Analysis: Cruz's anti-Obamacare position will corner the Michelle Bachmann vote but unless something strange happens it won't expand into the mainstream. Cruz is not crazy and his positions are designed more to take and hold the right-flank rather than to position himself as a loose cannon.

In the Primary: Yes. Cruz could win the primary. Yes, he's inexperienced. Yes, he has born-in-Canada birther issues. Yes, the government-shutdown thing is nuts--but by summer of 2016 all that will be remembered is that he stood firm when few others did. That--and strong showings in the one or two debates that'll be left by then--could put him over the top.

Against Hilary: No. Someone said that the most damage that Obama will actually have done to first term Senators is to make them believe they are one or two good speeches away from the presidency. Obama's path to victory, like using box-cutters to take over and then suicide commercial jetliners is the kind of move that works once. No one in the middle is going to project their hopes and dreams of an ideal candidate onto Cruz.

Marco Rubio
Rubio has been in the news for promoting the government-shutdown defund as well--but before that? For amnesty immigration reform. He's had a pretty high profile but it hasn't been a good one (headline reads Rubio plummets).

Analysis: Having drunk the GOP Autopsy kool-aid on the necessity of immigration reform and Latino outreach he discovered, as one often does, that the Kool-Aid? It is poison. He threw a pass into heavy cover and it got intercepted and ran back for a touch-down, the metaphor for which is this: despite what GOP leaders said / thought, the base has zero stomach for Latino outreach that doesn't involve reaching out to smack them back across the border.

In the Primary: No. At this point the Why Rubio? Question's answer would be "He might bring Florida"--but the fact is that somewhere in the sunshine state Charlie Crist is going "I lost to this guy!?" Rubio has burnt his credibility with the base and his shut-down-the-government play looks both artificial (Rubio was never an idiot or a pure self-destructive idealist) and desperate (get me mah ratings back!).

Against Hillary: Maybe. Should Rubio somehow survive the primary he would make a decent match-up against Hillary. Latino, young, well spoken, and with a decent right-wing credibility (what's left of it) he could appear more dynamic and interesting than her. We'll never get to see it.

Donald Trump
Donald has made it clear he thinks he'd be a good president and he's considering a run. His plan? Buy the White House. Estimated at 10bn worth, he has said if he goes in he will spend "what it takes to win."

Analysis: He gets some right-wing cred for questioning Obama's birth certificate and he's clearly a decent businessman (or something). The question is can you buy the presidency? The answer is "probably not." While having 10bn to spend would certainly put that to the test, the last election seemed to show us a saturation point at the national level. There's only so much TV time you can buy. You can't buy your way out of a debate. You can buy tons of middle managers and consultants--but you can't buy true believers who are who you really need knocking on doors.

In the Primary: No. Trump will have his fans--but ultimately he's no one's first choice and the Base may respect him--but they don't love him.

Against Hilary: No. He's never been elected for any office and his first stop will not be the oval one.

Paul Ryan
The other Paul has been playing a slow-but-steady game. As last year's VP pick he doesn't need name recognition and he isn't going in for a lot of drama.

Analysis: Paul Ryan has charisma, a hard body, and a budget. He's young and vital. None of it may help him. Being tied to the losing Romney is not a plus, the budget alienated seniors, and didn't carry his home state. His VP-run didn't innately get him closer to the White House than Sarah Palin's.

In the Primary: Yes. He has as much chance as anyone to win the primary. The base doesn't hate him for his failed run and the philosophy behind his budget is still popular with them. He may not exactly have gravitas--but he's not an embarrassment either.

Against Hillary: No. Paul Ryan is a good back-up singer but he isn't ready for lead guitar. While he's smart enough to hang in there he'd look like a high schooler on stage with Hillary Clinton. Whatever Clinton lacks in accomplishments, Bill will provide to her via 'Mind Meld' and Ryan's wonkishness won't be a plus in the general (ask Al Gore about that).

Other Players
There are certainly other potential players (Bobby Jindal? Sarah Palin?)--right now it's way too early for us to say that anyone is out. There's also plenty of time for things to change. In three years Rubio could have a complete comeback. Rick Perry could start looking smooth that far out.

So Why All This Now?
The fixation on 2016 isn't about who the best presidential candidate is--it's about who the leader of the party will be--and what the basic character of the GOP is. Will the Republican Party be the party of moderate fiscal conservatives who dislike unions (Christie)? A party of firebrand social warriors (Santorum)? A small-businessman's party that welcomes industrious minorities (Rubio)? Something else (A reality TV show?)?

The 2014 elections won't resolve this question but the 2016 campaign will. I also think there's a desperation in the GOP to re-run the 2012 primaries and this time "do it right" (see the RNC trying to bow-out of debates because of the Hillary biopics). The jockeying right now is of interest to conservatives who felt humiliated by the last go-round because the hope is that this time more statesman-like statesmen will bring gravitas that was sorely lacking.

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