With the 2012 election now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for politicos to move on to the next important thing. No, not the fiscal cliff, or comprehensive immigration reform, or the end of the Afghan War — it’s time to look at who’s got the mojo for the 2016 presidential election!
Here’s a quick look at the power rankings for the Democrats and Republicans who could succeed President Barack Obama, and a few who really probably couldn’t. Please note: these power rankings are based on a thoroughly scientific analysis of gut feel, conventional wisdom and a smattering of too-early-to-be-meaningful polling. Please, no wagering.
1. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Clinton has not indicated that she plans to run for president in 2016, and there are certainly reasons to think she won’t. For one thing, she’ll be 69 years old, old enough that nobody could begrudge her a happy, healthy retirement from public service. For another, Clinton has been praised for her work as Secretary of State; if she retires after four years as the nation’s top diplomat, few would question her place in history — a First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State of consequence.
Still, there’s also every reason to think that Clinton could make a run — and if so, every reason to think she could win. While Clinton will turn 69 before election day in 2016, that’s still slightly younger than President Ronald Reagan was when he was first elected. Clinton has a powerful network of donors dating back to her husband’s time in office. Moreover, her loyalty to Obama in 2008 after a bitter, divisive primary won over many who backed the current president, and her husband’s campaigning for Obama in 2012 won over many more. If Hillary Clinton runs, many Obama supporters would back her with the idea that it was simply her due.
Indeed, Hillary Clinton is in an extremely strong position if she chooses to run in 2016. It’s hard to imagine anyone beating her. Of course, that’s what people were saying in late 2004, and we all know what happened. There are no guarantees. But if Hillary Clinton decides to run again, it’s her race to lose.
It’s rare that a sitting vice president wouldn’t be at the top of a list of candidates. The fact that Biden is second to Clinton is less a reflection of Biden’s weakness than Clinton’s strength; clearly, if Hillary Clinton chooses not to run, Joe Biden would be in a very strong position to win his party’s nomination.
Biden has hinted that he is interested in running in 2016, but his age could be a consideration. Biden will be 73 on election day, and would turn 74 before being inaugurated, which would make him the oldest person ever to win a presidential election, even older than Reagan when he won his second term.
Still, as Biden demonstrated in his debate with Paul Ryan, he’s as sharp as he’s ever been. While Biden is certainly gaffe-prone, he clearly has a strong command of the issues.
If Clinton doesn’t run and Biden does, it’s hard not to think of him as the front-runner. Of course, Biden may well decide that at 74, it’s time to enjoy his grandchildren and retire after 46 years in public service.
Warren is in the position that Barack Obama was in eight years ago – a popular, respected leader who has just been elected to the Senate, who has a good rapport with the base, and who is already being touted for higher office.
Unlike Obama, however, Warren’s decision isn’t whether to run as a freshman Senator or to wait until she’s more experienced. Warren is 63 years old, and will be 67 in 2016. If she doesn’t run in the next cycle, she probably never runs for President.
Of course, there are worse fates than to be a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, and it’s entirely possible that Warren could decide that she’s already in a strong position to improve the way our nation’s financial system works. Nobody could blame her if she decided to try to stay in the Senate for the next 18 years.
If she does decide to seek the presidency, she’d certainly start with a strong base of support, especially among Democrats who want to see more done to address wealth inequality. I doubt she runs if Clinton is in the race, but if the Secretary of State decides to stay retired, I would expect Warren to take a shot — especially since losing in the primary wouldn’t keep her from running for reelection in 2018.
Andrew Cuomo has been named as a likely candidate for the presidency, and it’s easy to imagine him throwing his hat in the ring. The son of the respected Gov. Mario Cuomo, Andrew also served in the Clinton cabinet, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Cuomo polls reasonably well, in no small part because he comes with inherited name recognition. He also gets deserved plaudits for shepherding same-sex marriage through the legislature and into law. That’s no small accomplishment, and deserving of respect.
