When Barack Obama announced the selection of Joe Biden to be his running mate in 2008, the New York Times, echoing the conventional wisdom at the time, included among Biden’s attributes the following: “it appears unlikely that Mr. Biden would be in a position to run for president should Mr. Obama win and serve two terms. Shorn of any remaining ambition to run for president on his own, he could find himself in a less complex political relationship with Mr. Obama than most vice presidents have with their presidents.”
That was a widely held view and reportedly something the Obama team considered a significant mark in Biden’s favor. And it was sensible of them to do so. Sharing the White House with Hillary Clinton, for example, or a popular moderate Democrat like then-Senator Evan Bayh, would have almost surely meant nominating his successor who would want an agenda and to perhaps even share in the credit for Obama’s legacy. So instead Obama nominated Biden to be his vice president and Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. And wouldn’t you know it, they may both run for president anyway, touting their respective legacies and sharing in the glory of Obama’s own legislative victories. The only difference–and what might be the source of endless future headaches for Obama–is that he has a clear preference for Clinton over his own vice president, the latter now launching his own possible bid from the White House and simultaneously in need of restraining.
So what did Obama miss when he nominated this pair of Washington insiders? He forgot about something he really shouldn’t have: the natural ambition of politicians and the way access to the White House only magnifies it. And it’s what makes stories like this National Journal piece arguing against the likelihood of either Clinton or Biden running in 2016 less than convincing:
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made some headlines with his speech to the Republican National Committee yesterday in which he called out the GOP as having behaved like “the stupid party” in 2012. He is hardly alone in considering the infamous cracks of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock about rape and pregnancy to be classic examples of stupidity but the main point of his address wasn’t about the perils of nominating idiots for Senate seats. Instead, Jindal put forth a manifesto about how to revive conservatism in the age of Obama. His formula is deceptively simple: opt out of a rigged game focused on how to balance the budget and replace it with a populist approach in which big government is the target.
The idea is a powerful message and is exactly what the Republican grass roots wants to hear, especially the part in which the Washington is put down and state and local governments, such as the one Jindal leads, are lauded. He’s right that the current debate in the Capitol over things like the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff is being fought on the Democrats’ terms and has, predictably, led to GOP defeats. Jindal is also right that Republicans ought to be more interested in growing the economy than in enforcing austerity. But as much as his talk sounded like a winning approach to the 2016 presidential primaries in which he may be a serious competitor, the problem for his party is that opting out of the current debates on the debt and the budget is easy if your office is in located in Baton Rouge. It’s not an option for a House Republican caucus that remains the only real obstacle to President Obama’s plans for higher taxes and more spending in the next four years.
Senator Chuck Schumer earned some chuckles among Democrats when he said today that the decision by House Republicans to suspend any limits on the national debt for three months was evidence that “The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.” The GOP chose to remove, at least for a time, any threat of a government shutdown because they knew they were locked in an unequal struggle with the White House and the Democratic majority in the Senate. By backing down on the debt ceiling deadline, the House leadership decided they’d be better off avoiding a confrontation that would lead to them being blamed for damaging the economy while probably not getting the spending cuts and entitlement reform that they rightly know the country needs. But there is at least one Republican in the Senate who thinks Schumer is right and who hopes to gain from making clear his disagreement.
Senator Rand Paul made it clear earlier this week that he disapproves of Speaker Boehner’s embrace of Fabian tactics. Instead of trying another Alamo-like last stand such as the GOP’s ill-fated fiscal cliff tactics, Boehner is hoping the GOP will be better off retreating now and living to fight another day. But Paul isn’t the only Republican unhappy about the decision. The 33 Republicans who defected during the House vote on the debt legislation made it obvious that a substantial portion of the party is unwilling to accept anything but a policy of all-out war all the time against the president’s refusal to deal with the debt crisis. Boehner has his hands full in a fractious caucus, but the impulse to rebel against a more cautious approach to their political problem is not limited to the House. Paul’s statement makes it clear that he is auditioning for the role of the party’s insurgent leader.
Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.
Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.
In October 2008, in a highly publicized and eagerly anticipated vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, Biden said something that would have been notable were it not for his reputation for bluster and braggadocio. When moderator Gwen Ifill asked the candidates about the job description and value of the vice presidency of the United States, Biden said this:
With regard to the role of vice president, I had a long talk, as I’m sure the governor did with her principal, in my case with Barack. Let me tell you what Barack asked me to do. I have a history of getting things done in the United States Senate. John McCain would acknowledge that. My record shows that on controversial issues. I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration. I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no. But Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he’ll be making, I’ll be sitting in the room to give my best advice. He’s president, not me, I’ll give my best advice.
