Too Early for 2016 Talk?
We're actually not speculating about who might be running any more than we used to.
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.
[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.