Don’t look now but the 2016 race is already underway

January 17, 2013

Roll your eyes if you must -- and we get that some of you must -- but the 2016 campaign for president is already well underway.


The 2016 horse race is under way!

Consider the following:

* New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed -- and pushed to passage -- a significant tightening of the Empire State's gun laws this month, the first major legislative result in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut late last year.

* Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is not only pushing to tighten the Old Line State's gun laws but is also advocating that the state legislature repeal the death penalty.

* Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is calling for a major overhaul of the state's tax code that would include the elimination of personal and corporate income taxes.

* Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has begun his pitch for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, a pitch that has included a series of TV appearances on conservative media outlets.

Those four examples don't even include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's relentless push to establish himself as the problem-solver-in-chief in the wake of Hurricane Sandy or Vice President Joe Biden's prominence in the last few months.

The simple fact is that virtually every major player (or potential player) in 2016 -- with the exception of Hillary Clinton -- is already working to bolster their own record of accomplishments on major national issues as they look toward the next presidential race.

To be clear, we aren't arguing that the only reason Jindal is pursuing tax reform or Cuomo advocated to tighten New York's gun laws is because they are planning to run for president. "Let’s give these guys some credit on their motivation, they would be doing these things if they weren’t running for President, too," said Steve Murphy, a Democratic consultant who managed former Rep. Dick Gephardt's 2004 presidential bid.

Rather, the point to be made here is that what happens in 2013 matters for the 2016 race. Good policy is good politics. And, unfortunately for many politicians, the opposite of that maxim is also true.

Take Cuomo. If he runs for president (and we assume he will), he can go to Democratic major donors and party activists and say the following: "I pushed same sex marriage into law in New York in 2012. In 2013, I made it harder for guns to get in the hands of people who shouldn't have them."

Or Jindal who, if he can get his reforms through the legislature in Louisiana, can cast himself as someone who not only talks a big game about taxes and tax reform -- as all Republicans do -- but actually has a record of delivering.

Recent history suggests that what happens years before a nomination fight can -- and often does -- matter.

Take the 2002 vote that authorized the use of force against Iraq.   Without Hillary Clinton's "yes" vote on that resolution (or then state Sen. Barack Obama's public opposition to the war), it hard to imagine how Obama would have been able to justify his place in a race that at the time was dominated by the former First Lady.

Or, think about Mitt Romney's decision as governor of Massachusetts to push for  legislation that mandated people in the Commonwealth have health insurance. That policy, which Romney signed into law in the spring of 2006, haunted him throughout the 2012 campaign in both the primary and general election.

Given those examples, it's safe to say that it's never too early to begin assessing how a candidate's record of accomplishments and/or failures will impact their prospects on the national stage.

While voters in places like Iowa or South Carolina might not hear about what Cuomo did on guns or Jindal did on taxes for several more years, they will, almost assuredly, hear about those sorts of issues as examples of the particular candidate's leadership style and ability to get things done.

In the meantime, pursuing policies appealing to their respective party bases -- Rubio's push on immigration being the lone exception -- is good insider politics for these men.  The people paying attention right now -- the parties' activist bases and donor communities -- love these sorts of proposals and the speculation about 2016 they inevitably set off.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · January 17, 2013