Although predicting and analyzing in August 2013 what we think may happen in November 2016 sounds as crazy as asking who will win the World Series four years from now (my money is on the Red Sox), this is exactly what is happening in American politics today.
This leaves astute political observes like the readers of the Public Record to ask: Why are Democrats rushing to coronate Hillary Clinton as their party’s standard bearer for 2016 rather than carefully evaluating all of the options this far in advance of the election?
Clinton’s early momentum appears to be genuine. A July McClatchy-Marist poll found 63% of Democrats favor Clinton while her closest rival — Vice President Joe Biden — was fifty points behind. Monmouth University ran a series of trial heats in July showing Clinton topping Chris Christie 43 to 39, Marco Rubio 47 to 36, and Jeb Bush 47 to 37. She also led Tea Party doyen Rafael “Ted” Cruz 48 to 32.
The conventional wisdom about presidential races suggests Democratic voters historically prefer somewhat messy, highly contested primaries while Republicans like to sort out the nomination business quickly. As Bill Clinton once said, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” Are Democrats falling in love or falling in line behind Hillary?
Aside from basic center-left policy similarities between Clinton and the Democratic base, here are a few reasons why so many in the Democratic rank and file have jumped on Hillary’s bandwagon three and a half years early.
First is the fear factor. Democrats are certainly frightened of the possibility of losing the presidency in 2016. This could result in Republicans gaining control of the White House and both congressional chambers. As a result, they are backing the horse perceived to be most capable of winning the race, thus preventing a unified GOP government. The polling cited earlier confirms this.
Second, some Democrats clearly sense a legitimate chance to make history. They were the first major party to elect a Westerner to the White House with Andrew Jackson and the first to elect a Southerner — Lyndon Johnson — to the presidency since the Civil War. They were the first major party to nominate a bona fide populist with William Jennings Bryan in 1896, the first to nominate a Catholic with Al Smith in 1928, and the first to elect a Catholic in 1960 with Jack Kennedy. They were the first major party to nominate a woman for Vice President with Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, the first to nominate a candidate of Greek heritage in 1988 with Michael Dukakis, and the first major party to nominate and elect a minority as president in 2008. Nominating and electing the first female candidate would undoubtedly be a historic marker for the party, and the rank and file knows it.
Third is the chance to make amends. There is certainly some sense of loyalty to Hillary at this point since many in the party’s base feel some sympathy for displacing her in 2008 for a young upstart named Obama. Those who remained loyal to Clinton during the rough and tumble 2008 contest want another shot. Those who backed Obama over her seem anxious to say that they would have supported her if Obama hadn’t drawn them away.
Hillary’s enthusiastic support among base Democrats appears wide and deep. Perhaps Democrats are falling for her because they think she is electable, she can make history, they still have a strong attachment to her, because there is nobody else to carry the banner, or maybe they really do love her. Perhaps it is because they still love Bill and believe she represents a link to the good old days of the booming ’90s.
The effects of the permanent campaign that I mentioned earlier are materializing in run up to 2016. It is yet to be seen if Clinton’s seemingly impenetrable lead among Democrats will endure since another candidate could catch fire as Obama did in 2008. Either way, the race is on and Hillary appears to have the momentum.
Nathan Shrader is a PhD candidate in political science at Temple University. He serves as adjunct faculty at Drexel and Neumann Universities. He can be reached at Nathan@nathanshrader.com.