President Obama has more than two years left in his second term, as if that matters. The most indignant of Republicans, or those who pretend they are for their own purposes, won’t impeach him now. What would be the point? The damage is done – Obamacare and, well, something. They’re not sure what, maybe something about Benghazi or the IRS picking on the Tea Party or forcing everyone in America to buy those odd new light bulbs, but the man who rather easily beat their guy twice cannot run again. He’s not worth ruining now, because he doesn’t matter. He’s a lame duck – a term used in the eighteenth century at the London Stock Exchange, to refer to a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts, but which started to be used in the nineteenth century to talk about politicians who couldn’t cover their own particular speculations. Obama could propose a free high-powered assault rifle for every Republican man, woman and child in America, or propose banning all guns everywhere, and no one would listen. What can he do now?
It’s time to refocus. Republicans are now directing their ire at Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, or the only likely Democratic nominee, with her sky-high approval ratings and her absurdly rich credentials – a former First Lady, then a senator with a reputation for actually getting things done, even with Republicans, and her four years as our secretary of state – four years of the Republicans praising her (she wasn’t Obama) before the Benghazi thing, which now they’d like to say is all her fault, even if they haven’t yet found a way to do that. They’re working on it, because hammering Obama is a lost cause now. He beat them, in every way imaginable, for almost six years, but now it’s time to move on. If they’re going to win a few now for their side it will be in retaking the Senate in the midterms, to assure that nothing gets done for the next two years and America ends up a total mess, and then defeating Hillary in 2016 because it is a mess, as always happens when Democrats are in charge. That’s the plan. Dealing with Obama is now more a hobby than a holy cause.
This plan, however, has its inherent flaws. Americans don’t like politicians much, and the irate Tea Party base of the Republican Party loathes them – they’re forever running against “establishment” Republicans, actual politicians, not large-animal veterinarians or pizza magnates, in the Republicans primaries in all the states. In both cases the idea seems to be that anyone who wants to get deeply involved in government is a little odd, and it follows that anyone who wants to be president must be totally nuts.
That idea has been around for a long time. Dwight Eisenhower once said that “any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.” Only odd people think that they’re the perfect person to run the world, and run around telling people so. That’s a dangerous delusion about one’s inherent awesomeness – both Eisenhower and Obama fought that impulse in their own ways – and Harry Truman said the job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, as the president is no more than “a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.”
So, pathological narcissists run for an office that’s inherently frustrating, where it’s next to impossible to get anything done at all. That’s quite a system, and then there’s the matter of getting elected. One must win over the people, or those who show up to vote, as we have one of the lowest voter-participation rates in the world. Maybe that has to do with holding elections only on Tuesdays, the slow day down on the farm, or maybe folks just don’t care. Let the egomaniacs have their fun – the rich and powerful will get the policies and regulations and laws they want one way or the other, using these goofballs, so voting doesn’t matter much. As for those who do vote, they’re not that well-informed, so it’s hard to target their concerns. The late Gore Vidal put it this way – “Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”
It isn’t the same half, and no one reads newspapers anymore of course. It’s on the web, or Rush Limbaugh talks about it, or Stewart and Colbert do, or there are Tweets – but these people do vote, considering who should be the next president, based on something or other. There’s a new Pew Research Center poll that shows, compared with 2008, many more Americans have now decided that experience as a governor is the best preparation for the White House. Fewer and fewer see serving in Congress as a “top positive” for a given candidate, and that could change Republican calculations about who they should run against Hillary Clinton.
Jonathan Bernstein doesn’t think so:
I can guarantee that if Democrats wind up nominating Hillary Clinton in 2016, half the country will suddenly say that service as secretary of state is the best preparation for the presidency. If Republicans nominate Marco Rubio, the other half of the country is going to claim that time in the state legislature followed by a short stint in the U.S. Senate is the best grooming for the Oval Office – never mind that it will be the polar opposite half of the nation from those who expressed that belief in 2008, when Barack Obama was the Democratic candidate.
Needless to say, this makes planning difficult:
I wouldn’t say there’s nothing to this kind of polling: for example, it is interesting that many people say they wouldn’t vote for an atheist. On the other hand, it was easy to find Republicans who claimed they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon candidate. Yet almost all Republicans ended up voting for Mitt Romney in the general election, and religion didn’t seem to matter much even for the nomination.
The poll itself shows this is oddly complicated:
Americans would more likely support a philandering presidential candidate than an atheist one – by an 18 percent margin… While 35 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to support a presidential candidate who had an extramarital affair, 53 percent of Americans indicated that not believing in God – the trait viewed most negatively of the 16 tested – would make them unsupportive of a candidate.
In accordance with a widely cited study by the University of Minnesota, which found atheists to be the most disliked and distrusted minority group in the nation, only 5 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a secular candidate.
