Tag Archives: elections 2014

Only 733 Days Remaining


By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

With a scant 733 days remaining before the presidential elections of 2016, time is running short for the candidates. No, I am not trying to be funny or ironic—just stating a cold, hard fact.

2016 is what is known as an open year: no incumbents or past incumbents will be running, and unless Joe Biden makes good on his halfhearted attempt to generate talk of a candidacy, there will be no vice-presidents rising to the top of the party ticket. Dick Cheney’s too old, Al Gore’s out of the game, Dan Quayle won’t return our calls.

There are, of course, two household names in the room. Each name represents a long franchise, and each of those franchises can claim great success, but each also has baggage—lots of baggage.

Hillary Clinton is the presumed—and at the moment—the only front-runner for Democrats. She has been running for President more-or-less continually even longer than Mitt Romney, and her de facto candidacy includes deep roots—DNA which can be traced back more than a decade.

When asked outright at events and lectures and interviews, her obfuscations and evasions about her candidacy are, in fact, her way on confirming what we already know. She is running, flat out. Lessons learned from her bruising, bloody campaign in 2008, she may in fact use a similar playbook. Only this time there will be no mistakes. She intends to clear the room of all pretenders and challengers early—very early if possible. And this is why the talk has been so unnaturally limited when the subject of other Democrats comes up in polite company, or impolite company, for that matter.

The scuttlebutt is that there are still unhealed wounds and bad blood from 2008, when a bitter primary and caucus campaign pitted her against the upstart Barack Obama. That year, knives were traded for chainsaws; incendiary bombs exchanged for nukes. That the Democrats survived without a replay of 1968 Chicago remains a testament to how much the party truly wanted victory after eight years of George W. Bush.

So far this year, Clinton’s coy approach has worked well. A year of continuous scrutiny and round-the-clock talk of her as-yet unofficial candidacy has not fazed her. She has remained cool under a variety of pressures (try doing a talk show and a live auditorium appearance every day; then try three times a day, every day) and not a single Democrat—other than Biden—has stepped forward to express even a hint of interest in challenging her presumed candidacy. And there has been no reason for Clinton to rush—in fact, the longer she waits, the greater the interest in Hillary. To quote Willie Wonka, the suspense is terrible…I hope it will last.

One could say that things have gone swimmingly for Hillary Clinton. That is, until last Tuesday.

Though not torpedoed directly by Republican firepower, Clinton will nevertheless have to immediately initiate repairs and modifications. The GOP’s sweep of the map on Tuesday was not only swifter and wider than anyone expected, it came with breathtaking totality—most especially to the more than two dozen Senate and Gubernatorial candidates, sprinkled across the landscape, who sought refuge from the deep unpopularity of President Barack Obama by campaigning instead alongside Hillary Clinton. What seemed like a stroke of genius has now, on several levels, complicated life for Hillary and for Democratic strategists everywhere.

As we mentioned in our article the day after the elections, Obama’s low job approval ratings are not uncommon in the sixth year of a two-term presidency. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all faced this same scenario. Those low poll numbers can easily—and predictably—weigh down upon the midterm elections, often with serious effect.

But President Obama’s poll numbers also reflected a general feeling by many voters that the White House was particularly sluggish on handling the major issues faced by Americans this year: the Ukraine crisis, ISIS, a war between Israel and Hamas, the still-sluggish economy, a border crisis involving children and teenagers, the Veterans Administration, and even the Ebola Virus.

Enter the Clinton franchise. Bill and Hillary, always game for public appearances, speeches, and the talk show circuit, rode to the rescue of legions of Democrats facing tough battles with Republicans, most of whom had rebranded the election as a referendum on the President and his performance. The Clintons were everywhere, almost literally, standing next to candidates in places as diverse as Iowa, Kentucky, Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine. There was Hillary hugging Michelle Nunn in Georgia, or embracing Bruce Braley in Iowa. Bill did his part too, including appearing in numerous slickly produced television ads—like the ones produced on behalf of Charlie Crist in Florida.

With Hillary Clinton attempting to burnish the brand name as much as possible—building loyalties, currying favor, tallying the brownie points, energizing the base, and rallying the party faithful—it seemed like a logical and useful way to keep her non-candidacy alive and on track. But, like those pesky credit-default-swap things that once helped wreck an economy, no one expected the market to go down. In this case, Team Clinton could not have expected this much carnage across so much of the battlefield. Republicans won in a rout, grabbing governorships, stealing the U.S. Senate, and upping their advantage in the U.S. House to a level not seen since Harry Truman was President.

That Red Tide swept through every region and every state, and left few island outposts standing. There was a similar GOP landslide back in 1980, but that was when Republican candidates—at almost every level—had grabbed a hold of the substantial coattails of Ronald Reagan.