For several years in the late 1980s and early ’90s, following New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s flirtations with a presidential run became one of the country’s favorite political parlor games. In the end, despite being courted by the liberal press and many Democratic Party insiders, Cuomo never was able to pull the trigger on his candidacy and became known as “Hamlet on the Hudson” for his indecision. But whatever else one can say about his son Andrew, it appears that the current governor of the Empire State doesn’t suffer from the same malady. Any doubts about his intention to run for president in 2016 were dissipated yesterday with a state of the state speech that was a shopping list of liberal talking points and causes aimed at shoring up the governor’s standing with left-wing activists who are the core of the Democratic Party base.
Pandering to the left is always smart politics in a Democratic primary nomination race. Cuomo’s histrionics about guns, global warming, the minimum wage and abortion were exactly what he needs to establish his credentials with liberal donors and those who will be doing the bulk of the voting in Democratic contests that will be held three years from now. But the left-wing laundry list he enunciated yesterday in Albany is not without its risks. Even in a contest that is likely to be one in which the entrants will compete for the affection of liberal interest and constituency groups, the central theme of American politics in the next few years is likely to center on the question of how to deal with the deficit. But, as even a sympathetic article in the New York Times about his speech pointed out, there doesn’t appear to be any conceivable way that the state can pay for all of the new programs and government handouts Cuomo wishes to implement. Seen in this light, his manifesto shows exactly how the nation got in the mess that the president and Congress have been fighting about. This sort of stuff may generate applause in New York, but is the country really ready for another round of taxing and spending that Cuomo wants to initiate?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s temper tantrum about the temporary delay of action on the Hurricane Sandy relief bill earlier this week was depicted in some corners as an illustration of the disconnect between the Northeast and the southern and western base of the Republican Party. There was some truth in that. The bulk of the GOP caucus in the House doesn’t care much about the concerns of Northeast Republicans let alone those of anyone else in the region. That’s just one of many concerns that the GOP must confront as it starts thinking about how to win back the White House in 2016. But despite the party’s failings, Christie’s rant illustrates that the lack of communication is a two-way street.
Like his embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s harangue about the failings of his party will play well in New Jersey. Indeed, the shift in recent months of the focus of the governor’s notoriously short temper from union bosses and liberals to right-wing Republicans—and the latter’s criticism of him—has been exactly what his re-election campaign needed. His approval ratings have reached the point where the most formidable Democrats in the state like Newark Mayor Cory Booker have abandoned the idea of running for governor. But if Christie is as serious about running for president in 2016 as many of his fans think he is, it’s time to realize that the conceit that he can be a moderate at home and a conservative in the rest of the country isn’t going to work.
Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.
Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.
It did not escape the notice of political observers that some of the leading candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination came down on opposite sides of the vote on the fiscal cliff deal. No one was surprised that an extreme libertarian like Rand Paul would be one of the eight no votes in the Senate on the pact. But the votes of Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan did raise some eyebrows, and could potentially impact the way conservative primary voters view the pair four years from now when Iowa and New Hampshire are again the center of the political universe.
Rubio’s decision to join Paul in opposition to the deal makes sense for those who remember that although he is a very mainstream figure today, just three years ago he was viewed in Washington as just another Tea Party insurgent determined to upset the plans of the establishment to make Charlie Crist the GOP candidate for a Florida Senate seat. However, the reaction to Paul Ryan’s decision to join House Speaker John Boehner in supporting the pact did create something of a stir. Ryan’s vote for a deal that he and most other Republicans despised might have been the responsible thing to do since the alternative was to let the taxes of all Americans go up. But in doing so he may have lowered his stock among conservative activists who preferred the futile gesture of protest that most House Republicans made when they joined Majority Leader Eric Cantor in voting against the bill. Though no one should be under the misapprehension that we can know what will determine the outcome of primaries that will be held so far in the future, there’s little doubt Ryan’s stand is going to be held against him by some segments of his party.
The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.
As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.
While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.
One of the most pronounced recent changes in the attitudes toward leadership and order of the two major American political parties is the reversal in affection for handing off the baton to the next in line. Republicans had long bestowed the party’s presidential nomination on last time’s runner-up, or a candidate who had put in his time and whose turn, it was believed, had come.
