During the summer, I wrote up a fairly lengthy analysis of 2016 Presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican. Since that time, one Democrat — Jim Webb — has unofficially thrown his hat into the ring by forming an exploratory committee, a formality that always precedes an official announcement. Meanwhile, a Republican — Ben Carson — looks all but certain to make some type of official announcement in coming days. Neither, in my opinion, will make much of a difference, but it is fun to analyze them anyways.
First, as The Washington Post reports, former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) looks to be the first major contender. Webb is a ferociously moderate Democrat, the epitome of so-called “blue dog” values. A longtime military officer, his service culminated with him being the Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. He thereafter served one term in the Senate from Virginia, from 2007 to 2013. He declined to stand for re-election because, as he put it, he hated Washington and its dysfunction. Historically, he has also been a somewhat harsh critic of President Barack Obama, both deriding Obamacare and lambasting the president’s general use of executive power.
Now, I’m surely not the most obsequious fan of Obama, notwithstanding my recent adulation. I think, given his horrendous unpopularity, that the Democrats would not be all that misguided to look toward a candidate not afraid of criticizing ‘the anointed one,’ so to speak. I think former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the definitive Democratic (if not general election) frontrunner, is playing a somewhat safe middle ground by not complimenting or criticizing Obama too heavily. From a policy point of view, I don’t find anything wrong with Webb. He almost reminds me of a modern-day Jimmy Carter. But America, politically speaking, has gotten far dumber — and far less open minded –since the days of the the peanut farmer from Georgia. The media crowns winners years in advance now in the dichotomous, “four legs good, two legs bad” dystopia that we currently live in. Even though I would still venture to say that Clinton is the better candidate because of both policy and, especially, general election standing, her political future has been written years in advance as practically an inevitability.
Second, with Bloomberg Politics doing the honors, Ben Carson has all-but-officially-announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination for president. A brilliant surgeon, Carson’s intellectual prowess does not appear to extend to the political arena, where he bumbles from one conspiracy theory to the next. In addition to having no political experience whatsoever, Carson appears more than willing to cater to the lowest common denominator. I believe he recently suggested he would literally live in some type of socialist autocracy by 2016, if my memory serves me right. If he’s campaigning for a seat on a Fox News talk show, right on. But if he’s serious about the presidency, we should insist he move along.
Otherwise, there are plenty of the same Republican names flirting with the issues as there were in the summer. A few new names include Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who does not have much of a base to prop him up. Additionally, although he hasn’t made official comments one way or another, Governor John Kasich (R-OH) is starting to cause more of a buzz. A pragmatic Republican, he has developed a penchant for moderation, and has received a generous pour of positive press since his landslide re-election.
But perhaps the most significant point I wish to discuss tonight is what I feel is the growing momentum around the inevitable campaign of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). All other things being equal, I think he would win a Republican primary held today. Perhaps more importantly, I think he would also defeat Clinton in a general election.
Cruz is brilliant and articulate. Those with little exposure to him generally like what they see, and he would be sure to extend this mindset to the campaign trail. And while, nationally, his identification is generally negative, the vast majority of Americans do not know who he is. If, for example, I walked around West Campus in Austin, the setting of my apartment, and stopped the first 10 people I spotted, I doubt more than five would be aware of the existence of our state’s junior senator. This, at ostensibly the best pubic institution of higher learning in the state. Transport me to a state outside of Texas, and I’d postulate the number drops to three. For most Americans, including most who will vote in the 2016 election, their first exposure to Cruz will be after he would lock up the Republican nomination.
This is where what I call Cruz’s “Obama resemblance” becomes so important. Throughout the summer, I highlighted what I found to be a similarity. While many other pundits have made the Cruz-Obama connection, including my contemporary Erica Greider in Politico, these profiles have all focused on the duo’s lack of experience (less than one full term in the Senate). However, rather than experience, Cruz’s reminiscence to Obama is his cult-like popularity among his party’s base, and how it provides a uniquely strong transition from primary to general election mode for a presidential candidate.
Throughout the 2008 primaries, and even continuing into recent times, Obama has enjoyed almost a messianic popularity among the most diehard Democrats, the ones who vote in all the primaries. I lamented this fact in The Brandeis Justice last year. Similarly, Cruz looks like he is the holy one among Tea Party Republicans, the exact type who will hand him decisive victories in the Iowa Caucuses and South Carolina Primary, both of which will help propel him to victory in the Republican primaries. I have noted many times that Clinton’s weakness in 2008 was her record of centrism on many important issues. Democrats, fed up with perceived moderation in their party, flocked to the charismatic young guy who told them exactly what they wanted to hear; never mind that he was lying. Thus, Obama talked out of both sides of his mouth, appealing to his base with one breath and the general electorate with the other. Expect Cruz to do the same.
And Cruz, more than any Democrat could ever get away with it, sure does love to lie. Take, for example, is recent bout with the Net Neutrality issue. The gist of it is that internet service providers should — as they always have — treat all online data equally; that is, not intentionally slow down specific sites or applications (read: those who do not pay more). The Oatmeal has a rather good illustration on all this. Cruz has ridiculously claimed that Obama wants to strictly regulate the internet, and even tax it, both of which are just baldfaced lies. But he keeps on lying anyway, and is rather good at it. Given the feckless, impotent nature of the media, people will eventually come to believe him and heed his words.
Democrats will largely be complacent with Clinton atop the ticket. More reassuring, demographics and tradition are on their side. But Cruz will, in what I have to think of as the more likely scenario, win by a squeaker.