Just a few days ago, I mentioned the person that Republicans should be begging and pleading to declare that he belongs to their party and urging to run for office: Admiral William McRaven, who is in a perfect position to do just that since he retired from the Navy just a few days ago.
McRaven is the rare American public figure who is untouched (and unsullied) by the political climate of the last 20 years. He was the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command during a time when the work of the Special Forces truly stood out as the best of the best. He played a major role in finding Saddam Hussein and organizing and commanding the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. McRaven even continued taking part in Navy SEAL raids in Afghanistan while he was a three-star Admiral.
Who could run against that? How would any career politician — Democrat or Republican — possibly challenge Admiral McRaven if he decided to run for President? They couldn’t. McRaven could say, “This country needs leadership and this is how I’ve led,” and no politician could stand up and say, “Well, you haven’t served in Congress or as an elected official” because McRaven could just say, “Exactly. And this is how I led…”
Hell, I’m starting to hope he’s a Democrat because I’ve talked myself into McRaven for President.
If it happened, it would automatically hand the election over to the Democrats. A third party candidate would split the non-Democratic vote, and neither the mainstream Republican candidate or the third party Tea Party candidate would be able to garner the votes needed to win many, if any, states. It would result in a Democratic landslide in the Electoral College, and it would be catastrophic for the GOP.
An example of what this would look like is the 1912 election when incumbent President William Howard Taft, a Republican, was challenged by his mentor and predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, for the GOP nomination. Since Taft was President and the President is head of the party, Taft controlled enough delegates to hold on to the Republican nomination despite Roosevelt’s popularity nationally and scores of dissatisfied Republicans. When Taft was renominated, Roosevelt bolted from the party and became the Progressive Party (or “Bull Moose” Party) nominee. The Taft/Roosevelt split also fractured the Republican Party and the scattered any possible majority for President Taft or Roosevelt. It also drove many progressive Republicans towards the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, who pledged a progressive platform. Wilson hadn’t even served two years as Governor of New Jersey at that point (his only experience in elective politics), but the drama within the Republican Party during the 1912 election guaranteed Wilson’s victory so far out that Wilson spent much of the final weeks of the campaign working to elect Democratic members of Congress to work with him once he was elected President instead of focusing on his own campaign.
The final result was an Electoral College and popular vote bloodbath. In the Electoral College, Wilson won 435 votes to Roosevelt’s 88 and Taft’s 8. Wilson won 42% of the popular vote while Roosevelt won 27% and Taft won 23%. It would be very difficult for a third party candidate to win a Presidential election — not impossible, but very difficult. For a third party candidate to win, that party would likely need to be on the ballot in two or three Presidential elections first in order to gain exposure, complete ballot access nationally, and win the confidence of an electorate which has become conditioned to vote for one of two major parties. A third party candidate’s success in a Presidential election would also likely require a solid foundation on the local, state, and federal love, so that there is a base of supporters, surrogates, and other elected officials to advocate the party and its candidate. A third party’s success wouldn’t come from winning one Presidential election; it would come from electing members of Congress, Governors, local officials, and then winning a Presidential election. Like I said, it’s not impossible, but it is very difficult — and it is way harder now than it was in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt was just a few years removed from a very popular Presidency and one of the most famous people in the world.
Finally — and this is the most important thing pertaining to your question — a Tea Party candidate absolutely can not and will not ever win a national election. A third party candidate winning a Presidential election is unlikely but not impossible; a Tea Party candidate winning a Presidential election is impossible. There is no way to make the Electoral College math work for a Tea Party candidate on the national level. And if the Tea Party did run a third party candidate for President, that would be as a major protest against the mainstream Republican Party. It would sabotage the party’s shot at that particular election, and possibly even fatally split the party on a national level. Tea Party candidates can win (and have won) seats in Congress, but a national election victory isn’t even slightly possible. The GOP would do everything it could to prevent a third party candidate from the Tea Party running for President.
An incumbent Republican Governor? As I’ve said many times, I don’t see the Electoral College math working out in 2016 for any Republican candidate, and I especially don’t see any current Republican Governor winning the nomination or election. The best two candidates for the GOP, in my opinion, are Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Now, they are both former Governors, of course, but not currently in office.
With that said, I do believe Governors tend to be the best Presidential candidates and have the best “head start” of sorts if elected President. Governors have executive experience that is about the closest thing to the Presidency that one can experience, even if they are on completely different levels.
If I had to choose the incumbent Governor who would be the best candidate nationally for the GOP in 2016, I’d say that it’s Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. He has a lot going for him and is a rising star, but 2016 is too soon for Governor Sandoval. Still, if I’m forced to pick a GOP Governor currently serving, that’s who I would put my money on.