The Pew survey, which questioned 1,501 adults nationwide from April 23 to 27, also found a significant partisan divide on the issue.
While 70 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats expressed opposition to an atheist candidate, 49 percent of Democrats viewed a potential candidate’s atheism as irrelevant.
So, you want to run for president, because you’re more wonderful than anyone who has ever lived. What do you say about God’s plan for you and His plan for America, or say that it might be best to think things through and work out, say, tax policy, without praying to God about it and listening carefully to His views on capital gains taxes, and to which audience, and when? Running for the presidency is a slow walk through a vast minefield, blindfolded.
At the Atlantic, Peter Beinart sees that the long slow walk has begun:
On Friday, Hillary Clinton spoke at the New America Foundation’s “Big Ideas” conference… Her basic theme was familiar – the American dream of upward mobility is in peril – though she did offer a couple of intriguing twists. She personified the problem by discussing an imaginary single mother struggling to work, study, and care for her children. That’s a sign of how far public discourse has moved since the 1990s, when demonizing unwed mothers was all the rage. In another mildly edgy move, Clinton noted that “Canadian middle-class incomes are now higher than in the United States. They are working fewer hours for more pay than Americans are, enjoying a stronger safety net, living longer on average, and facing less income inequality.” How long until Republicans accuse her of considering the United States inferior to our northern neighbor?
That hasn’t happened yet – picking on the pleasant and friendly and polite Canadians would be walking into another minefield, because there are no Americans who don’t like Canadians – but Beinart senses something else going on here:
The most important takeaway from Hillary’s speech was that she’s aching to run against Jeb Bush. Clinton is not a great inspirational speaker. She’s at her best arguing a case. And the most effective part of her speech Friday was her case for why Clinton-administration policies – an expanded earned-income tax credit, a higher minimum wage, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – helped poor and middle-class Americans get ahead, while the Bush administration policies that followed – tax breaks for the rich, unfunded wars – made their struggles harder.
There’s danger here:
If Republicans are smart, they’ll do everything in their power to avoid this debate. First, because they want to portray Hillary as running for Barack Obama’s third term, not her husband’s, since the Obama legacy is trickier to defend. Second, because the 2016 GOP nominee needs to embody change, which is hard to do when you’re depicted as George W. Bush. Third, because Bill Clinton is about 20 points more popular than Bush, and that’s highly unlikely to change over the next two years.
That scratches one candidate:
The one Republican presidential candidate who can’t avoid this debate is Jeb, a man who is known to the vast majority of Americans only as George W. Bush’s brother. Running him in 2016 is like nominating a close relative of Jefferson Davis as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 1872 or nominating a prominent member of Herbert Hoover’s cabinet to represent the GOP in 1948: It dredges up a past the party desperately needs to transcend.
Don’t go there:
The fact that Republican elites are so excited about a Jeb candidacy suggests that they don’t understand how large a shadow George W. Bush still casts over their party. Inside the GOP establishment, the Bushes represent responsible conservatism. But for many other Americans – especially Millennials – they represent economic meltdown and unwinnable war.
When Bill Clinton ran in 1992, he tried mightily to convince Americans that the negative stereotypes about Democrats left over from Jimmy Carter’s presidency did not apply to him. That’s what Republicans need in 2016 – a candidate who scrambles Americans’ stereotypes about the GOP by doing things George W. Bush never would. Right now, for all his flaws, Rand Paul is the only contender really trying.
For Jeb Bush, it’s virtually impossible. You can’t easily Sister Souljah your own brother.
Well, that leaves Rand Paul, the libertarian who puzzles so many Republicans with his talk of how the United States should not go out and fix the world, ever again, and that we even ought to bring most of our troops everywhere home, especially the guys in Germany and Japan and such places – and we should legalize most drugs too, by the way. Others are puzzled by his talk of how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was bad legislation, because it took away the right to hire and fire who you want, and the right to choose to whom you wish to sell goods and services, from good businessmen who would have done the right thing anyway, had you only let them. A totally unregulated free market would have taken care of all discrimination issues, because there’s always more money to be made by grabbing the most customers you can – and that would have included all minorities, sooner or later. That’s a fine theory, with its own impeccable internal logic, but everyone knows there is the external logic of keeping your white customers happy, as a business model. Rand Paul’s theories are elegant, but most see them as well beyond impractical. Unlike Jeb Bush, Rand Paul is a breath of fresh air, but the air is too rarified. He’s just odd. He won’t do.
That leaves Marco Rubio, and David Harsanyi considers him:
On Sunday, Marco Rubio informed Jonathan Karl on ABC’s “This Week” that he is ready to be president. “I think a president has to have a clear vision of where the country needs to go and clear ideas about how to get it there,” he went on. “And I think we’re very blessed in our party to have a number of people that fit those criteria.”
