If Obama Wins (Even If He Doesn’t), The Campaign For 2016 Will Begin Soon
It's just a few days until the 2012 campaign ends, and the jostling for position for 2016 begins.
Matthew Dowd notes that an Obama victory on Tuesday, which is what the polls seem to indicate at this point, would mean that the campaign for 2016 would begin in earnest in both parties:
First, if the expected happens and Obama wins, he immediately becomes a lame duck. In the aftermath of a bitter and divided election, there will be concerns about who else can appeal to the constituencies that have continually trended away from Democrats — white voters, married women, rural folks. The big question mark is, what will Hillary Clinton do? She would be the odds-on favorite to win the nomination if she chooses to run, but that remains a very open question. For the Democrats, the primaries pivot off of her decision. If she doesn’t run, the Democrats would be smart to find another woman who could be elected president. I have come to believe that only a woman president can begin to bridge all the divides that exist in this country (more on that in a future column).
For the Republicans, the course ahead is probably a bit rougher than what the Democrats face. I would guess that in the aftermath of a Romney loss, a bitter and bloody battle for the heart and soul of the GOP will ensure — a civil war between the very conservative elements and the less-conservative factions; the economic conservatives and social conservatives; the more populist members and the more establishment folks.
If Romney loses, there will be a tremendous amount of handwringing and anger. This is a race that most Republicans believed was theirs for the taking; they were convinced that Obama was extremely vulnerable. There will be anger from the conservative wing that Republicans nominated someone who wasn’t authentically one of them. Less-conservative folks will respond that when the party veers too far to the right, a more moderate approach is needed. The GOP is going to have a difficult time settling this in the short run.
Of course, even if President Obama loses on Tuesday, we’re going to see maneuvering for 2016 among Democrats begin relatively quickly as well. In that situation, you can probably write Joe Biden off as a potential candidate because it’s rare that the Vice-President of an Administration that was turned out of office is able to successfully win his party’s nomination, never mind win the Presidency. Just ask Dan Quayle about that one. Hillary Clinton would still seem to be a potential candidate notwithstanding the fact that she was part of an Administration that was defeated largely because she hasn’t been involved in the campaign itself and because of her own reputation within the party. Indeed, the not-so-subtle message of a Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign could be something along the lines of I told you this would happen. Beyond Hillary, it’s hard to see what kind of bench the Democrats actually have for 2016. Often, you’ll hear names like Andrew Cuomo or Martin O’Malley mentioned but neither one of them has really been tested on the national scene and both are Governor’s of heavily Democratic states, arguably not the best choice for a party that needs to appeal to the middle. Other names I’ve heard mention include Montana Governor Brian Schweikert, but he may just a little too unknown and a little too eccentric for the national stage. So, if Hillary doesn’t run, the Democrats are going to have one of their most open fields since 1988.
There is one other possibility for the Democrats, of course. Depending on how close this election is, President Obama could decide to borrow a page from Grover Cleveland’s playbook and run for office again in 2016. There would be very few downsides to such a path for him, after all. He’d still be relatively young and he’d have four years to continue currying favor with powerful Democrats and strategically commenting on contemporary politics. His popularity inside the Democratic Party is likely to remain as high as it is now, especially if a Romney victory ends up being a very close one. Of course, there are also downsides to this idea. The biggest one, of course, is that even if Obama did manage to get re-elected in 2016, he would be an automatic lame duck since the 22nd Amendment would bar him from running for a second term in 2020. Depending on the makeup of Congress at the time, that would make it pretty hard for him to accomplish much of anything, and his party would immediately move on to contemplating who their nominee would be in 2020.
On the Republican side, Dowd is correct that a Romney loss is going to be a deep wound for the party, especially for some its most committed activists. The pain is going to be even more deep now that so many people on the right think that they’ve got a decent shot at beating the President on Tuesday. If that doesn’t happen, it’s going to be quite the spectacle to watch the Republican Party go through its version of “The Five Stages Of Grief.” I expect we’ll see everything from accusations of voter fraud, to claims that Republican leaning voters were somehow discouraged from voting in swing states, to Hurricane Sandy. Fingers will be pointed and blame will be assessed, as I noted when I explored this topic nearly a year ago:
If Romney is the nominee and he loses, it’s likely the reaction will be the same and that, at least, initially we’ll see the activists in the GOP go on another purity quest. On Capitol Hill, this would likely have the impact of making the House GOP even less willing to compromise than it has been since the 2010 elections for fear of facing trouble during the 2014 midterms. The danger this poses for the GOP, of course, is that a re-elected President Obama is likely to have at least some public opinion boost behind him in 2013, as well as the ability to claim a mandate. Another round of obstructionism is only likely to cause the public to further lose faith in Congress as an institution, and could have serious consequences for whatever is left of the GOP majority when the 2014 mid-terms roll around. In short, a reaction by the GOP that sends the party even further to the right and less willing to compromise would be precisely the wrong reaction to disappointing election results in 2012, and one that Republicans would likely come to regret in the end.
Some disagree with the idea that a Romney loss would lead the GOP to move further right. Daniel Larison, for example, recently made this point:
As frustrated by a Romney loss as Republicans would be, the party will have an incentive to find a more credible and competitive candidate for the next presidential election. That means that the 2012 also-rans might run again, but they aren’t going to get very far. A party that hasn’t controlled the Presidency for eight years isn’t going to gamble its future on Rick Santorum or anyone else like that. Party leaders will want to find a well-known and well-connected candidate that can dominate the next presidential field without much difficulty. A drawn-out nominating contest is the last thing they will want, and they’ll try to find someone with the financial backing and name recognition to become the presumptive nominee quickly. It is doubtful that party leaders would rally behind a relatively young and untested candidate, which would probably make Rubio, Christie, and others first elected in 2009 or 2010 unlikely nominees.
This would certainly be the sane and rational thing to do, and it’s the kind of argument that leads most directly to someone like Jeb Bush. However, I think Larison is positing a Republican Party that doesn’t really resemble the one that actually exists today. The modern GOP is far more beholden to its activist base than it ever has been before. I’m not so sure that they’re going to sit back and accept a Jeb Bush type candidate next time around, and the existence of SuperPacs means that activist-supported candidates will be able to last through the primaries longer, just as they did this year. Additionally, regardless of what “party leaders” want, candidates like Marco Rubio and Chris Christie have broad appeal with the people who actually vote and, if one or both of them runs, it’s not going to be so easy for the powers-that-be to control the situation. Civil war or no civil war, the Republican field in 2016 would be just as contentious as 2012 was, probably more so since it’s likely that we’ll have a far more qualified group of candidates. As I’ve noted before, the Republican bench for 2016 and beyond is fairly deep whether you look at Governors or Senators, and it’s hard to tell from this distance which one of these men or women people would end up rallying behind. This much is for sure, though, it would be a long and messy fight and it would start almost as soon as the balloons finish dropping on Election Night.