When ‘in­evitable’ can­di­dates dis­ap­point

Right and left are grum­bling over no­tion of an­other Bush-Clin­ton elec­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David A. Keene

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.


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