Friday, January 02, 2004
Steve Sailer's bored with the 2004 election, and wants to talk 2008. Okay! Let's talk!
First, we have to set the stage. Let's assume Dean wins the 2004 nomination, and Bush beats Dean solidly though not necessarily in a landslide. Let's further assume that the GOP picks up between 1 and 3 seats in the Senate and increases its margin in the House. All four assumptions are, I think, considerably more likely than not. Finally, let's assume nothing bizarre happens in 2006 - in other words, no national catastrophe, no massive scandal that results in Bush's impeachment or resignation, no high-profile third-party movement that arises, no personality- or issue-driven fissure of either of the major parties. The GOP probably loses seats in the 2006 Senate elections (the fight will be on more friendly ground for the Dems than 2004, and people will be sick of the GOP by then), and if Bush is unpopular enough by then maybe they lose the chamber, but anyone newly elected in 2006 will be too green (let's assume) to run for President in 2008.
All fair? Whom does that leave as the contestants for the 2008 prize?
Every Democrat in 2008 will be thinking first and foremost about the disastrous loss in 2004. The second thing they will be thinking is: in 1988 all we thought about was the disastrous loss in 1984, and we still wound up with Dukakis.
So they'll be looking for a fighter, a winner, and someone who can win back voters that Dean lost - in other words, someone who can speak to religious voters, Southern voters, and who will energize the non-white voter and not just the upscale liberal.
Who, of all the 2008 prospects, is the worst fit for that profile? Russ Feingold, Senator from Wisconsin, who would otherwise be about the right age and seniority to make his move. Although he represents a midwestern state, Feingold will look to primary voters like Dean2 in 2008: a northern liberal who'll be massacred in the South. He still might make his move, though, either in the hopes of a Veep slot or as preparation for bigger things in the future. He's still young, after all.
Evan Bayh, Senator from Indiana, may think 2008 is the time to make his move. But I suspect he'll be viewed as too conservative to be a serious contender for the nomination. He won't get union support and he won't be attractive to racial minorities. But he may also make a move. A better candidate would be John Edwards, who will not suffer at all, I predict, from his catastrophic performance this year. His bigger problem is that he won't have a job for the next four years - but hey, being unemployed worked pretty well for Dr. Dean, didn't it? Personally, I think Edwards goes away, but he might refuse to do so; after all, I also thought he would drop out sooner in 2003, and fight to keep his Senate seat, and I was wrong about that.
But the best white-boy candidate, I predict, is Mark Warner, Governor of Virginia. He's got all the right moves, and he will definitely not have suffered an electoral defeat in Virginia before 2008 because Virginia only has one-term Governors, so he can position himself as a winner. He's young, good-looking, pro-gun, and did I mention he's Southern? Plus he's been a Governor and he'll be unemployed (i.e. lots of free time). If nothing else, I think he'll run to try to win a second-place spot on the ticket.
Then there are the gals. Two women who would have the opportunity to make some noise in 2008 are Senator Diane Feinstein of California and Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan. Unfortunately for the Dems, Granholm's ineligible because she's a Canadian - but the GOP might have pushed through the Arnold Amendment to allow immigrants to run for President by then, in which case she's in the game. Feinstein, meanwhile, while anti-gun is perceived as a tough moderate on most issues, but is certainly acceptable to the liberal wing of the party.
Unfortunately for her, the meanest, baddest broad in the Senate will most likely be making her move in 2008: Senator Hillary Clinton of New York. Hillary brings three big plusses to the table: she's a tough fighter and proven winner; she'll have a lot of support from party mandarins, including her husband; and she's very popular among wealthy liberals and among racial minorities, two key constituencies for winning the nomination. However, she's still able to be caricatured as a Northern liberal, and she's mean, and in the wake of the Dean debacle Democrats will be leery of these two factors. I still think she has to be counted as the presumptive front-runner for the 2008 nomination, however, and it will take a lot of work to knock her out.
One man who won't be able to is Al Gore. Oh yeah, he just might run again; he's that crazy. If he does, he will finally bury what little is left of his reputation, as he'll suck all the air out of the other non-Hillary campaigns, and then get massacred by her. She'll be Living History, and he'll be . . . history.
Which leaves one more fellow who will definitely be in the running in 2008, but most likely for the Veep slot: Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico. He's Hispanic, he's got a long resume, he's a Clinton protege, he has a reputation as a moderate, he's a Governor - and from a key swing state, too. He's a perfect fit to balance just about anyone at the top of the ticket. And if for some crazy reason Hillary decides not to run, he'll actually have a shot at the top spot himself.
So that's my prediction for 2008: Hillary as the gal to beat against a field of Senators and Governors all of whom are plausible Presidents. Which is more than you can say for the 2004 Democrats. Their bench is getting stronger. The GOP shouldn't rest easy after 2004.
After eight years in the White House, fourteen years running the House of Representatives (assuming no huge electoral shifts, the GOP will keep the House for quite a while, what with all the successful gerrymandering they've been doing), and a good long run in the Senate to boot (they might lose it in 2006; if not, they'll have held the Senate for six years), the public will be sick of the Republican Party. No one who runs in 2008 will be able to run against Bush, but no one will be able to run on a platform of "stay the course" either, even if the economy is reasonably strong.
As for the GOP primary electorate, they may be a little restless. In 2004, the base will be energized to defeat Dean. By 2008, they'll be grumbling about how little Bush did for them in his second term. Bush will have failed to deliver on some hot-button social issue (probably gay marriage). Bush will either have lost a tough nomination fight for the Supreme Court, or will have declined to do battle, or both, further annoying the social conservatives in the party. Bush will likely fail to deliver private accounts in Social Security or to really reform Medicare, and it's hard to picture him reigning in domestic discretionary spending passed by his own party, so fiscal conservatives and libertarians will be restless. (Indeed, I think a Libertarian candidate in 2008 could do to the GOP what Nader did to Gore in 2000: make the difference between victory and defeat in a close election.)