So this raises the obvious question: lacking an Obama coattails, did Democrats ally themselves smartly when they bought into the great Clinton Franchise in 2014?

Or, as some might fairly suggest, should the question be reversed? Was it smart of the Clintons to have spread their valuable name into so many doomed quarters?

On the night of the elections, Kentucky’s Rand Paul—himself a presumed GOP candidate for 2016—suggested that the referendum voters faced was not about Barack Obama (that, he said, was already established), but about the future of the Democratic Party, and by extension the near future of its presumed standard-bearer. Hillary had chosen to very publicly and lavishly attach her name and reputation to two dozen major campaigns, only to watch as most of those elections ended the night swimming in that tsunami-like Red Tide.

One of Thursday Review’s political strategy contacts, who asked not to be identified for the purposes of this article (and also the article we posted on Wednesday) suggested that it is not so much a case of the Clinton’s spreading their goodwill too freely as it is a case of devaluing the endorsements and the co-option. Worse, this source said, it will make Hillary Clinton look like a loser even before her campaign has begun.

“It not only devalues the power of her name,” he said, “it shows her to be a poor judge of political conditions in the field, and that might be something Republicans can translate to mean she would turn out to be an inconsistent, erratic, or poor manager.” Others have suggested that Clinton’s share-the-stage debacle might be more problematic within her own party, inviting—horrors—other Democrats to consider stepping into the fray. If blowback from the 2014 fiasco continues to haunt the Clinton brand name for a few months, you can bet that non-top-tier (translation, non-Clinton) Democrats—Andrew Cuomo, Elizabeth Warren, Deval Patrick, Brian Schweitzer—will begin to weight their options for 2016.

For potential Republican candidates, many of whom are already hankering for 2016, the midterms—coupled with the Clinton brand name fiasco—makes the road ahead that much more appealing. The top contenders within the GOP were also spending a lot of time on the campaign trail in support of the brethren, and experts suggest that one can easily gauge which ones are serious by measuring the amount of time spent campaigning in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Though no Republican has officially declared their candidacy, it is widely assumed that the top tier consists of Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee. Also being discussed: Rick Santorum, Mike Pence, Sam Brownback, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Perry.

But what about Jeb Bush? For many Republicans, the last name Bush still carries both weight and resonance. The possibility of a Clinton versus Bush rematch in 2016 has been discussed widely, including in these very website pages. Bush had been keeping his profile at a modest altitude for the last nine months or so, sticking to his business activities, promoting his book on immigration, and talking education. But a flurry of activity—mostly but others within the Bush clan—in recent weeks has again raised the possibility that he is seriously weighing a run for President. More importantly, if he was previously considering sitting on the sidelines out of a certainty that Hillary Clinton was inevitable in 2016, he may now be reconsidering the environment. In the view of some GOP strategists, all bets are off: not only are Democrats vulnerable over the next few years, but the leading Democrat—indeed the party’s presumed standard-bearer—just lost a major battlefield skirmish before war was even declared.

In the meantime, the press was busy today reporting that Washington was back to business as usual, with Republicans making high-profile pronouncements about finally breaking through the gridlock (by sending a record number of bills to the White House to be vetoed), and Democrats continuing to hold to the line that the elections were not a referendum on President Obama, nor Democrats, nor anything else for that matter.

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Have the Midterms Damaged the Clinton Franchise?


By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

Originally posted November 5, 2014: Yes, it’s true: there are only 734 days remaining before the next presidential election, which happens to be November 8, 2016—for those of you already dreading the next big cycle of negative campaign ads. For now, most Americans (citizens in Louisiana are sadly exempt) can once again enjoy local television ads from car dealers and accident attorneys.

Almost—but not quite—lost in the hubbub and hue & cry over Tuesday’s election results: the Clintons, and what the GOP’s dramatic take-over of the U.S. Senate may portend for an almost certain presidential run by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Fleeing from what many analysts saw as contagiously bad job approval ratings and low popularity, Democrats avoided campaigning alongside President Barack Obama. Obama’s numbers were, to some at least, downright toxic—a not unheard of state-of-affairs for the sixth year of a two-term presidency. But to make matters worse for Democrats, GOP candidates were uniform in their strategy of defining this election as a referendum on Obama.

So instead, many Democrats in high profile races chose to co-opt the Clinton brand name. Hillary and Bill Clinton each campaigned alongside numerous Democratic candidates, and in some cases even participated in expensive, slick television ads. Such was the case in Florida, where gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist (once a Republican, now a Democrat) saw his political campaign supported by carefully crafted endorsements by former President Bill Clinton. So too was the strategy in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn was all-too-happy to have Hillary Clinton at her side at various campaign stops across the Peach State. Political coupling with the Clintons seemed a smart move: piggyback on the powerful coattails of the person certain to be the front-runner for 2016, and someone for whom—so far—there are no true rivals.

