Too Early for 2016 Talk?

We're actually not speculating about who might be running any more than we used to.

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Salon‘s Joan Walsh argues, reasonably enough, that it’s silly to speculate about the 2016 presidential race when there’s so much real news in 2013. But my initial reaction to her sub-claim that “our 2016 obsession is without precedent this long before the first primaries” was skepticism. After all, the Permanent Campaign has been with us at least since Bill Clinton’s presidency and seems a natural feature of the 24/7 news cycle brought on first by CNN, accelerated by the proliferation of political talk radio, and then kicked into frenzy by the rise of blogs and eventually Twitter. Actually, though, Walsh is likely right.

She observes,

[W]e certainly weren’t covering 2008 incessantly in 2005. I know that from memory, as well as a quick and dirty, unscientific scroll through Wikipedia’s news events of 2005. You’ll actually find no mention of the leading candidates for 2008: no Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Mike Huckabee, none of them.

Having been at this blogging thing since 2003, I was sure this was wrong. Looking back at OTB’s archives—during a period when I was personally much more prolific (pre-kids)—it’s true.  Our Campaign 2008 category archives number 34 pages, all but the last of which have 50 entries. The first of the posts, dated October 18, 2004—which is to say, before the 2004 election—was titled “Jeb Bush Rules Out 2008 Presidential Bid.” Posts in November speculate on Mark Warner, Hillary Clinton, and a Tom Ridge-Jeb Bush ticket (via a link to another blog). In December, we speculate on possible bids by Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, George Allen, Joe Lieberman, and Giuliani again.

So, per my instincts, we were speculating early and often about the 2008 field well before this point in 2005. That said, the top of page 33 of 34 takes us all the way to September 21, 2005.  I’d guess that, prior to May 13, 2005, we had at most fifty posts on the subject of the 2008 race. And many of those are tangentially related to the subject (e.g., “”); are about structural issues (such as a proposal to divide California’s Electoral College votes);  simply postings about people whose names were on the speculation list but not principally about the impact the item in question might have on the race (e.g., “Virginia’s Warner Signs Law Banning Benefits to Illegals“); or humorous speculation along the lines of “Laura Bush Versus Hillary Clinton in 2008“or “Bill Cosby for President in 2008?”  There are also numerous posts involving people adamantly denying that they had plans to run, including “Condi Rice: I Won’t Run. I Won’t.” “Cheney Won’t Run for President, Not Even if Begged,”and the aforementioned Jeb Bush denial.

Given that we were probably putting out 10-12 posts a day during that period, that’s really not all that much talk about who might be running in 2008.

Then again, I’m not sure I agree with Walsh that we’re talking about it all that much now.  Her examples:

No matter that Sen. Rand Paul can’t even spell Hillary Clinton’s name right on Twitter, as he insists the Benghazi killings mean she “should never hold high office again.” No matter that the former Secretary of State isn’t officially seeking high office again. Despite it all, everyone is positive that Paul is running for president against Clinton, and so his trip to Iowa this week is big news.

So was Chris Christie’s lap band surgery; it’s obvious what that means. Joe Biden tells Rolling Stone he spends four to five hours a day with President Obama — we all know why. The attempted rehabilitation of George W. Bush was all about the presidential ambitions of his brother Jeb. Sen. Marco Rubio’s immigration reform proposals are covered almost exclusively in terms of what they mean for his 2016 chances, not for U.S. immigration policy.  And the White House schemes of freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, instead of being a laughable footnote in stories about his radicalism, are instead headline news everywhere.

But Rubio and Cruz are relative newcomers who, despite some views that will likely make them unsalable for 2016, have impressive credentials, a certain charisma, an appeal to the nominating electorate, and the Hispanic angle. And they’re hardly sucking up all the oxygen in the room–they’re just getting a few stories here and there.

Until then […] a full 17 months in that cycle from where we are now — most political news coverage focused on Bush’s disastrous second term – particularly the issues of torture, Guantanamo, the mounting death toll in Iraq and the scandal of Hurricane Katrina.

But what are the comparable issues today? We’re still talking about torture and Guantanamo. And we’ve added drones. The death toll in Afghanistan has thankfully slowed to a trickle after a massive surge. Syria gets several stories a day even though we’re not there. There’s no Katrina but we got plenty of Sandy, Shady Hook, and Boston Massacre terror.

I can’t think of a single issue that became a major scandal in 2005 – or later, actually — because it involved a possible 2008 contender. Whereas on both sides, the Benghazi mess is mainly parsed in terms of what it will do to Hillary Clinton – who may never in fact run in 2016.

Benghazi is a carryover from the 2012 campaign that’s not getting much traction with the voters. But, certainly, almost all the stories about Clinton in late 2004 and early 2005 mentioned her status as the frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination—even though she was emphatically denying that she was running and still needed to win her 2006 bid for re-election to the Senate. And there were various mini-scandals around Rudy Giuliani, then considered a 2008 frontrunner, including the Bernard Kerik scandal, which many figured were hurting Mayor 9/11’s chances.

So, using the OTB archives as a proxy for what we were talking about at this time eight years ago, I would argue that Walsh is right and my initial impression was wrong on how little we were talking about 2008 then and that Walsh is wrong and my initial impression was wrong about how much we’re talking about it now. That is, during the blog era at least, speculation about who’s running for president has always been with us and always filled the spaces between more substantial stories. When there’s real news, it tends to dominate the conversation. When there’s no real news, there’s just as much coverage—and political silliness often fills the gap.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Media, OTB History, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. fred says:

    True. GOP should be focusing on jobs for Americans. At present this broken party seeks any distraction in order to obstruct the President’s agenda and of course mainstream media makes the GOP get away with their actions.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    So. Who gets the GOP nom?

