2008 Lurks as a Source of Discord?

Adam Nagourney has a rather breathless piece today, “Political Memo: Off the Podium, ’08 Race Lurks as a Source of Discord.” [RSS] (NYT)

For the past half-century, there has been a reliable political dynamic at every presidential inauguration. Someone on the platform – usually the president or the vice president – had already emerged as the party’s likely candidate for an election that was still four years away. Which is what made the scene outside the Capitol here on Thursday morning so unusual. For the first time since the inaugural of 1949, the president and vice president were considered to be at the end of their elective political careers. At the same moment, Democrats, thoroughly out of power in Congress, are adrift in their search for a leader, much less a candidate for 2008, after a debilitating loss in November. “If you go back and look, 2008 will be the first election in modern times when there is no heir apparent on either side,” said Matthew Dowd, who was a senior adviser to Mr. Bush’s presidential campaign. “It’s amazing. It’s a happenstance of history.”

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat who has been mentioned as a potential candidate for 2008, said: “You have a totally wide-open field with no leading candidate and no 800-pound gorillas on each side. You’re seeing generation changes in both parties, and you’re seeing totally new faces emerge.”

Even before Mr. Bush officially began his second term, that happenstance had produced an atmosphere of uncertainty that shadowed Thursday’s festivities and is poised to influence politics and policy for the president and the Democrats. Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who has forsworn another run in politics, had their morning. But they were surrounded by Democrats and Republicans who represent the face of a crowded presidential race and are already maneuvering for advantage in what scholars described as the most wide-open election since before Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the race in 1952.

It’s certainly rare that there isn’t a vice president out there looming as a frontrunning candidate for 2008. But so what? The Democrats have Hillary Clinton, a former First Lady; John Edwards, a former veep nominee; Al Gore, a former veep and presidential nominee; and John Kerry, a former presidential nominee, as obvious contenders. The Republicans have several logical candidates, including Jeb Bush, the son of one president and brother of another. Methinks someone will emerge to run that will be remarkably like previous nominees.

[O]fficials in both parties said that the next four years might be a lot easier if there was an heir apparent. Without an obvious heir, the ideological fissures in his party that Mr. Bush has managed to bridge so well could rupture, causing the kind of debates Republicans have avoided for nearly 30 years. “I believe that ’08 is going to be a mess for them, and Bush is going to be held accountable for them,” said Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic national chairman. Not that Democrats are in much better shape. Asked to name the leading candidate in his own party, Mr. McAuliffe paused and said, “We’re going to have a big open field.”

Lame duck presidents always have difficulty keeping the party in line, as there are always several senators and governors angling to move up. That’s true even when there’s a vice president who plans to join the fray.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Personally, I think this is a really good thing. Time to shake everything up a little bit.

    Also, it could work out to be the perfect opening for a relative unknown to work his way into the void and snag either party’s nomination – or, although this is a real dark horse, it could be the perfect opening for a third party candidate to finally shine.

    If, of course, there’s anybody with the vision to actually take it.

  2. Harry says:

    “You have a totally wide-open field with no leading candidate and no 800-pound gorillas on each side.” — Many conservatives, and some liberals, have seen Hillary as the Democrat’s 800-pound gorilla. I think, if she ever really was, she’s been shrinking. At this point, she’s maybe a 400-pound gorillette. While I believe she will probably run in 2008 (assuming Giuliani doesn’t defeat her in 2006), I don’t see her winning. I see her as a neo-Gephardt, a logical candidate but not one who generates the deep response needed to actually win.

  3. Sounds exactly like 1996, at least on the Republican side with Bob Dole. He was a good guy but a horrible candidate and once he was done, everyone who ran against him (and lost to him) were toast as well. From that void emerged G.W. Bush.

    Just goes to show that you cannot see too far ahead in the political future. (Remember when Gray Davis was considered a frontrunner for President?)

  4. anjin-san says:

    Hillary does not enjoy much support among democrats outside of her core supporters. Kerry redeaux? Yuck.

    On the other side of the fence, Chuck Hegel will get support from conservative democrats. I would like to have a commander in chief who knows what it is like to be in combat, something we don’t have at the moment.

  5. Attila Girl says:

    Jeb has said “no.” So it’s Rudy and/or Condi up against Hillary.

    I’d like Condi in the driver’s seat, so she can debate Hillary. And I’d pay to watch it.

  6. anjin-san says:

    Rice, if anything, comes across as more unlikeable then Hillary, and that is saying something. Rudy? Well, when his country called on him to serve as homeland security director in wartime, he had more important things to do. “Nuff said.

  7. Brian says:

    Hopefully this will give the GOP the opportunity to run a quality candidate who hasn’t fostered intense hatred among his political opponents. I love GWB, but he motivates the Dems almost as much as his own party.