But in the end, as a few exit polls and independent polls have revealed, the Clinton franchise—however formidable, well-funded and well-oiled—had little impact on those races. And according to some eager GOP strategists and potential candidates, Hillary’s high-profile presence on the campaign trail may have caused self-inflicted damage to her presumed candidacy.

Tuesday’s election results brought dozens of defeats to the Democrats. In the GOP sweep, Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate, and raised their numerical advantage in the House to levels not seen since the end of World War II. Republicans won big in Kentucky (where the race was expected to be close), Maine, Montana, South Dakota, Colorado, Georgia, Arkansas, West Virginia, and a dozen other states. The GOP gained in nearly all arenas—from governorships to state legislatures, from top state posts to Congressional seats. The central narrative instantly evoked one basic question: how will President Obama adjust his tactics to accommodate what will no doubt be a difficult two years ahead?

Republicans have all along said that this midterm election would be a referendum on the President; Democrats have sought to scrupulously avoid any direct linkage, suggesting that this election was instead a referendum on Washington gridlock and partisanship.

But Kentucky’s Rand Paul has taken the turn of events to be a referendum on the future, more than the past. Paul suggests that voters are already expressing disapproval of Hillary Clinton as much as Obama.

Like many top Republicans—and some crestfallen Democrats—there is a sense that Hillary Clinton may have damaged her reputation by so publicly lending her name and support to so many losers on Election Night. One political strategist I spoke to suggested hubris elicited a sense that she could spread the power of the franchise too far and too thinly.

“Even a presumed candidate with as much clout and name-power as Hillary Clinton has to be careful,” this person told us (they asked not to be identified for the purposes of this article), “to not lend the name out to too many people, too freely, too loosely. It can be dangerous, and it can sully the name. Jeb [Bush] was careful with his support of Rick Scott, and with his support for Joni Ernst in Iowa. Hillary just handed it out like she was giving away Halloween candy. And you can bet the Republicans are going to hang that albatross around her neck for sure—Clinton backed a dozen losers.”

In fact, a few of Hillary’s candidates did win, notably Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire. But the list of those who won with the partial use of Clinton’s coattails is short indeed. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky posted an amusing set of images online called HillarysLosers, in which more than a dozen of her handpicked protégés are on display as they campaign alongside Clinton.

Potential GOP presidential candidates too spent lots of time campaigning for other 2014 candidates, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa was especially attractive for the leaders of both parties as it gave those politicians with eyes on 2016 the chance to do two things at once: build good karma and loyalty among fellow Republicans; and make oneself visible in a very important early caucus state. But what worked for Republicans like Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Mike Pence did not seem to work for Hillary Clinton. While the President spent 72 minutes gloomily explaining to the White House press corps why he will go on with business as usual, you can bet the top brains and strategists for Clinton were busy rewriting their playbook for 2016.

The problems for Hillary Clinton are suddenly more complex than they were only days ago. For one, Clinton must immediately and quickly uncouple her campaign’s narrative from the long list of Democrats who were defeated on Tuesday. Her longstanding projection of de facto winner is at stake, and unless she acts quickly, other Democrats may sense an opportunity (the Clinton strategy all along has been to position her non-candidacy in such a way as to frighten off the competition). Secondly, if rank and file Democratic voters sense that Hillary Clinton is NOT inevitable, it may further enable and empower intraparty opposition.

Lastly, Clinton has invited Republican candidates to link her directly to what they will define as the failed policies of Obama. It goes something like this: the 2014 elections were a referendum on Obama; Hillary Clinton offered public and unconditional support to dozens of Democrats who lost in that election; therefore Hillary Clinton must be synonymous with Barack Obama, which means that it was a referendum on Clinton as well. Republicans will also surely make the case that Clinton’s two biggest 2014 investments—supporting Alison Lundergan Grimes in her efforts to oust Senator Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, and backing Mark Pryor in Arkansas (Pryor lost to Republican Tom Cotton—were enormous and costly defeats for the Democratic Party. In McConnell’s case, the race was predicted to be close, but in fact became a lopsided affair even after millions of dollars had been spent on negative ads.

For his part, a notably downbeat President Obama explained to reporters on Wednesday that he will continue to conduct the business of his administration with no significant change in management style. The President, sounding mostly defiant, suggested the Americans were not unhappy with his performance as much as they were angry at a Washington mired in gridlock and petty bickering. Despite the persistent attempts of numerous reporters to gauge the President’s personal take on the election outcomes and the GOP wave of success, the chief executive evaded making a definitive political analysis, and refused to accept any responsibility for the debacle.

The President also said he did not have any immediate plans to make personnel changes at the White House.

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