  3. Andre Kenji says:

    People that likes comedy are always waiting the Republican Presidential debates.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: I think it’s Jeb Bush’s if he wants it. Otherwise, a wide open field and a party searching for an identity. Aside from maybe Jeb, it’s not anybody’s “turn” this time. There was no strong runner-up in 2012. None of the second bananas (Cheney, Palin, or Ryan) are likely to run.

    Chris Christie is the obvious “change of direction” candidate but I don’t know how bad he wants it or whether he can sell the base. He’s also a bit of a dick.

  5. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    @michael reynolds: As in 2012, it will be the last one standing having been eviscerated to the point of unacceptability. Assuming the GOP makes it that far. That gas tank is fumes only.

  6. Barfour says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Chris Christie, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush.

  7. Moosebreath says:

    @Barfour:

    I’d be willing to take the field bet over those 3. I see no path for Christie as the Republican primary electorate is currently comprised. I don’t see the Republicans going for Jeb (or any other Bush) in the next decade or so. Rubio stands a chance only if he can somehow turn his vacillating over the immigration bill into a positive.

  8. Caj says:

    Too early! Are you kidding me? Obama had not been elected for five minutes in 2012 before lists were out there of people who the media and talk shows had already lined up for 2016! Obama wasn’t allowed to even start his second term before 2016 was being talked about. It’s a stupid political world we live in. Election talk just goes on and on and on!

  9. PogueMahone says:

    I’ve seen over and over again that Christie isn’t an option because the wing-nuts in the Republican primary selection just will not select him. I disagree.

    After all, in 2008, the wing-nuts did not prevent a McCain nomination. In 2012, the wing-nuts did not prevent a Romney nomination. And they all thought that they were RINOs or moderates or whatever.

    Truth is, the Republican primary process has recently weeded out the crazies and selected their best possible candidate to defeat Obama. It didn’t work of course, but not for a lack of nominating at least a plausible candidate.

    Christie gives the GOP the best possible candidate. Yes he is abrasive, but he is a popular governor in a blue state. There are heaps of positives for this… far more than Rubio, Bush, or any other candidate that the GOP can put forward at the moment.

    Now that Christie is destined to lose some weight, he will be a much more attractive candidate than before.

    Christie is the clear frontrunner IMHO.

    Cheers.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    Hmm…in the first presidential debate, does Christie get in Hillary’s face like Rick Lazio did in 2000, thus burnishing Christie’s already considerable record as a bully…

  11. Franklin says:

    I predicted Romney roughly the day it appeared that Obama would become President in 2008. However, I have no idea right now.

  12. Moosebreath says:

    @PogueMahone:

    The difference between McCain and Romney, on the one hand, and Christie, on the other, is that the first pair had only 1 significant issue on which they were more liberal than the Republican orthodoxy (campaign finance in McCain’s case and healthcare in Romney’s*). Indeed, during the prior contested Republican primary, both McCain and Romney were viewed as the more conservative contender over the person who was chosen each time.

    On the other hand, Christie has never run on the Republican national stage, and deviates far more from Republican orthodoxy, including on gay civil unions, immigration and medical marijuana. Christie also has working against him items which have far more visceral impact than actual policy impact (such as appointing a Muslim to Superior Court and not bashing Obama in the final days of the 2012 campaign in order to keep Hurricane Sandy relief flowing).

    * and of course, Romney’s position on healthcare was within the Republican mainstream until Obama took office and actually passed it into law.

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    I largely agree with @PogueMahone, that said there is always the possibility that the wingnut part of the base finally gets their wishes. In that case, my money is on Scott Walker, if he runs.

    He passes the number one litmus test: can he be mean to liberals even if it means going directly against his campaign promises.

  14. PJ says:

    @Barfour:

    Marco Rubio

    It would be rather interesting to see what happens in Utah if Rubio gets nominated.

  15. PJ says:

    @PogueMahone:

    I’ve seen over and over again that Christie isn’t an option because the wing-nuts in the Republican primary selection just will not select him. I disagree.

    After all, in 2008, the wing-nuts did not prevent a McCain nomination. In 2012, the wing-nuts did not prevent a Romney nomination. And they all thought that they were RINOs or moderates or whatever.

    Christie is the clear frontrunner IMHO.

    I disagree.

    Christie’s situation is more akin to Huntsman’s in 2012 than McCain’s in 2008 or Romney’s in 2012.

  16. Kylopod says:

    @Franklin:

    I predicted Romney roughly the day it appeared that Obama would become President in 2008. However, I have no idea right now.

    Same here. I think that needs to be taken into account when examining whether we’re talking more about the upcoming presidential race than we were four years ago. In the 2012 cycle, while Romney didn’t always seem inevitable, he was clearly the front-runner early on. There’s no obvious front-runner now. Furthermore, the previous cycle was dominated by several candidates and quasi-candidates who were just plain ridiculous and who seemed more interested in publicity than victory (Palin, Trump, Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich). In contrast, most of the potential candidates being discussed right now seem relatively plausible and serious. Add to that the fact that there are now two parties to speculate about rather than one, and it makes sense why the 2016 race seems a more fertile ground for discussion than the 2012 race did four years ago.

  17. anjin-san says:

    Chris Christie is the obvious “change of direction” candidate

    Christie has some issues, but he seems to actually care about governing, and he does not bend over on command for Fox/Limbaugh. I can see myself voting for him if there is a Democratic nominee I don’t care for.

  18. Pinky says:

    In 2009, we were talking about Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin. I think T -3 years is too soon to be talking about what possible candidates are doing right, but not too soon to be noticing what they’re doing wrong.