Cuomo does, however, have an Achilles heel. As Governor, he has angered liberal New Yorkers by hacking and slashing at the budget, cutting taxes on the rich while cutting services for the poor. Cuomo has also been far from friendly to organized labor during his time in office.
To say this puts him out of step with the Democratic Party of today is an understatement. Cuomo’s DLC governance style is not well-known outside of New York, but then, he hasn’t run for president yet. If he does throw his hat in the ring, it’s beyond likely that he will be pounded by opponents — with his support plummeting as his positions become better-known.
There’s one more thing auguring against a Cuomo run — the candidate at the top of the power rankings. Hillary Clinton was a senator from New York. It’s hard to imagine Cuomo being viable if most New York politicians are backing the Secretary of State.
O’Malley has all-but-announced for the 2016 race, and certainly has a strong record to run on. O’Malley has been unabashedly liberal, pushing ballot initiatives for same-sex marriage and a version of the DREAM Act, both of which passed.
O’Malley did not wow anyone with his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, but neither did he make any major mistakes. Moreover, his record of accomplishment in a blue, diverse state is indicative of a candidate who could lead the emerging Democratic majority.
For O’Malley, much will depend on his ability to lay the groundwork over the next two or three years. He cannot run for reelection in 2014, so he will have a full two years free to camp out in Iowa and New Hampshire. While it’s passing unlikely that O’Malley would beat Clinton or Biden, he could certainly be competitive among the next tier of candidates.
Deval Patrick is a great public speaker and has charisma to spare. His speech at the Democratic National Convention was possibly the best one delivered by someone not named Bill Clinton. Patrick has vaulted into contention, if not for the presidency, then for the chance to get into contention for the presidency.
Unfortunately for Gov. Patrick, he’s governor of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts politicians in the post-Kennedy era haven’t had much luck seeking the presidency. Between Mike Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney, Massachusetts has become the state that gives us losing presidential candidates.
Now, should that matter? Of course not. But it does. Any politician from Massachusetts is going to have to fight the undertow of the Bay State Curse.
7. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Many on the left were skeptical when Gillibrand was appointed to succeed Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Gillibrand was seen as too cautious, too moderate, and not enough of a “heavyweight.” Four years later, nobody’s saying that about Kirsten Gillibrand anymore. She’s earned a reputation as a tireless worker for progressive causes.
Gillibrand raised eyebrows with a visit to the Iowa delegation at the Democratic National Convention, but officially, she’s said she isn’t planning a 2016 run, and instead supports Hillary Clinton. If Clinton runs, Gillibrand almost certainly won’t, but if Clinton stays on the sidelines, Gillibrand could enter the race. If she does, don’t count her out.
Sherrod Brown has built a reputation as a hard-working, progressive senator, but that’s not his greatest asset as a potential candidate. Brown’s biggest advantage is location, location, location. It’s hard to see how a Republican wins without Ohio, and that’s where Brown hails from. If Democrats could start out with the Buckeye State locked down, it would give them a huge leg up in a bid to hang on to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Brown has the disadvantage that everyone on the bottom half of the power rankings has — he isn’t a household name outside of his home state. That doesn’t mean he can’t run and win, of course, but it does mean that he’ll have to work hard in Iowa and New Hamphshire to break out if he chooses to make a run.
Klobuchar has been touted as a potential candidate, and like Gillibrand, she took time out to address the Iowa delegation at the Democratic National Convention. It’s entirely possible that Klobuchar could be eyeing the White House.
Klobuchar has run up two impressive wins in Minnesota, winning 58 percent of the vote in the 2006 wave election, and taking 65 percent in this year’s reelection bid. She’s positioned herself as a stable, moderate, sensible Minnesota politician, one who appeals to voters on both sides of the aisle.
Of course, that’s a sign that Klobuchar is not a liberal firebrand — and she certainly is not. She’s much closer to Bill Clinton than Barack Obama. Now, Bill Clinton isn’t bad, but Klobuchar is probably to the right of most Democratic activists.
