“Yeah there’s a storm on the loose, sirens in my head
I’m wrapped up in silence, all circuits are dead
I cannot decode, my whole life spins into a frenzy...”
Rumor has it that Mitt Romney was in his study, listening intently to this classic blaring out of his Klipsch speakers when he made his presumably final, final decision to not enter the ’16 presidential campaign. Then, without warning, he hurled the caffeine-free Diet Coke clutched in his right hand into the fireplace…the crystal goblet shattering upon impact…and he screamed, “You can have Jeb!”
Of course some sources are more reliable than others. Personally, I believe he was quaffing chocolate milk. Let the historians sort out that enigma.
For the true political aficionado, there is nothing quite like an election cycle with vigorously contested Democratic and Republican presidential nominating processes. In the modern era, that means ’76, ’80, ’88 (more or less), ’00 (barely), and ’08. Even then, 2000 just made the cut as Al Gore won every primary, with Bill Bradley’s high-water mark being a narrow defeat in New Hampshire. He was done five weeks later.
[Side note: Pat Buchanan’s 37.4% showing in New Hampshire in ’92 against incumbent President George H.W. Bush made the GOP race interesting…for about two weeks. Was it a serious challenge? No.]
With the latest reporting indicating that Hillary Clinton may push a formal announcement back to July, she is effectively freezing the field. Oh sure, Bernie Sanders can keep living the Vermont Dream…and Jim Webb may find a way to run a campaign that won’t have the word “quixotic” permanently affixed to it (although his exploratory effort, to date, has been lackluster). I have a hard time seeing Martin O’Malley make an aggressive push to secure the Big Chair, even if he decides to enter the fray. Would he go negative on Hillary, knowing that it might cost him a spot on the VP short list or a Cabinet post?
Will there even be any Democratic primary debates? Clinton probably couldn’t avoid some forums if Biden jumped in, but why would he challenge Hillary? His moment has passed.
So perhaps the tempest will be limited to the GOP contest. Even with Romney out, two dozen legitimate potential Republican candidates remain, a figure that will probably settle down to closer to 10 – 12 by Ames, with a couple exiting shortly thereafter. There will be action on that side of the aisle.
Still, it would be a shame for history to record 2015 – 2016 as a lost opportunity for Democrats to have a candid and thorough dialogue on the future of the Party and, more importantly, of America. While a national conversation can take place without candidates, it is easier to promote an agenda when one is an announced candidate for the highest office in the land. Can a debate be influenced from the Senate Floor? Sure. That said, a robust discussion of differing visions of government would be facilitated by a truly competitive nominating contest. Obama was able to advance and refine his governing philosophy during the 2007 – 2008 forums and debates, as Bill Clinton did in ’92 when he faced off against Brown, Tsongas and the other Democratic hopefuls. In both cases, it should be noted, the Democratic nominee went on to win the White House.
And somewhere, far away from the spotlight, Mitt will ponder Whittier…
“For of all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”
It would be unfortunate if there were prominent Democrats contemplating the meaning of those exact words in November, 2016.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.