But the battle for the 2016 GOP nomination is looking wide open, and will likely consist of a cast of young, more conservative candidates competing to set the party’s new direction. The Democrats, on the other hand, nominated Barack Obama in 2008 with the rallying cry of striking out against political entitlement, embodied by Hillary Clinton. Next time, however, Democrats seem to want a coronation, not a nomination. And they would like the beneficiary of this appointment with history to be Hillary Clinton. Here’s James Carville yesterday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”:
Last week we noted that if Rand Paul wanted to be a serious presidential contender as opposed to a libertarian gadfly he was going to have to distance himself from his father’s extreme anti-Israel views. No one should be holding their breath waiting for the Kentucky senator to speak a word against Ron Paul, but there’s no question he is preparing to cast himself as a different kind of candidate in 2016. To that end, not only did he take the trouble to engage in an exchange with COMMENTARY about his views on Israel, but as Business Insider reported last week, he is also planning a trip to the Jewish state next month.
Trips to Israel by senators and members of Congress are so common that they are hardly newsworthy. But for a devoted opponent of military aid to the Jewish state to be journeying there for the first time is a clear sign that Rand Paul wants to be seen as someone whose views on foreign policy are not the sort of grab bag of libertarian cant and isolationism that characterizes his father’s stance. Even more telling is that Paul will be accompanied on his trip by a group of evangelical leaders. The signal being given here is that the senator wants to be seen by the Republican base as a mainstream conservative and not a libertarian outlier.
Those hoping that the seemingly endless 2012 presidential campaign would lead to a shorter run-up to the 2016 contest are out of luck. As Politico reports, not only is there no shortage of aspirants for what will be two open nominations but the hopefuls are already making a beeline to major donors hoping to line up support for a race that may be four years away but seems to have already started. According to their story, a gaggle of ambitious Republican governors who attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas last month managed to take time from their busy schedules to meet with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in hope of winning his heart and the sort of financial support that could make them viable presidential candidates.
Among those lining up to see the philanthropist/mega donor were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio. All three appear to be testing the presidential waters. The story also noted that Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, who both fell short in their 2012 runs, are also keeping close to their big donors in hopes of keeping their options open for another try.
It is true that a viable candidacy requires funding, and the ability to raise money — either from a host of small donors or a few big ones — is an essential skill for any would-be president. But anyone thinking that a nod from Adelson or Santorum’s backer Foster Friess or any of the Texas businessmen that backed Perry is tantamount to a key to the presidency wasn’t paying attention last year. Money gives a candidate a chance, and large donations like those that Newt Gingrich received from Adelson a year ago kept him in the race longer than he might otherwise have lasted. But the lesson of 2012 is that no single donor or even group of large donors or their super PACs can win elections by themselves. Which is why the attention given large contributors may be somewhat misleading.
The New Yorker’s David Remnick writes that Hillary Clinton’s Friday night address at the Saban Forum (and the fawning video introduction) left no doubt that she’s running in 2016:
Friday night, however, was on the record—and surprisingly revealing. Hillary Clinton was the main speaker. In a packed ballroom of the Willard Hotel, she was greeted with a standing ovation and then a short, adoring film, a video Festschrift testifying to her years as First Lady, senator, and, above all, secretary of state. The film, an expensive-looking production, went to the trouble of collecting interviews with Israeli politicians—Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni—and American colleagues, like John Kerry. Tony Blair, striking the moony futuristic note that was general in the hall, said, “I just have an instinct that the best is yet to come.”
The film was like an international endorsement four years in advance of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. The tone was so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology. After it was over there was a separate video from the President. Looking straight into the camera, Obama kvelled at length: “You’ve been at my side at some of the most important moments of my Administration.”
The New Jersey governor’s race looked to be the only highlight of an otherwise barren slate of election contests in 2013. Incumbent Chris Christie is a GOP and YouTube star, but he had made a lot of enemies in his four years in office. More importantly, the Democrats have their own rising superstar in Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who seemed likely to be able to give Christie a stiff challenge. But after the latest round of polling of Garden State voters, Booker may be thinking that it might be smarter to wait another year and try for a Senate seat.
With the governor’s efforts to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy and his controversial embrace of President Obama fresh in their minds, the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Christie with an astonishing 72 percent approval rating. The numbers are more convincing when you break them down, as even Democrats support the governor’s performance by a 52-39 percent margin. Christie is given the thumbs-up from every demographic group including independents (77 percent), women (70 percent), blacks (55 percent) and Hispanics (66 percent).