In a crowded field, though, that could benefit her; there are still a lot of DLC Democrats around. If Cuomo runs, it’s hard to see her winning them, but if he doesn’t, Klobuchar could have the party’s centrists to herself.
Sebelius has been touted as a candidate if Clinton decides not to run, and certainly, she’s a politician with some skill. It’s not easy to win statewide office as a Democrat in Kansas, but Sebelius managed it; a politician who can do that is capable of winning her party’s nomination for the presidency.
Sebelius will have to fight the hangover of her decision to keep Plan B from becoming an over-the-counter drug, but she will be a point person in implementing the Affordable Care Act over the next four years, something that is bound to keep her profile high. That’s a double-edged sword, though; because she’ll be busy implementing Obamacare, it will be hard for her to raise the kind of money and build the kind of campaign that can win. If Sebelius leaves her post after 2014, she’s almost certainly thinking of running. If she stays on, she’s probably decided that ending your career in the cabinet is not too shabby.
Booker’s meteoric rise has been driven by his boundless energy. It’s hard to hate on an elected official who takes Twitter requests for driveway shoveling and occasionally saves people from burning buildings.
Booker’s path to the presidency is not simple, though. For better or for worse, Mayor of Newark is not the type of position that screams “ready to be president.” To be a viable candidate, Booker must win higher office, and that means he must beat New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie next year.
If Booker wins in 2013, he will certainly have the opportunity to run if he chooses. But that’s a big if. Christie has gained very positive reviews for his handling of the post-Hurricane Sandy recovery effort, and Christie himself has to win to have a shot at 2016. In other words, 2013 becomes the New Jersey primary — the loser of the governor’s race is probably out of the running, at least for this cycle.
Even if he wins, though, Booker will be a year behind his opponents for the nomination, and will have to deal with the inevitable backlash should he run for governor and immediately begin running for president. For that reason, I doubt 2016 is Booker’s cycle, at least for the presidency. The good news for Booker is that he’s young, he’s got a bright future ahead of him, and if he doesn’t run, he’ll be at the top of the VP shortlist.
12. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio
Kucinich lost his House seat this year, and won’t have anything better to do. Why not run in 2016? Oh, sure, he won’t do better than he did in 2004 and 2008, but hey, it’ll keep him off the streets and keep him occupied. I think that’s a good reason to run.
The GOP primaries are almost certain to come down to a battle of vision between the Tea Party true believers and the old school, quasi-sensible hacks — the political operatives who recognize that purity is not a winning strategy. In the wake of Romney’s defeat, the hacks have been ascendant — hence the sudden embrace by some party leaders of immigration reform.
The true believers are unlikely to go gentle into that goodnight, however. They still have the powerful counter-argument that Romney was really a Massachusetts moderate who failed the movement. Their solution will be to run a candidate who has a proven track record of hating the poor and making the lives of women miserable.
The best-positioned candidate to articulate a message of purity is Paul Ryan. Ryan came out of the Romney campaign largely unscathed among the right; Romney pretty much put Ryan on a bus after the Vice Presidential Debate, which means Ryan wasn’t a visible part of the Romney campaign’s defeat. What’s more, conservatives can argue that Ryan’s budget plan would have won over voters in a way that Romney’s vagueness didn’t.
Ryan has the social conservative bona fides to win, and he’s certainly fiscally conservative. He’s not the only candidate that the right could rally around, but he’s probably the best-positioned. And while it’s possible that Republicans will embrace the hacks, I still tend to think that the energy and activism in the party is with the true believers. For that reason, Ryan starts out atop the list.
If the race is going to be between hacks and true believers, then the hacks are going to need a standard-bearer. There are certainly a few candidates to choose from, but none is in better position than John Ellis “Jeb” Bush.
Now, I can see you objecting, noting that the last time we had a President named Bush, things didn’t work out so well. Surely, surely, the Republicans wouldn’t go back to the Bush family again, would they?