The GOP electorate will be looking for someone who is credible with the same constituencies that rallied twice to Bush, but who isn't from Washington. The obvious candidate: Bill Owens, Governor of Colorado. He's the darling of movement conservatives: a fiscal tightwad and tax-cutter, and very credible with the religious right. Plus he's a Governor, so he can run against Washington with impunity.
His likely strongest competition will come from Bill Frist, the Majority Leader and Senator from Tennessee. Frist, though, is a much weaker candidate now that he's Majority Leader; he's effectively responsible for every compromise in the Senate, for every nominee for the courts who goes down to defeat. Remember how badly Bob Dole did in 1988? If the GOP loses the Senate in 2006, he will have a very hard time winning the nomination. On the other hand, he's from the right region (the border South), he's well-regarded by religious conservatives, he's very aggressive (unlike Dole), and he'll have at least some support from the outgoing President (again, unlike Dole in 1988). And the GOP is still more traditional than the Democrats; they will not be receptive to an insurgency a la Howard Dean. If Frist gets a lot of backing early on, he'll be the frontrunner in spite of his weaknesses.
My own dark-horse candidate, though, is Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina. He's indepedent, he's got a winning personality, he's quite popular, and he's very solid on the core issues that matter to Republicans (fiscal and moral issues). There's a chance Bill Owens may turn out to be a Phil Gramm: someone with a great resume, who's beloved by many movement conservatives and who ought to be popular but whose personality just doesn't catch fire. If that turns out to be the case, I think Sanford has a real shot. And if he wants to take that shot, he'll do it; he's kind of an ornery independent type, and owes nothing to Bush.
What about Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida? Wasn't 2008 supposed to be a Clinton-Bush contest? I'm a seller. I don't think Jeb has political skills that are nearly as good as W.'s. He's supposed to be the smart Bush, but I think he's just the one who likes to be thought of as smart, and who plays with ideas. I think in terms of political smarts, where W.'s strengths lie, he's mediocre. Plus, I don't think the brothers like each other that much; W. won't be pulling for him, and won't be lending him his organization. And by 2008, the organization will be more loyal to W. than to Papa Bush, assuming he's still alive. Finally, I think the country will want a change, and four more years of the name "Bush" will not sit well.
There are a number of other candidates relatively close to President Bush who might try to make a play, particularly if Frist declines to run. One who won't is Condoleeza Rice the National Security Advisor. Yes, she's a looker, she's smart, and the President likes and trusts her. If she wants to be Secretary of State for whatever reason, she's probably got the job. (And she couldn't do worse than Powell.) But she will not replace Dick Cheney (who also won't be running in 2008, assuming he's still alive) as Vice President because she is not a political asset, so she certainly won't be a candidate in 2008. She has no political base, no following; the only people who would be thrilled about having her on the ticket are bloggers, and though our ranks are ever-swelling we do not yet comprise a measurable slice of the electorate, not even in the primaries. She has no electoral experience and her personality seems highly uncongenial to campaigning. She's young; if she wants to run for office, she can finally terminate Senator Barbara Boxer of California, which would be a great blessing, and still have plenty of time to contemplate higher office. She won't run for President in 2008.
More likely candidates from the Bush Administration are Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security; Mark Racicot, former Governor of Montana and former Chair of the Republican National Committee, and Mike Leavitt, former Governor of Utah and current head of the EPA. I don't think any of these guys have a strong shot at the head of the ticket, but they may not agree. Racicot is the most telegenic and politically astute of the three, but he'll have to find some kind of job before 2008 to still be a viable candidate. Leavitt has a strong resume but he'll certainly have to make the kinds of decisions as EPA head that will anger the more radical anti-government types, and he was a proponent of internet taxes as Governor, so he'll be anathema to the Club for Growth crowd. Plus he's from Utah. Ridge, meanwhile, will be absolutely unacceptable to religious conservatives, and besides, what, precisely, does Homeland Security get him? If there's another major attack, he's to blame for failing to prevent it. If there isn't, he'll be pilloried for cost-overruns and stupid bureaucratic decisions that will inevitably be made. Count him out.
Then there are the blasts from the past. Lamar! Alexander, former Governor, now Senator from Tennessee, will be only 68. Even John McCain, Senator from Arizona, will be only 72. Ditto Liddy Dole, Senator from North Carolina. I don't think any of these people will run, but you never know: Lamar! and McCain each have quite considerable opinions of themselves, and there are all those Clinton vs. Dole icons to be recycled.
But who knows who'll get the nod? W. wasn't even expected to win his election in 1994; he wasn't supposed to have a political career. Six years later, he's President. Nobody - but nobody - heard of Howard Dean before well into this campaign season. Hart was supposed to be the nominee in 1988, and then he self-immolated. Cuomo was supposed to be the nominee in 1992, and he didn't bother to run. And weren't we supposed to have a President Bill Bradley by now? I can't think of anyone who doesn't look better on paper. Hillary could still surprise us and not run. Dean could come closer than expected and run again in 2008. Cheney could have a fatal heart attack and Bush could suprise everyone by elevating someone unexpected to the Vice Presidency - Rudy Giuliani? Henry Bonilla? Tony Blair? - who then becomes the presumptive front-runner in 2008. Heck, Kim Jong Il could nuke Los Angeles, and Arnold could become such a hero for his work on the recovery that the Hatch Amendment to let immigrants become President could pass in record time, leaving no question who the next President will be.
Well, let's hope not.