Things are moving along in the 2016 presidential sweepstakes. Candidates are all visiting the full-sized buttered cow at the Iowa State Fair. Millions of dollars are being raised and spent. The talking heads on TV are going into overdrive.
The focus so far has been on the Republican field of candidates. More on that later in this post. This article is mostly about the Democratic field, such as it is. And also, what that field says about the state of the national Democratic Party going into 2016.
Since almost the moment that Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as President, the assumptions have been that (a) Hillary Clinton would become a candidate for president in 2016; and (b) the Democratic candidate in 2016 will be Hillary. Check, and probably check again.
When Mrs. Clinton ran in 2008 against Obama and a bunch of other candidates there was also the assumption that she would be the nominee. Obama ran a smart campaign. Clinton did not.
Because of the overwhelming belief that Mrs. Clinton will become the nominee, the Democratic field had sort of cleared itself. Then along came socialist Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont, and we have come to have ourselves a contest. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is running and some people think that former Senator Jim Webb is too, although he has not been seen or heard from in a while.
If the Clinton campaign folks are smart, and we know they are because they tell us so, they should be happy that Hillary has a contest. Primaries and caucuses sharpen campaign skills and test endurance. They force candidates to speak about important issues.
Bernie Sanders is an interesting candidate, but he is not Gene McCarthy. For one thing, he seems like a nicer person than McCarthy was. Sanders, however, doesn’t have a major rallying point like McCarthy had in the Vietnam War. We are not going to see the Democratic Party in 2016 nominate a 73-year-old socialist.
Despite the mocking of his occasional gaffes, I believe that Joe Biden is a very credible public official with a wealth of knowledge and experience that has helped the Obama administration. But as a presidential candidate Biden has left a lot to be desired. He has done no organizing and has raised no money for 2016. As I wrote in a post earlier this year that assessed candidates like baseball players, Biden is already in the Hall of Fame. When you are in the Hall of Fame you don’t come back and play. He won’t run.
So that leaves Hillary.
Hillary has some problems, particularly some unforced problems. I have not followed every twist and turn of the Benghazi tragedy or the email fiasco. But even a superficial review of those issues leads to some unfortunate conclusions. The not-so-clear-cut information about the not-so-clear-cut activities involving Clinton’s State Department era emails is mind boggling. Where in the world (no pun intended) was their judgement about those emails?
Most folks who work for a living these days maintain two email accounts, one for work and another for personal communications. It is only a slight pain to do so and it is not too hard to put both accounts on the same phone or tablet. But Hillary evidently chose to mix her emails about negotiating with world powers with her emails about her new grandchild. Go figure!
The email issue, along with Benghazi and whatever else will come to the top of the boiling pot of issues about her is important but somewhat set. But there is another matter that may be more important than those things, and that is character.
Some people whose opinions I greatly respect have noted to me their concern about Mrs. Clinton’s truthfulness. A large number of voters may not trust her. That matters a great deal.
In terms of personality, Bill and Hillary Clinton appear to be almost exact opposites. Bill is the smoothest politician I have ever seen or met. Hillary is more like the iron lady. Obama’s comment about her during a 2008 debate, which I thought petty at the time, seems to ring truer every day – “you’re likeable enough.”
Truthfulness seems like a hard characteristic to amend. If a politician is considered truthful, the public is often prepared to cut the candidate all kinds of slack on things. If the perception is the opposite, that is a hard thing to overcome.
Regardless of all that I just wrote, it is important to remember some basic political points about Hillary Clinton:
- She has a large hard-core base of support among important 2016 political demographics.
- In national polls her polling margins may not be overwhelming. But national polls aggregate results from everywhere; from Alabama and Mississippi where the numbers are strongly against her, to places like New York where her standing is strong.
- Since she has been in the public eye for over twenty-five years, people’s opinions about her are pretty well locked into either liking her or hating her. There probably isn’t much space in the center of that spectrum, and literally only a handful of people who are polled ever have no opinion about her.
- So that means that nearly everything is already baked into the cake about Hillary, and whether it is Benghazi, emails or something else, there is not much that might come up about her over the next several months that will move her positives to the negative side or vice-versa.
Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate for president in 2016. Winning the election is another matter, but there is certainly a strong trail laid out along the road to getting 270 electoral votes.
But what about the problems of the Democratic Party?
There are some favorable issues out there. There are some strong demographics working for them. But where are the future candidates?
The fact that Clinton has only one modestly presentable opponent in the Democratic contest and two almost non-existent challengers is not strictly a tribute to Mrs. Clinton’s overwhelming popularity. It is due more to the fact that the party has no national bench.
Much is made of the wide array of Republican candidates, but quantity does not necessarily mean quality in terms of the candidates. But there are a lot of them.
The Democratic Party suffered major loses in the 2010 and 2014 congressional elections. The Party also lost many governors and state legislators in those same cycles. That is where the benches come from.
Because of the Republican Party success in electing governors and state legislators, the Party will continue to control the House of Representatives at least through the 2022 House elections. The Senate is more fluid. Democrats could take back the Senate as soon as next year.
But unless and until some presidential quality officeholders and candidates emerge in the next several years, the Democrats will be all dressed up with no place to go.
Right-wing fanaticism in the Republican Party goes well beyond Trump
Amazingly, even after Donald Trump said John McCain isn’t a war hero; even after Trump went after the Fox News superstar, Megyn Kelly, Trump numbers in the national and many state polls continue to rise. Fox’s poll released August 16th had Trump with support that was more than double that of the next closest candidate.
Many party people want to think that Trump’s craziness is just a fringe thing, but it seems rather that Trump is merely the leader of the far right wing. Consider these percentages of national support as taken from the Fox poll:
Right-wing base candidates “Establishment” candidates Why-are-they-running?
Trump 25% Bush 9% Santorum 1%
Carson 12% Walker 6% Perry 1%
Cruz 10% Fiorina 5% Jindal 1%
Huckabee 6% Kasich 4% Pataki 1%
Paul 3% Rubio 4% Graham 0%
x Christie 3% Gilmore 0%
56% 31% 4%
When you look at some of the things that “establishment” candidates Walker and Rubio have been saying as they waltz around the abortion and immigration issues you begin to think that maybe they too belong under the right-wing column. Walker cannot even bring himself to accept Obama’s self-declared Christianity. The only candidates who have really gone after Trump, Perry and Graham, have the support of one percent or less of the Republican voters.
Trump is not an outlier; he only has the biggest mouth. The national Republican Party has moved to become a far right-wing party supported by a majority of Republican voters. While the conventional wisdom is that in the end, when the nomination is decided, an “establishment” candidate will again be the nominee there is not a lot of reason to believe that at this time. The 51 upcoming primaries and caucuses will force the establishment folks to mimic, in some form or another, what the right-wing is saying. It is much too early to really project how this all comes out, but it is not so far-fetched to project that the 2016 Republican presidential candidate will, like Barry Goldwater in 1964, emerge from the convention defending extremism.