As of now, it seems the only Republican who is not running for president is 81-year old Chuck Grassley. Grassley is bucking the trend since nearly every Republican with a heartbeat has formed an exploratory committee, crisscrossed important primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, met with funders and editorial boards, written a book, appeared on Fox, resigned from Fox, or made some accommodation to running for higher office.
The field is crowded because the odds favor Democrats losing the White House. Only twice have Democrats succeeded in winning the presidency for three successive terms. In 1836, Vice President Martin Van Buren ran against and beat four Whig candidates to succeed Andrew Jackson and in 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt helped himself to a third term. More typical -- and relevant -- is Al Gore’s failure to follow Bill Clinton.
Historical precedent is boosted by the Democrats’ weak field. Hillary Clinton has already been anointed by the Left, but her candidacy is complicated on many fronts. Most important, she has never been a popular or skillful campaigner. Waiting in the wings is Liz Warren, who is as energized and effective on the stump as Hillary is worn and wooden. But Warren’s populist message will not wow a country still unhappy with Obamacare and unconvinced that climate change and income inequality are our chief challenges.
Given the favorable odds, potential GOP candidates are emerging at record rates.
Most recently, former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 candidate Mitt Romney has suggested he might consider another run. Republican power brokers, anxious to make the right choice, are vetting candidates, weighing policies and personalities, trying to assess who can make it across the finish line. Just to help them (and primary voters) with that process- here’s a heads-up: Mitt Romney is not the guy.
Mitt Romney is a decent, smart and capable man who would make an excellent president. However, his personal story does not work for Republicans in 2016. He was born to wealth and political prominence – advantages that make the average American nervous. That Romney has compounded his head-start by being spectacularly successful does not impress the average Joe, who is more than a little suspicious of Wall Street titans.
Polling conducted before the 2014 midterm elections showed that an overwhelming majority – 71 percent of Americans – think our economy is rigged in favor of the rich. That was the view held not just by people at the bottom of the income ladder -- it was universal. The only sub-set that did not think the system is rigged in favor of the one percent: wealthy Republicans.
The debate in the upcoming presidential election will be about which party’s policies will help middle class Americans. The most recent economic data confirmed what we all know and what Joe Biden surprisingly confirmed during the midterm campaign: “the middle class has been left behind.” Though job gains in December outstripped expectations, average hourly wages tumbled a surprising 5 percent. The Obama recovery has been spawned by near-zero interest rates, which have boosted stock markets and corporate profits but have not generated growth in middle class incomes. From 2005 to 2012, the bottom 40 percent of households took home less than 7 percent of income growth, while the top 5 percent garnered almost 30 percent.
Helping the middle class has been a favorite pitch from President Obama, but he has done little to correct the trend. Liz Warren will make this the central issue in her campaign, should she run. Recently, addressing an AFL-CIO gathering, Warren rebutted Obama’s happy talk on the economy, saying “Despite these cheery numbers, America’s middle class is in deep trouble.” Warren has criticized policies she views as harmful to average workers – like deregulation and tax cuts for high earners – as well as blasting Obama for siding with Wall Street and favoring the TPP trade treaty.
Warren may not run, but her influence was already visible in Hillary Clinton’s campaigning during the midterms. Clinton shifted left, though the effort fell flat after she said bizarrely, "Don’t let anybody tell you that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs." Clinton has a problem aping Warren, given her numerous Wall Street connections and policies like NAFTA enacted by her husband that are faulted by some for hurting middle-income Americans.
Whoever becomes the standard-bearer for Democrats in 2016, you can be sure they will target the aggrieved middle class. The Republican National Committee’s post-mortem on the 2012 defeat noted that over the past 60 years, Americans have associated Republicans with the wealthy.
Moreover, the report said, “The perception, revealed in polling, that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years.” The soul-searching concluded that the GOP focuses too much on policy, and fails to connect with average people. As Jack Kemp said, “No one cares what you know until they know you care.”
The GOP needs to address the middle class; some candidates can do that more easily than others. It’s a lot easier for Scott Walker, son of a pastor, or Chris Christie, who grew up in a family with limited means, to appeal to those voters than Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush. Marco Rubio, whose immigrant father was a bartender and school crossing guard, and whose mother was a hotel maid has a better personal story than Rand Paul, who was born into the business.
Americans love rags-to-riches stories, and self-made men and women. Conservative blog American Thinker points out, “With the single exception of FDR, every landslide by either political party in the last one hundred years has been won by a self-made man: Harding (1920), Coolidge (1924), Eisenhower (1952, 1956), LBJ (1964), Nixon (1972), and Reagan (1980, 1984).” There’s a lesson there, and it will be an important one in 2016.
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