Of course they would. For one thing, Republicans have largely blocked out 2001-2009 from their collective memories. For another, Republicans often look back to 1994 wistfully. Why? Because that year, George W. Bush won the Texas governorship, and Jeb Bush barely lost in Florida. Had Jeb won, it’s likely he would have been the Bush running for president in 2000. Would he have won? Maybe. And while it’s damning with faint praise, most observers do believe that Jeb is the more competent of the Bush brothers.
Since leaving office, Jeb has made a living acting like someone who is aware of reality, arguing in favor of immigration reform, and saying he’d be willing to accept some revenue increases as part of a budget deal. Of course, he’s also praised his brother, so he’s not entirely reality-based — but he at least has a passing familiarity with the concept.
There’s no guarantee that Bush runs, but if he does, he’s got the Bush network that he can plug into. That alone will scare off a number of potential candidates. If Jeb is the candidate, he’s probably the standard-bearer for the hacks, and we might get a chance to see whether America is ready for four more years of Bushes. (Spoiler alert: we aren’t.)
Marco Rubio is a good public speaker and pretty charismatic, but that’s not why he’s being touted by GOPers. No, Rubio is on the short list because he’s Latino, and if 2012 has taught the GOP anything, it’s that they desperately need to win over Latinos. If they nominate Rubio, the thinking goes, Latinos will rush to vote for Republicans for the same reason whites rushed to vote for Mitt Romney.
Now, I do not want to sell Rubio short. His speech at the RNC was very good, and had the Romney campaign not gotten the bright idea to bump it out of prime time in favor of Clint Eastwood yelling at a chair, it would have been pretty effective. Rubio has some ethical issues, and he’s flat-out lied about the timing of his parents’ departure from Cuba, but he also won election in a swing state. He’s clearly got political skill, and Democrats underestimate him at their peril.
That said, Republicans are wrong if they think Rubio will automatically win over Latino voters. Believe it or not, Latinos vote based on issues, and on the issues, Rubio has been out of step with the majority of them. Hispanic voters are not likely to embrace a candidate who has his roots in the anti-immigration, Tea Party wing of the party, any more than African American voters would have embraced Herman Cain.
Rubio’s path gets more difficult if Jeb Bush jumps into the race — a fellow Floridian in the mix would make fundraising tougher. Still, he’s one of the leading lights on the party’s right wing, and likely the strongest challenger to Ryan for that mantle.
Assuming, as I do, that Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, will not run in 2016, the most likely libertarian-wing candidate to catch on will be his son, Rand, by dynastic succession.
Thus far, Rand has been a more consistent Republican than Ron, which gives him a slightly-better chance at getting the party’s nomination. Emphasis on “slightly” — Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 runs proved that there is a significant minority of the Republican Party that leans libertarian, and a more significant majority that does not.
Nevertheless, the Ron Paul Revolutionaries will almost certainly turn out for Rand, meaning that Rand Paul has the potential to run a strong third or fourth everywhere in the country, before toying with and ultimately rejecting a third-party run. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Jindal is still trying to live down his disastrous 2009 Republican Response to President Barack Obama, which was widely panned, and may have kept him out of the 2012 race. Time heals all wounds, though, and Jindal is trying to remake himself, not as the guy who once performed an exorcism in college, or the guy who railed against monitoring volcanoes, but as a guy who wants to end “dumbed down conservatism.” That puts Jindal squarely in the hack camp, and if Jeb Bush doesn’t run, he’s got a chance to be that group’s leader.
Jindal is far from a moderate, of course, but he does seem to at least possess enough awareness to know that it’s important to cloak conservatism in a veneer of stability. He’s taking a page out of Karl Rove’s playbook, arguing for a compassionate conservatism.
Jindal still has a few big strikes against him. He’s not proven an especially adroit public speaker, and he lacks the je ne sais quoi of Marco Rubio. Politically, though, it makes sense for him to line up with the hacks — the path is clearer on that side.
6. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Will Our Michele make a run for the presidency in 2016? It’s possible. She’s rumored to be eyeing a matchup with Sen. Al Franken, R-Minn., in 2014, and if she loses that (as she almost certainly would), she’ll have some time on her hands. Granted, 2012 was a bit of a wipeout for her, but using logic to figure out what Bachmann is going to do is silly.
If she runs, Bachmann has a strong natural constituency among far-right evangelicals. It’s easy to forget, but had Rick Perry not entered the race in late 2011, Bachmann might well have won Iowa; Perry’s entry and swift implosion disrupted Bachmann’s momentum, and caused evangelical support to ping-pong between Cain and Santorum.
It’s unclear whether Bachmann could rebuild the support she had in August of 2011, but if she could, she can be a potential player in the presidential race.
7. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
Chris Christie is arguably more popular nationally than ever. In the wake of a natural disaster, he did what leaders are supposed to do — he put politics aside, worked across the aisle, and focused on getting things back to normal for the people in his state. Whatever you think about Christie’s positions on unions, education and women’s rights, you have to respect his willingness to work with and praise President Obama.
Still, that willingness to work with Obama is a big problem for Christie. Republicans are still struggling with Obama’s victory, and Hurricane Sandy’s impact is considered a factor in that. More than a few Republicans see Christie as a Benedict Arnold, whose kind words for Obama’s leadership helped the Kenyan Muslim Usurper win the presidency. For those voters, Christie committed an unforgivable sin.
Of course, Christie’s base is with the hacks, not the true believers. The political operatives in the GOP know full well that Christie helped himself with swing voters, and they will cut Christie some slack. Because of that, Christie still has a reasonable shot at the nomination. Of course, all this presupposes that he beats Cory Booker in 2013; if he loses, he’s probably done, at least for the 2016 cycle.
Bob McDonnell has made no secret of his lust for power. He was willing to reverse course on abortion restrictions to make himself a more palatable VP candidate, and he’s mentioned often as a GOP player for 2016.
That said, McDonnell earned the nickname “Vaginal Probe Bob,” and he’s unlikely to shake it. That’s not a big problem for the GOP, but it will hurt his chances of winning in the general. More than that, McDonnell simply lacks a strong argument for GOP support; he’s the early favorite to be the Tim Pawlenty of 2016.
Perry’s implosion in 2012 was truly an awesome thing to behold. Perry went from front-runner to national punchline in a matter of months. He was rambling, incoherent, and…uh…I forgot the third thing. Oops.
Still, Perry hasn’t totally given up on the idea of running for president again, and his camp has been blaming drugs he took to manage pain from back surgery for Perry’s decidedly uneven performance.
It’s hard to imagine Perry making a comeback, but interestingly, the thing that really did in his candidacy — his support for the DREAM Act — is something that could be a feature, not a bug, in 2016. Is it possible Perry could return? Well, it will take luck, money, and…er….
Ted Cruz has already begun to be touted as a 2016 candidate, for much the same reason as Marco Rubio — he’s Latino, and the GOP needs to win over Latinos. Unlike Rubio, however, Cruz has not yet learned to moderate his positions to win over a broad swath of the electorate. He’s from Texas, and he’s a Republican — he hasn’t had to.
It’s a bit early for Cruz to be contemplating a run, and I doubt he jumps in if Rubio runs.
Finally, we come to the Rogue herself. Sarah Palin makes the list simply to allow me to say this: Sarah Palin shouldn’t be on anyone’s list. She didn’t run in 2008, when she had every opportunity to. That was her best chance. With every passing day, Palin becomes less of a political figure and more of a joke. It’s pretty clear that Palin has decided that she’s better off cashing in on her 15 minutes of fame, rather than seeking higher office. I encourage her in this — because the country is better off, too.
Palin will not run. If she does run, she will not get the nomination. You can take that to the bank.