I don’t know what party he belongs to, but if the GOP were smart, they’d be BEGGING Admiral William McRaven to declare that he is Republican and anoint him as their 2016 Presidential nominee tomorrow. Admiral McRaven is a star, he’s a hell of a public speaker, he’s the commander of the special operations forces that played such an integral part in the War on Terror, and while President Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Admiral McRaven planned the details and oversaw the operation as it was being carried out. General David Petraeus would have been a perfect choice before his extramarital affair took a bit of the shine off of him (General Petraeus could still bounce back from that if he wanted to run); Admiral McRaven would be a dangerous candidate against any of the most-talked-about potential 2016 candidates. He could even beat Hillary Clinton.
Would he run? I don’t know. And if Admiral McRaven did run, is he even a Republican? That’s what the GOP should be trying to figure out. Like I said, General Petraeus could rise above the affair he had and still be a Presidential contender, so I think the GOP should be targeting him, too, trying to ascertain whether he is a Republican, and urging him to consider seeking the Presidency.
We haven’t elected a President primarily known for his military career since Dwight D. Eisenhower, but we also haven’t had top-level military commanders seek the Presidency very often since then. General Wesley Clark sought the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination, but I thought his campaign was really low-key and half-assed. I actually supported General Clark at first in 2004, but it seemed like I was more excited about the prospect of his candidacy than the General was. Other than Clark, nobody primarily known for being a military commander has even sought a major party’s Presidential nomination since Eisenhower was elected.
Al Gore will always be a potential wild card who could shake up the race, as well, but someone like Admiral McRaven would really turn things on their head. The least popular Americans in the country right now are politicians with the exception of a few state Governors who still enjoy a bit of popularity in their own regions but are largely unknown outside of that area. Who better to run for President at a time when Americans have a record-low opinion of politicians than someone who ISN’T a politician? It is difficult for non-politicians to gain traction in Presidential elections because as unpopular as politicians might be, the electorate immediately wonders whether a person who hasn’t held elective office is qualified to lead. Those questions would be null-and-void with Admiral William McRaven. Of course he is qualified to lead, and he’s not only undamaged by the toxic political climate of the 21st Century but he’s so above politics that we don’t even know what party he belongs to until he tells us. I never mention him with potential 2016 candidates because I’ve never heard his name connected with a possible run (or connected with any of the parties), but Admiral McRaven could win and win big (even against Hillary Clinton) if he could be convinced to run.
Well, let’s be clear, for the Democrats to miraculously win both chambers of Congress in November, it would require a more serious wound than the GOP shooting itself in the foot. Both parties shoot each of their members in both feet almost as a requirement for taking your seat in the House and Senate; so, it’s definitely not happening.
But, yes, if Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, President Obama would still have time to get some things done — roughly from the day the new Congressional session began (January 3, 2015) until the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in the summer of 2016. After the nominating conventions, all eyes turn to the general election, of course, but more crucially, members of Congress (particularly the House since all members face re-election) focus on their own campaigns and get very cautious. But for those 18 months or so, the President could definitely get some things done, and would be smart to push through immigration reform and try to shore up the liberal side of the Supreme Court since it’s up-in-the-air who the next President will be and it’s impossible to say whether there would be favorable conditions for confirmation in the 115th Congress that starts in 2017.
It’s not happening, though. And, conversely, if the Republicans win both chambers of Congress on November 4th, President Obama becomes a lame-duck President before he eats breakfast on the morning of November 5th.
I don’t think any Republican can win a national election against Hillary Clinton. I think Jon Huntsman could give her a run for her money, but that would require Huntsman wrapping up the GOP nomination extremely early and the rest of the country getting to know him really well before the general election season kicks into gear. But that’s not going to happen. The GOP’s best chance — and I know that it isn’t exciting and it isn’t what most people want to see — is Jeb Bush. Or, even less exciting — Mitt Romney. I can’t imagine Romney running again unless Bush decides not to and the GOP is dying for someone who could give them a shot, but Romney is relatively undamaged for a guy who lost a Presidential election.
Interestingly, if Mitt Romney ran again in 2016, that might remove the problems Hillary is going to face about her age. A lot of people don’t realize this because he doesn’t seem to age, but Mitt Romney is actually over 7 months older than Hillary. If it was Hillary vs. Mitt, no matter what the outcome, the next President would be the second-oldest to ever be elected.
Some of the more lefty-liberals (and full disclosure: I am one of them) will grumble about Hillary Clinton’s positioning, but far-left Democrats understand that Bernie Sanders can’t win a national election. I’m not sure if far-right Republicans recognize that Rick Santorum or Rand Paul or Ted Cruz can’t win a national election. That’s the difference between the extreme wings of the party, in my opinion. At some point, people need to understand that they will not get everything that they want from every candidate; parties will nominate the candidate that has the best chance to win, and it might not be everybody’s first choice, but Hillary Clinton is that person for the Democratic Party in 2016.
