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.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tano says:

    As long as they don’t start calling me on Wednesday.

  2. Geek, Esq. says:

    Here’s an easy one if Obama wins: comprehensive immigration reform gets passed, with Democrats daring Republicans to vote against it.

    GOP will cave to Obama more often. Why? They’ll be on the ballot, not him, in 2014.

    Democrats worth mentioning:

    Kirsten Gillibrand (former Blue Dog in the House and a force to be reckoned with)
    Sherrod Brown (was the lightning rod for GOP billionaire attacks, and held firm)
    Senator Elizabeth Warren (keep on underestimating her folks–she has executive branch experience too)

    Republicans will be a hot mess. Predicting their 2016 nominee would be like guessing the flavor of Plutonium.

  3. Geek, Esq. says:

    Also, the economy will improve significantly in the next term, boosting the Democrats’ hand.

  4. john personna says:

    It is easily thumbnailed: Which party, or parties, will nominate someone positioned for the general?

    Right now, advantage Dems. Less crazy. More real. Not burying economic data which strikes at their foundations.

    Oh, and you can go to college too.

  5. Chris says:

    On the Dem side, I think its very unlikely either Hillary or Biden stand. I think Cuomo is the favorite,with Deval Patrick, O’Malley, Schweitzer and Sebilius as other options. I also think Kirsten Gillibrand is a good choice.

    For the Reps, I guess Paul Ryan is a frontrunner (yawn), with Christie, Mitch Daniels, Marco Rubio and John Thune as other options I don’t think a third Bush is viable, although he’s be a decent choice.

  6. cd6 says:

    If Obama wins, there won’t be an election in 2016. Because he is going to destroy America as we know it, by bowing to foreign leaders and instituting sharia law and also better environmental regulations or something.

    Don’t the rest of you read NRO??

  7. bk says:

    @cd6: Is this before or after he takes away our guns?

  8. Scott says:

    @cd6: Ban Ki-Moon!

  9. al-Ameda says:


    If Obama wins, there won’t be an election in 2016. Because he is going to destroy America as we know it, by bowing to foreign leaders and instituting sharia law and also better environmental regulations or something.
    Don’t the rest of you read NRO??

    All of that seems like an significant improvement over the Romney Agenda – am I missing something here?

  10. anjin-san says:

    If Obama wins, there won’t be an election in 2016. Because he is going to destroy America as we know it

    Actually, the “Obama will circumvent the Constitution to get a third term” meme is already making the rounds…

  11. michael reynolds says:

    It depends on which crazy theory the Republicans latch onto.

    1) Basic Ideology Stupid and Out-of-date. This happens to be true, but it’s hard to see how the GOP can possibly embrace their own utter irrelevancy. If they figured this out they’d stop being Republicans.

    2) The Brown People Did It! This is my guess. So they’ll allow Obama to pass immigration reform, then nominate Marco Rubio in the mistaken belief that he’s a Mexican. Olé!

    3) Blame the MSM. This will be the Fox News position. Double down on the crazy, milk that declining demographic another four years, then suddenly shift gears when enough old, white Alabama grannies die off. Then Fox will hire an aging Rachel Maddow. But that’s down the road. In 2016 the Fox ticket will be. . . Gingrich-Sununu! On the grounds that they just need to be stupid louder and even more obnoxiously.

    4) Insufficient Conservative Purity. Because it’s not that their core ideology is stupid, it’s that they haven’t been 100% stupid. This is the Ryan play. He’s young, he’s got plenty air between his ears, he’s in great shape, and he has dreamy eyes. And he would federalize all wombs. pure gold!

  12. michael reynolds says:

    On the flip side, if Obama loses, Democrats will learn nothing except that they need to participate in all of the debates, not just best two out of three. We don’t need to learn anything, We just have to wait for a bunch of old folks in the south and mountain west to die off.