While these numbers are bound to come down, any expectation that Christie’s union foes will be able to take their revenge on him this year must be considered unlikely. That means Booker may decide that a gubernatorial run would be a mistake that could derail a seemingly bright political future.
One trip to Iowa does not a candidacy make, but you don’t have to be a political junkie to interpret Marco Rubio’s star turn at a birthday party fundraiser for the state’s governor as the first shot fired in the race for the 2016 presidential race. As Politico reported over the weekend, the Florida senator’s appearance at Governor Terry Branstad’s shindig set off speculation about his intentions.
With three years and two months to go before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus, all this talk about 2016 may seem incredibly premature. But in a state where you can never spend too much time buttering up the voters, Rubio has sent a clear signal that he isn’t shy about starting early to win their approval. Just as important, his speech reminded Republicans that what they need is not just a Hispanic but also someone who can appeal to middle class sensibilities in a way that Mitt Romney failed to do. Which means we can expect to hear a lot more about Rubio’s bartender father and his hotel maid mother than we ever did about George and Lenore Romney.
Democrats have a right to crow this morning. President Obama won re-election with a narrow, yet decisive win in the popular vote and a large margin in the Electoral College, in which he won every tossup up state with the exception of North Carolina. Though they were expected to lose seats in the Senate, Democrats gained two. The Republicans did hold onto the House of Representatives, which means the status quo of the last two years in Washington is preserved. But those trying to diminish the scope of the Democrats’ victory are wasting their time. For an incumbent president to win re-election despite presiding over a poor economy and few accomplishments other than decidedly unpopular measures like ObamaCare, is an astonishing feat of political skill. It was also a reflection of the changing nature of the electorate that now skews more toward the Democrats than many of us thought. Liberal pundits like Nate Silver who insisted that the polls were right to show a Democratic advantage were right about that and I was wrong, as were most conservative writers.
But to assume, as some inevitably will, that this means the Republicans are more or less doomed to a cycle of unending defeats in the future is a mistake that neither party should make. Though talk about President Obama not having a mandate is meaningless since winning is the only mandate any president ever needs, Republicans are by no means painted into a corner from which they cannot extricate themselves in future contests. The 2012 election was about Barack Obama and preserving his historic legacy. Yet second terms are generally miserable affairs for presidents, and Obama will likely prove no exception, especially with a Republican House to investigate scandals. For all of the problems that this election revealed to the Republicans about Hispanics, women, and working class voters, they are still positioned to make a strong showing in the 2014 midterms and to take back the White House in 2016.
The volume of Republican resentment of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for what many in his party think was an overenthusiastic embrace of President Obama has gotten louder. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson speculated on the Rush Limbaugh radio show this week that Christie was doing more than venting a latent resentment of Mitt Romney. He said it showed Christie wanted “a clean slate” when the governor runs for president in 2016, something that would be impossible if Romney was the incumbent president that year planning his re-election. Carlson was not the only person saying that, since the pictures of the unlikely “bromance” between Obama and Christie became the new symbols of bipartisanship.
But angry Republicans need to tone it down a bit. Though I don’t count myself among Christie’s biggest fans, and think the assumption that his tough guy persona will work as well on the national stage as it does in New Jersey is probably mistaken, I doubt that his goal this week was to slip a knife into Romney’s back. His emotional response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy was genuine, as was his gratitude for federal help. But if there was any political motive in the back of his mind this week as he went about his duties amid the chaos of the hurricane, it was probably related to what will happen in 2013, not 2016. Whatever Christie may be thinking about Romney these days, any softening of his hard partisan image has a lot more to do with a desire to set the stage for his re-election campaign next year than it does with a possible future presidential run.
Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.
That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
If Mitt Romney loses in November, last week we had the opportunity to watch and gauge the effectiveness of virtually every possible serious Republican contender for the party’s next presidential nomination. Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie all had their moments in the spotlight, as did Rand Paul and even 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum. But none of the serious contenders for what will be an open Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 will be on display in Charlotte. Former President Bill Clinton will be center stage on Wednesday but his wife Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will be at the top of the list of Democratic contenders four years from now, is not on the schedule. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is barely stopping by to attend the conclave, let alone speak to the convention. There are, no doubt, some Democrats speaking in Charlotte who are thinking about running, but they are currently flying below the radar.
That will reduce the already slim hold of the convention on the interest of viewers. However, the assumption that the party’s nominee in 2008 and 2012 can’t possibly be their choice in 2016 may not be true.