When ‘inevitable’ candidates disappoint
Right and left are grumbling over notion of another Bush-Clinton election
The “common wisdom” among politicos these days is that when the smoke clears, next year’s presidential election will pit former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush against former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. They’re both far better known, better financed with a wider network of activist supporters and more national experience than the rest of the wannabes.
This is all true and makes some of their supporters wonder why the rest are even bothering. Where do people like Rand Paul, Martin O’Malley and Joe Biden get off challenging the inevitable? Some, if not all, of the alternative candidates see a realistic chance of proving the common wisdom wrong. Where their supporters focus on the strengths of their candidate, Jeb and Hillary’s critics see opportunities.
Jeb and Hillary share similar strengths and weaknesses: Each unofficially entered the race able to raise far more money than any of their potential intra-party challengers, were welcomed by their party’s establishment and were lionized by an adulatory media. Both expected to wrap things up early — Jeb’s friends talked about vacuuming up so much cash in a “shock and awe” blitz that would leave potential competitors gasping for breath, Democrats proclaiming themselves “Ready for Hillary” were looking forward to a coronation rather than a nomination fight.
At the same time, both are toting significant baggage. They had been around for decades while many grass-roots Republican and Democratic voters long for new faces and new ideas. The very notion of yet another Bush-Clinton election impressed many as “so yesterday” that grumbling could be heard from rightand left-wing activists even as the two prepared to announce that neither is “owed” the partisan support they seem to take for granted.
Dynasty is not a word that appeals to Republicans or Democrats, and both Jeb and Hillary conjure up the image of dynastic families who are seen to believe in an inherent right to their party nomination and the presidency itself. It can be credibly argued that their family names and connections have helped them to where they are, but may not get them much further.
Each has already suffered subtle but noticeable snubs from their parties’ previous nominees. Mrs. Clinton may have served loyally if not particularly outstandingly as President Obama’s secretary of state, but Mr. Obama and those close to him have been less than laudatory in their references to her. It has even been reported that Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett may have been the first to leak news of Mrs. Clinton’s private email accounts to the media. When Jeb’s fundraisers pressured 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s backers as part of their “shock and awe” offensive, Mr. Romney threw a monkey wrench into the works by hinting that maybe he would run himself. In both cases, the clear enmity was quickly glossed over, but few were fooled; neither potential nominee is universally liked within their own party.
The two wannabes share yet another problem. Mrs. Clinton, who may down deep be just as “progressive” as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, has over the years reinvented herself as an establishment, slightly leftof-center Democratic moderate, an image that hurts her as the base of her party has shifted to the left. Her awkward attempts to emulate the populism of the new Democratic base sound hollow and insincere, and that can prove fatal to a presidential wannabe.
Mr. Bush faces a similar problem. After serving as a successful and quite popular conservative governor in an earlier day, he has over the last few years emphasized issues seen as suspect by the current GOP base. His response has been as ham-handed though different on the GOP side as Hillary’s among Democrats. Mr. Bush has said he intends to ignore the protestations of GOP conservatives even as he asks for their votes.
Those spouting the “common wisdom” of the moment are right often enough, but the rest of us won’t be surprised if both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Bush fail to live up to the moment’s expectations. David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.