I don’t worry about whether Hillary has grown since the 2008 campaign. First of all, she knows that she’s not invincible. I think that there was an arrogance to her campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2007 and 2008. Not that Hillary was being arrogant, but that her campaign as a whole felt like it was a coronation. There is a risk of that in 2016 because she’s been put forward as the inevitable candidate, but I think Hillary recognizes that possibility, which is why she’s putting off an official announcement for as long as possible. Plus, she’s older and doesn’t want to run a 20-month-long national campaign. On top of all of that, Hillary’s term as Secretary of State was a different type of experience for her. She gained some time as an actual decision-maker in the Executive branch and became a foreign policy heavyweight. Hillary’s biggest challenge in 2016 isn’t going to be that she hasn’t grown; it’s going to be her connection to President Obama. If his popularity continues to nose-dive — and Presidents don’t normally get a spike in popularity during the final two years of a two-term Presidency — she’ll have to distance herself from him even more, and that won’t be easy.
I like Governor Dean, but I don’t see that happening. There are three Democrats who would be ahead of him if he jumped in the race — Hillary Clinton, Vice President Biden, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. One of those three Democrats will be the Democratic nominee in 2016. If Hillary and Vice President Biden didn’t run for some reason, Dean might be in a position to gain some traction, but once the rest of the country sees Governor O’Malley, it’ll be all over. O’Malley is smooth and he’s the real deal.
Don’t mistake the noisy Tea Party movement and the extremists in the Republican Party as the GOP’s base. They make the most noise, but they don’t cast the most votes, especially in a general election — particularly a Presidential one. Cantor got knocked off, but that’s one guy in one district. Lamar Alexander — a far more moderate Republican easily beat back a challenge tonight in Tennessee from his right, and Pat Roberts did the same thing in Kansas on Tuesday. If those two Senators hadn’t been successful in states where the Tea Party/Libertarian element has been progressing quite strongly over the past couple of years then I might re-think a moderate Republican’s ability to win the GOP nomination in 2016.
Listen, it’s not that some of the other Presidential contenders who are mentioned — Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, etc, etc, etc — can’t win the GOP nomination. It’s definitely possible that they could, but none of them can win the actual election, and as out-of-touch as the two major political parties might seem, neither of them are going to nominate somebody who they know don’t have a shot at winning the election. And I don’t think Christie could even win the nomination. He’s damaged. Sure, he might do fine in the tri-state area, but it’s going to take more than those three states to clinch the GOP nomination, and it’s certainly not going to win him the general election. That bridge deal really hurt Christie in areas where he definitely would have been the top choice immediately after the 2012 election — he’s not a member of Congress and he’s not a Bush, so I’m sure many Republicans were dying to support him. But he screwed up at the wrong time and he’s way more damaged from that scandal than Jeb Bush is by his family. Plus, George H.W. Bush is the most popular ex-President alive today and George W. Bush’s reputation and approval rating has been rising because he’s been scarce, he’s largely been out of the political game, and all former Presidents gain in popularity the further away from their term they get.
The “why” isn’t much deeper than this: the Republicans want to win, and they cannot win with Christie because I simply don’t think there’s enough time for him to rehabilitate himself by the time the Republican primary season hits full swing. If he had another year, yes, he’d probably be able to get back to where he was in November 2012. But he doesn’t, and he can’t. The GOP wants to win and, right now, if we’re looking at the list of contenders most often mentioned for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, Jeb Bush is simply the best bet.
We are still a long way away from the Presidential election cycle truly kicking off. We’re not even to the midterms yet, and that will have major implications on the next two years and the Presidential race. So, all of this can and will probably change. But, today, in August 2014, it’s Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney if the GOP wants to actually win the White House and not just nominate somebody that those noisy people like. The extremists are not the base in either party, and the power lies with the base because the votes lie with the base. If the moderates and independents were the minority in the Republican Party, Mitt Romney and John McCain wouldn’t have been the last two Presidential nominees, John Boehner wouldn’t be Speaker, and Cantor’s primary defeat would have been the barometer for this midterm election cycle and not the exception.
