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What? Riley, you can’t be serious. Making presidential race predictions now when Obama hasn’t even been sworn in for his second term? To those of you who object, I politely invite you to read the banner at the top of my page. Political Junkie. Yes. Any questions? I thought not.
Actually, my idea is that over the next four years there will be a great deal of political posturing as people prepare for the personal and persuasive appeals necessary to promote and propel their preferred petitioner to the presidential position. Before they roll out a big PR push to redefine who they are, it is best to keep an eye on some of these candidates.
The defining discussion on the Republican side of the fence will be moderation versus extremism on social issues. A convincing case can be made that several Republican Senate candidates lost because of their extreme views on women’s health, immigration and the continuing bleed of young voters passionate about marriage equality who see the Republican party as out of touch with their values.
The Moderates: After the drubbing the Republican party took on election night this year, many of the previously marginalized moderate voices have been calling for reform. Think David Frum and Megan McCain. Most of the young conservatives that I talk to are libertarians. They hold very conservative economic beliefs, but can’t see how banning same-sex marriage, birth control or marijuana is any of the government’s business. This moderate base will be facing down the religious old guard for control of the party.
The Rush Limbaugh Base: These are the folks who have had control of the process since 2009. Awakened by Sarah Palin, mobilized by the Tea Party movement, and fed on a steady diet of conspiracy theories from their right-wing news outlets, these are the people who are destroying the Republican party. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but when you have 20% of the population still believing that Barack Obama is not a U.S. Citizen, that he is coming to steal all your guns, that he will allow citizens to be taxed by the United Nations, and take “God” out of the pledge of allegiance, you have a serious disconnect from reality. I’m not saying there aren’t some very real things for religious and cultural conservatives to be concerned about, but it seems to me that each year, this section of the voting public becomes more and more unhinged. This base has been the decision-makers for the Republican party for the last four years, and if they continue to hold power, the party will continue its decline. Prominent leaders here, aside from the Limbaugh/Hannity/Beck talking heads, are Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.
The Pragmatists: Finally, there are people who are rather agnostic on the whole moderate versus Limbaugh base battle. They just want to see their side win. These are the pragmatists who realize you can’t win without the enthusiasm and money of the base and modern sensibilities of the moderates. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich all fall into this category. They recognize that if their party keeps losing, it won’t matter which platform they are using, they won’t be able to do anything. So, they will try to broker a deal or find a compromise candidate who can keep everyone happy.
Okay, Riley, enough set up. Let’s talk about the candidates.
The Also-Rans: These are the candidates that will generate a great deal of media attention, headlines and speculation as we kick off the 2016 presidential cycle. They have high name-recognition but are least likely to run. Mitt Romney is done with public office and will return to the private sector and make boatloads of money. But, left in his wake is Paul Ryan. Ryan hails from the Limbaugh base wing of the party and will be their most public advocate going forward. With his position as budget chair, he will spend the next four years in the spotlight and if he wants to run for president, he will make a big splash, shooting to the top of the contenders list.
Also floating out there is Mike Huckabee, who will tease running for office before deciding to continue to be a pundit. Rick Santorum on the other hand, will be courted by the Religious Right and might take another stab at it. He and Ryan will be fighting over the same group of voters, so I doubt both could make it through the primary process without the other imploding.
The Senators: It is difficult for Senators to get elected president because after taking all those votes, there is a ton of material to fling at you during the election season. I say this, realizing that our current president and vice-president are both former Senators, so perhaps that rule doesn’t apply anymore. Anyway, we have Marco Rubio (R-FL) the photogenic Latino Senator biding his time until his run for office. He was closely courted in 2012 as a vice-presidential candidate and given a prime-time slot at the convention. Republicans often talk as if he is a conservative Obama (young, not-white, charismatic newcomer) but having seen him speak, I was left underwhelmed. Other Senators who might make an appearance are Rand Paul (R-KY), son of Ron Paul, who has some of that Libertarian appeal but has made a few more compromises since joining the Senate, and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) a surprisingly hard-core conservative from New England.
The Governors: There are two governors who are blatantly considering a run for president. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Christie recently got burned in effigy by the conservative base over his embrace of the president during Hurricane Sandy. You can watch actual footage of that here. However, considering he has to run for reelection in 2013 in a blue state against the charismatic Mayor of Newark Cory Booker, seems like a smart play. He will most likely keep the Governor’s mansion and launch his election campaign from there, building a base of Wall Street guys, east coast Republicans and then move into the midwest and scoop up any non-evangelical vote there. Christie, although not personally very moderate, comes from that wing of the party and will draw much of his support from Republicans ready to leave the culture wars behind.
Bobby Jindal on the other hand, is a pragmatist. While as a devote Roman-Catholic he is definitely very conservative on social issues, he has a more moderate public persona. Fun Fact: He once performed an exorcism on a fellow student at Brown University. His deep red state allows him all the freedom he needs to openly court the presidency and he will be the “third choice” between the moderates and the base unless the Elephant below shows up.
Finally, there is one more governor worth mentioning. Nikki Haley of South Carolina. She is the first woman to become governor of South Carolina, the second Indian-American governor in the United States and the youngest governor currently serving. She was raised Sikh but later converted to Christianity. She won her governorship decisively in 2010, which means she will have to run for reelection in 2014. She was also on the short list for Romney’s Veep and is definitely a rising star in the party.
