December 3, 2012

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepares to leave Foggy Bottom (maybe a little later than planned, given the fallout from U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s trip to the Hill), one certainly has the sense that she could have the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination at the drop of a hat. Really, who is going to stop her?

Certainly not Vice President Biden, who is a punch line for Dems and Republicans alike. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a logical pick, but the left is already scorning him as insufficiently liberal. Clinton, by contrast, has a ready-to-go campaign, donor network and a millions of Democratic supporters.


Former Florida governor Jeb Bush

In contrast to speculation about former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s presidential aspirations, few have suggested that Hillary would be handicapped by Bill Clinton’s presidency. Indeed, it seems almost verboten to suggest she should be barred from her life’s ambition because of her husband. Moreover, the country has grown nostalgic about the Clinton presidency.

Now supposing Hillary Clinton does make a run, does this soften opposition to Jeb Bush? After all, the argument that we don’t need dynasty politics would ring a little hollow coming from Democrats. And just as she has every right to pursue her ambition, why shouldn’t Jeb? ( I know –  because he is a white male and Republican, but work with me here.)  And for those concerned about age, he is six years younger than Hillary Clinton.

While President George W. Bush doesn’t now enjoy the warm glow that Clinton bathes in, 2016 will mark eight years since the end of his presidency. (Of course now that Bush is out of office, media nostalgia is developing for “compassionate conservatism,” which will surely evaporate if his brother runs.) Nevertheless, Jeb Bush has plenty of time to carve out his own identity among voters less familiar with his record of reform in Florida.

At the very least he’d offer the GOP a candidate who has won statewide office in a key, heavily Hispanic state. We know that Republicans have a soft spot for next-in-line candidates, but who would meet that bill in 2016?

Meanwhile, there is some competition in the GOP for the Jack Kemp mantle. The Kemp Leadership Award Dinner tomorrow night will honor both Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was an intern for Kemp (and for William Bennett). Aside from the biographical connect, Ryan embodies Kemp’s wonkiness, devotion to an opportunity society and gee-whiz enthusiasm. Rubio is certainly the less wonkish, but his immigrant experience and eloquence about the American dream echo Kemp’s. They are different politicians — one more emotional in his brand of politics, the other more intellectual; one more given to big speeches, the other more policy-driven. Republicans need both sorts of politicians, and in large part should they both decide to run in 2016 they will need to learn what comes naturally to the other (e.g., Ryan will need to learn to connect on a gut level, Rubio to demonstrate policy proficiency).

It is not clear if any of these men will run for the presidency, but each has strengths and weaknesses. It is telling however that politicians of the past (Kemp, the Bush family, Clinton) will likely loom large in 2016. Maybe by then the comfort of a steady hand and familar face will be very much in vogue.