With Presidential politics, it’s usually not much deeper than the fact that the party will nominate the person who gives them the best chance to win and Jeb Bush is that person over everyone else because of the Electoral College math; Jeb Bush is that person over Chris Christie specifically because Christie is damaged nationally from the bridge scandal and doesn’t have enough time to repair that damage; and Jeb Bush is that person because the Bush name won’t damage him as much as some people think, especially if the candidate that the other side is nominating is named “Clinton”. I guess the second part of that last sentence is more of the “why” that you’re asking for, but honestly, the first part of the sentence is a “why”, too. It’s frustrating and seems silly that something so important can be answered with such a broad statement, but sometimes in politics the reason that a candidate can’t win is simply that a candidate can’t win. It can sound dismissive or like someone is trying to dodge the question, but that is often the explanation; Chris Christie can’t win because Chris Christie can’t win.
Jeb Bush is the GOP’s best bet, and he’s probably only a little bit better of a bet than simply nominating Mitt Romney again. The GOP is in trouble in the Electoral College; to be honest, I don’t think they have anybody who is a registered Republican that can actually win a general election because the Electoral College math doesn’t look like it will add up (in my opinion, of course). I still think Jon Huntsman could win a general election if he was nominated early and the rest of the country became familiar with him, but Huntsman can’t win the GOP nomination,
Christie can’t win the nomination, either, and he wouldn’t win a general election against Clinton, Biden, or O’Malley, and one of those three people will be the Democratic candidate in 2016.
Anybody else might win the nomination, but they’ll be hammered in the Electoral College. Rick Perry is rebuilding himself pretty well and the “border crisis” will help him with Republicans because he can be seen to be standing up to a highly-unpopular President at a very advantageous time. He also has plenty of opportunities to make people forget about 2012, and once we’re in the middle of the Presidential campaign cycle and things start ramping up for the primaries, 2012 will seem like a lifetime ago, so Perry has a shot at the nomination. But he can’t win the general election. Nobody in the GOP can — and nobody will, unless there’s some drastic movement between now-and-then that makes some of the traditional battleground states less battlegroundey (I’m trademarking that word) and more likely to swing to Republicans. I hate to sound like a predatory political strategist, but women are the key in battleground states, and women aren’t switching sides for any of the potential 2016 contenders we’re hearing about on the Republican side.
You know what’s crazy? President Obama is…let’s be honest…basically a lame-duck already. I know people like me still have hope and we’re desperately trying to fight that perception, but this isn’t the point in Presidential Administrations were Presidents traditionally bounce back from being stuck in the doldrums. But even if the Republicans win both houses of Congress in November (definitely possible) and have a lame-duck President from Election Day 2014 until Election Day 2016, they are still going to need a really big play to make the Electoral College work in their favor. In fact, winning both chambers of Congress and having a lame-duck President could hurt them even worse in 2016 because they won’t have anybody to blame. Right now, the House Republicans can blame the Senate and say, “Hey, we passed such-and-such bill and the Senate killed it.” Congress is more unpopular than it was at the point in history where states were seceding and their Representatives and Senators were standing up to give farewell addresses where they basically gave shout-outs to the South, recited love poems to slavery, dissed Abraham Lincoln, and then dropped the microphone. Currently, the American people see that and say Congress sucks but distribute their hatred towards Congress equally because one chamber is run by the Republicans and one chamber is run by Democrats. If that changes and Republicans control both chambers, they’ll be perceived (even more so than now) as obstructionists because of how terrible the Legislative Branch that they control is. Sure, they can blame Obama, but they’ve been doing that since 2009. We’re numb to it. And if he’s a lame-duck and Republicans SAY he’s a lame-duck and then scream about how he’s not doing anything, a big part of the electorate will just automatically respond with, “Of course he’s not doing anything…he’s a lame-duck. Oh, and you control both chambers of Congress, so this is pretty much all your fault.”
If I were a Republican strategist, I would have done the political version of tanking in the NBA. There have recently been NBA teams who are in the “rebuilding stages” and it has been suggested those some of those teams are not putting out the best possible combinations of players during the season and making it more difficult to win because the worse your team is, the more ping-pong balls you get for the NBA Draft Lottery, ideally raising your chances of winning said Draft Lottery and getting the top pick in the NBA Draft. If your team does that for a couple of years, it’s hoped that the team will draft better players and be able to build a young, successful team from scratch. If I were a GOP political strategist, I’d look at the current landslide and tank in 2014 — I’d try to lose both chambers of Congress and then spend the next two years blaming the Democratic Congress and the Democratic President for being awful and then make it seem as if the Republicans are riding to the rescue in 2016. You give up two years of nothing for four-to-eight years of everything. Both sides are responsible for the condition we’re in now and the political climate in the country (and I don’t just mean the politicians from both sides, either; many regular Americans are also at fault). But perception means everything in politics and most Americans don’t look deeply enough at the issues or the responses to those issues to accurately and fairly understand them. So that all-or-nothing (or, I guess it would be a “nothing-to-attain-all”) situation would be the way to go. If I were a Republican strategist. But I am not. A Republican. Strategist.