  13. al-Ameda says:


    Actually, the “Obama will circumvent the Constitution to get a third term” meme is already making the rounds…

    Well, you have to admit – once he takes away our guns, the path to an “unopposed” third term will be a piece of cake. Me? I’ll celebrate by having a nice brunch in San Francisco (you’re welcome to join me for a nice mimosa and some great food too)

  14. Moosebreath says:

    As I’ve said before, when Democrats lose a Presidential election, they nominate someone more conservative next time (e.g. Dukakis was more conservative than Mondale and Clinton more conservative than Dukakis). When Republicans lose a Presidential election, they also nominate someone more conservative next time. (e.g., Dole was more conservative than Bush the Elder, and Bush the Younger was more conservative than Dole). So I vote for 4 of Michael’s choices (a/k/a the bithead theory)

  15. Janis Gore says:

    @bk: Snotwas.

  16. Janis Gore says:

    I was actually for Hillary last time ’round, but I’m just not crazy for dynastic politics in America.

  17. Janis Gore says:

    Guns in my house? (Bought by my stepson.) If I’d known that, I’d have just shot the bastard

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ al-Ameda

    I’m partial to the carmalized waffles at the Blue Bottle…

  19. Janis Gore says:

    @anjin-san: Long story, luv.

  20. Janis Gore says:

    Where’s the Blue Bottle?

  21. anjin-san says:

    In the Ferry Building. You can also grab a fantastic grilled cheese sandwich at the Cowgirl Creamery if its a little later in the day. Head for the cheap seats out back with the million dollar view…


  22. Janis Gore says:

    Okay. I’ve been San Franciso before.

  23. Janis Gore says:

    Where y’all think I come from, Mamou?

  24. Brett says:

    I don’t think a close loss will discourage the increasing extremism of the GOP base, as you said. What will really break them would be if they nominate a candidate who appeals hard to the GOP base and then gets completely slaughtered, as in “Walter Mondale in 1984” slaughtered. That would be a jolt, and you’d see their extremism warring against their desire to actually win.

  25. anjin-san says:

    I’m a marketing guy – always pitching…

  26. David Zimmerman says:

    If Obama is reelected, he will give the vote to the illegals and the dems will reign forever.

  27. Stonetools says:

    The conservative circular firing squad if Romney loses will be a sight to behold.
    I expect two more years of House obstructionism, then a Tea Party bloodbath in 2014.
    After that, another Democratic Presidential win in 2016 over another Tea party favorite. Then and only then will the Republicans return to sanity.

    Most likely Democratic candidate in 2016:

    Andrew Cuomo or Sherrod Brown. Come to think of it, that might just be the 2016 Democratic ticket, regardless of who wins Tuesday.

    Martin O’Malley- likely head of the DNC. Deval Patrick will likely run for Senator in 2014 if Kerry becomes SoS, and Corey Booker will be the Senator from New Jersey from 2014.

  28. Stonetools says:

    If Obama wins Tuesday, some day our grandchildren will ask us what it used to be like to live in a free country.

  29. grumpy realist says:

    @Stonetools: And if Romney wins, our CHILDREN will ask us what it was like to live in a free country. Especially if they’re female, black, Hispanic, intellectual, or poor.

  30. Stonetools says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Heh, this was snark. It was alluding to Ronald Reagan’s ridiculous statement in one of his ads against Medicare-ads which launched his career as a conservative spokesman . I think you can look up this well known ad on You Tube.

  31. al-Ameda says:


    @ al-Ameda
    I’m partial to the carmalized waffles at the Blue Bottle…

    That’s some really … really … good stuff right there ..

  32. al-Ameda says:

    @David Zimmerman:

    If Obama is reelected, he will give the vote to the illegals and the dems will reign forever.

    Welll, if that is what we need to do to oust House Republicans, then I’ve got no problem with it whatsoever.

  33. wr says:

    @Brett: Nah. Doesn’t matter if it’s Santorum or Gingrich or DeMint — if he loses, he was never really a conservative. Just like that famous liberal George W. Bush.