And Rubio seems a plausible option for Republicans in 2016. Falling somewhere between Jeb Bush-Chris Christie and the purportedly unelectable Rand Paul-Ted Cruz, Rubio is the sort of comfortable choice Republicans tend to decide on. As National Review’s Eliana Johnson points out, experts see numerous advantageous aspects to a Rubio presidential candidacy: He’s a proven conservative with a moderate demeanor. He’s comparatively youthful with a strong presence. And he has the ability to engage in Hispanic outreach. Hailing from an important state doesn’t hurt, either.
That’s fine, but Harsanyi sees this:
Whenever I listen to him these days, all I hear is Mitt Romney. If he’s really imbued with all these formidable political skills, why do so many of his appearances feel stilted? If he’s one of the fresh faces of a new GOP, why are his speeches crammed with platitudes that might have packed a serious punch in 1984? It’s not that he’s substantively wrong (though he offers so little in that regard). It’s not that he’s off-putting. It’s that he never really generates the sort of excitement or displays the sort of political acumen his reputation might have you believe he can, should, or will.
Harsanyi sees hype and decline:
When Rubio was christened the “The Republican Savior” by Time in 2013, it was immigration reform (specifically his backing for a pathway to citizenship) that would be his first test of leadership – his chance, according to the magazine, to show Republicans “that he’s not just geographically, demographically and ideologically correct.” And did he pass?
Whether you agree with him or not, Rubio’s time with the Gang of Eight featured some impressive moments. He didn’t shy away from critics. He went on talk radio and passionately argued his case. The base was angry but likely will forgive him. What should be more concerning, though, is the political naiveté he displayed allowing Democrats to use the issue – and him – to bludgeon the GOP. Rubio, in the end, was forced to step away from the entire mess, which makes it a failure on both a political level and a policy level.
And Rubio’s subsequent pandering was his way of letting everyone know he is “severely” conservative. His conservative voting record is first-rate, according to the American Conservative Union. But exactly how challenging has it been for a Republican senator in the minority to oppose Barack Obama over the past five years? Not very…
He just doesn’t have the right stuff:
Successful presidential candidates will often tap into the restive anxieties of American life – Ronald Reagan with invasive government and Obama with the inequities of capitalism, to name two. Perhaps an issue will arise that Rubio can grab, but right now he’s a bit out of step with his own party’s evolution.
By the way, Harsanyi is senior editor of The Federalist and the author of Obama’s Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama’s Reelection – and his comments above were at Reason, the website, and magazine of the same name, from the severely libertarian Cato Institute – which was created back in the seventies by one of the Koch Brothers. The evolution of Rubio’s own party’s might be seen a little differently over there.
It doesn’t matter. Myra Adams reports in this item that Rubio will have a hard time simply holding on to his Senate seat:
Rubio knows his race will be tough, since 2016 is the first time he would face a traditional two-person Senate battle. (His 2010 election was a quirky three-way race.) It has already been reported that Rubio’s most likely and strongest opponent would be Florida Congresswoman and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Furthermore, in a presidential election year, with Clinton likely at the top of the ticket, the electorate is going to be very different from the one that gave Rubio 49 percent of the vote in 2010.
And there’s this:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said asking whether a politician has ever tried marijuana is a “worthless question” in American politics.
Rubio, a potential 2016 candidate for president, has consistently dodged the question about if he experimented with the drug as a younger man. In an interview that aired Monday from ABC News-Yahoo News, Rubio reiterated that answering the question honestly is a lose-lose.
“Here is the problem with that question in American politics,” he said. “If you say that you did, suddenly there are people out there saying it is not a big deal, look at all these successful people who did it – and I don’t want my kids to smoke marijuana. And I don’t want other people’s kids to smoke marijuana. I don’t think there is a responsible way to recreationally use marijuana. On the other side of it, if you tell people that you didn’t, they won’t believe you. So it is just a worthless question.”
He added: “I understand it is a question today that people think they need to ask, but the bottom line is, I don’t think people should smoke marijuana.”
What? Where is this defensiveness coming from? What HAS this man been smoking? Take another toke, Marco. Mellow out – there are better ways to answer that question. A sly grin would have been better. Heck, that would have been cool.
This man won’t do, and Jeb Bush carries the weight of his father and brother on his shoulders, unfairly or not, and Rand Paul is just too far off everyone’s reservation. Of course there are others – Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and so on. There are plenty of pathological narcissists out there, each of whom is sure they should be the next president, and there’s a disinterested and ill-informed public to impress too – and there’s Hillary Clinton, plugging away, ready to rip them to shreds – and Barack Obama, probably glad that he’s a lame duck. After six years of that job, who wouldn’t be?