The Elephant in the Room: It is truly delightful to have that metaphor actually mean something this time. The big question will be whether Jeb Bush jumps into the race. Jeb, or as he is commonly known, “the smart brother” has been out of elected office for a while but could still command crowds, fund raise like crazy and shoot to the top of the list. He could bring with him all three legs of the party and a wistful romanticism for the Bush years (remember, this is the Republicans, those were good times).
Outside the Box: The other Floridian you should keep an eye out for is Charlie Crist. Former governor, former Republican now independent. He endorsed Obama this year and promoted the stimulus but retains his conservative record as a Republican governor. He, along with also-ran Jon Huntsman Jr, could form a pretty impressive moderate ticket if they don’t get knifed by the Limbaugh base.
My Prediction: Right away, you can see the math play out. There are far more Base candidates than moderates or pragmatists. The die-hard conservative base, after suffering some more key loses in 2014, will finally lose their grip on the party apparatus. This will empower moderate candidates to speak out and rock the boat. The result? Bitter conflict, accusations of “losing our way” versus “moving us forward” until Jeb Bush steps up and runs. The base makes one last stand behind Ryan or Santorum, whichever has done better, but is walloped in the Florida primary. To cement his standing, Jeb picks Marco Rubio as his running mate making it an all Florida ticket and a tough act to beat. Democrats will throw all the reminders of George W. Bush at them they can, but most voters will see this as old news and the attacks will fall flat, leaving the presidency entirely in the hands of how successful Obama’s second term is. Either it will look like 1988, when Bush Senior rode Reagan’s coattails, or it will look like 2000 when a narrowly divided electorate decided to swap parties in the White House after eight successful years.
This entry is much shorter. Mainly because the Democrats have not fractured the same way the Republicans have in the last four years. The Democrats remain relatively united behind President Obama. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few people making waves about running. They just aren’t easily divided by ideology. If anything, it is geography that divides the current Democratic populations.
The East Coast: There are two names that should get mentioned when talking about 2016 and one that shouldn’t. First, the obvious. Hillary Clinton is not running in 2016. I know I shouldn’t have to spell this out but I keep hearing, especially in conservative circles, that Hillary is secretly unhappy inside the Obama administration and after she retires at the end of this year, she will air all the president’s scandals and run against him in 2016. Not going to happen. First of all, she has been in the public eye for over thirty years, and I imagine she is interested in doing something a little more low-key. Also by 2014 she will be turning sixty-eight years old and the campaign trail is not kind to your health. Finally, Bill Clinton is also having health difficulties and she will probably want to spend some more time with her family. However, her endorsement will be highly sought after.
The two other East Coast-ers that should be on your radar are New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Cuomo, although controversial, has racked up an impressive resume of “getting stuff done” in New York and is favored by many Democratic fundraisers. Elizabeth Warren, having rocketed to superstar status by virtue of her banking reforms and recent victory over Sen. Scott Brown, is well positioned to be an impressive public watchdog and could sweep up a great deal of populist support overnight if she decided to run.
The White House: What about Joltin’ Joe Biden? He has talked about running for president but I imagine that by the time 2014 rolls around, the seventy-two year old veep will probably have his eye on something less strenuous for his final couple of years in public service. I could see him seeking out the Secretary of State position if a Democrat is elected or maybe just retiring altogether.
The South: Unfortunately, we don’t have very many rising stars in states that feature “Piggly Wigglys”. There was that mayor of San Antonio but he will probably run for governor of Texas first. Most of our Senators and governors from the South have spent their political capital just barely hanging onto their seats and consequently are not well positioned to run for president.
The Mountain West: Here’s my favorite pick for the Democratic nominee in 2016, outgoing Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. He won pretty decisive victories in 2004 and 2008 but was term-limited out of office in 2012 and unable to run for reelection. Not to be deterred, he campaigned hard for his Democratic replacement (who won in a state that went for Romney 55-42). Schweitzer, who like many mountain Democrats threads that needle of being pro-gun rights, pro-medical marijuana legalization and pro-environmental protection. With a serious “macho” appeal, this rough-riding cowboy has personality to spare. He gave a well-received speech at the 2008 convention and refuses to rule out a run for the presidency. Here’s the thing to watch for, if he hires fellow Montana-boy Jim Messina (you know, Obama’s campaign manager this year) then look to him announcing as soon as the 2014 races are over.
What about the West Coast? Sorry, we just don’t have the pull to get someone elected nation-wide. Gregoire might be headed to the White House to serve in Obama’s cabinet (following in Gary Locke’s footsteps) but a true Pacific Ocean candidate will not see the Oval Office in the foreseeable future. What about California? Well, we would have to have someone with a strong national appeal, and right now none of the candidates out of California have that.
My prediction: Schweitzer/Tammy Baldwin ticket. Lots of enthusiasm from the Democratic base, enough distance from the current administration that they can criticize things that aren’t going well but still claim credit for the successes. Cuomo will be undone by his record in New York which will not go over great with the Democratic base and the moderates in the party will want to bet on another cowboy to win in the general. I think the 2016 race will be decided entirely on how successful Obama’s second term is and whether the Republican party has pulled itself free of the Limbaugh base.
So that’s it folks! If you feel I’ve neglected a key potential candidate, please leave your comments below and I will do my best to incorporate them. Thank you for making it through this long and rather scattered article.