It felt good last week to have the 2014 midterm elections over and done. But soon after the votes were tallied and the winners and losers escorted off the stage, a sobering realization set in: Now begins the unofficial coverage of the 2016 presidential election.
Before we know it, we’ll see the hopeful and the hopeless hanging out in New Hampshire coffee shops and rubbing elbows with the locals in Iowa. But before the posturing begins and the onslaught of negative advertising sets in, I do want to point out two smart pieces of commentary on the presidential primaries.
Charles P. Pierce, political columnist for Esquire, challenges the conventional wisdom that “a cleared field” for the presumptive Democratic candidate is a good thing for the party. Waiting for Hillary Clinton to decide — will she run or won’t she? — strangles debate, he says, and prevents the party from even considering progressive alternatives like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
(I love Pierce’s description of Sanders as “an unapologetic liberal, an actual Socialist at a time when the word is thrown around to mean anyone who believes in repairing roads and fighting fires.”)
“To accept the idea that Hillary Clinton has cleared the field is not merely to put the Democratic party on the razor’s edge of one person’s decision,” Pierce argues. “It also is to give a kind of final victory to tactics over substance, to money over argument, to an easy consensus over a hard-won mandate, and ultimately, to campaigning over governing.”
Meanwhile, the Republicans have the opposite problem — no clear front-runner and a raft of second-tier possibilities.
Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, says the GOP would benefit tremendously if the primary is winnowed early and two of their most promising, relatively young candidates emerge from the pack. Having Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio outline their visions for where the party ought to go in the future and how they would get there would help determine what kind of party the Republicans want to be.
Rubio and Paul are not necessarily the most qualified of the Republican contenders, but “they are both deeply engaged with the challenges that would await a Republican president in a way that most of their potential rivals currently are not,” Douthat contends.
“Rubio has gone farther than any other likely 2016 contender in embracing what’s been dubbed ‘reform conservatism’ — a vision of domestic policy that would overhaul the tax code and safety net to support work, family and upward mobility.
“Paul, meanwhile, embodies a more libertarian approach to conservative reform, in which the Republican Party would shed its ‘party of the rich’ branding and reach out to new constituencies (minority voters and millennials especially) by focusing on issues — criminal justice reform, civil liberties, corporate welfare — where a critique of big or heavy-handed government might be unexpectedly resonant.
“There is overlap between the two visions, but there is also a real philosophical difference between the two men on how much government should do to address social problems.”
I dread the long slog of made-for-TV campaign events and attack ads as much as anybody. But I would welcome more than a one-horse race on the Democratic side — if for no other reason than to keep Hillary sharp and give her an opportunity to demonstrate that her heart is in it. Similarly, I would love it if the Republicans offered more than “an idea-free zone,” as they did in the 2012 primaries, and put forth at least two strong candidates who could begin to justify the midterm victories handed to them by millions of disenchanted voters.
Book jackets photograph: Jonathan Ernst, Reuters
Clinton photograph: Associated Press file photo