After 2012, Who Will Lead?
The Republicans recently held their convention in Tampa, which served as a coming-out party for the next generation of conservative leadership. Then the Democratic Party convened in North Carolina to reconfirm their choice of leadership. Comparing the events of the two weeks, one thing has become very apparent: the GOP has a surplus of promising young leaders, while the Democratic Party is heavy with age, containing very few to whom to pass the baton.
I always think of the slate of candidates coming together to run for a presidential election as somewhat akin to the annual creation of the NCAA basketball tournament. Here, though, there are only two brackets -- one for each party -- and each bracket has only eight to twelve competitors. Unlike the NCAA, we start to fill in our imaginary brackets three years ahead of competition on every quadrennial Wednesday after the first Monday in November, after the votes have been tallied the night before.
Let's imagine what brackets will start to emerge from the political classes on November 7, 2012. If Romney wins, then we know he's the number-one pick for the GOP side in 2016. But our little thought experiment identifies the next set of leaders only if we assume that Romney loses. What then? It's open season for conjecture. We're working here under the assumption that the GOP does well enough in the House and Senate races to remain a viable institution that the young leadership will still wish to serve.
It's not enough just to throw names out. We need to come up with a set of standards that will lead us to a set of plausible, electable candidates. I've chosen these:
Criterion number 1: Must have served in the House of Representatives for at least 6 years or in the Senate or as a governor for four years. This narrows us to candidates with the bare minimum of experience. Yes, the bar is higher for service in the House, but many seats in that body are so safe that a higher bar is justifiable.
Criterion number 2: Must have won the election that led to the service above. This weeds out appointed officials, despite their virtues, as being untested electorally.
Criterion number 3: High-level Cabinet position if the candidate has not passed Criteria 1 and 2.
Criterion number 4: No disqualifying scandals. This precludes someone like former Governor Spitzer from working his way back to prominence and throwing his hat into the ring.
Criterion number 5: Has not lost as the party's nominee in a presidential election. This prevents us from recycling Gore, Kerry, or McCain.
Criterion number 6: Will be under 70 years old at the time of the 2016 election. Perhaps unfair, but only Reagan pulled it off, and none of the older candidates we will examine has the electoral charm of our fortieth president.
Let's now filter the list of prime-time speakers from each convention through the six criteria.
The RNC prime-time speakers were Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Jeb Bush, Ann Romney, Lucé Vela Fortuño, Governor Chris Christie, Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Governor Susana Martinez, Representative Paul Ryan, Senator Marco Rubio, and Governor Mitt Romney. Also, Governor Bobby Jindal had to return to Louisiana due to Hurricane Isaac.
How does this group do against the criteria?
Governors Haley, Huckabee, Martinez, and Jindal sail right through. So do Representative Ryan and Senator Rubio. Secretary Rice passes as well. The only prime-time speakers who aren't plausible candidates in 2016 are the two first ladies.
Who else? Well, we haven't even yet considered a whole slew of other GOP stars. Speaker Boehner, the "Young Guns" Representatives Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, Senators Kelly Ayotte and John Thune, and perennial moderate Scott Brown all pass our criteria.
Even if we exclude those unlikely to run, we're still putting forth a bracket of Christie, Martinez, Ryan, Rubio, Jindal, and maybe Cantor. My God, how will we decide? Is it possible to have too great a surplus of talent in the GOP? Never mind the governors out there like Scott Walker who have the potential to show tremendous success in their states and grow into serious candidates for national office in the next three years.
Now, let's examine the prime-time speakers at the Democratic National Convention. Those speakers are Governor Martin O'Malley, Mayor Julián Castro, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, President Clinton, Senator Durbin, Vice President Biden, and President Obama.
Only one of those speakers makes it through the five criteria: Governor O'Malley. We'll let Senator Durbin slide for being a lively 71-year-old, but he was a late addition to the DNC lineup. Biden turns 70 this November, and his antics make advanced age a serious issue for him. Castro is still a mayor for now, like Cory Booker and Michael Nutter. Warren may qualify as a senator, depending on how the election in Massachusetts goes.
You know who does crush the six criteria, though? Hillary Clinton. She's the only potential candidate in both fields to qualify as a senator and as a Cabinet official. She's only 64, so she makes it under the age criterion as well. Another potential candidate keeping a low profile is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who also aces these criteria. Virginian Mark Warner would be expected to generate some buzz, having been elected both as senator and governor, but has previously declined to seek higher office. Other notables would have to include Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and maybe even Governor Deval Patrick.
Both parties have other leaders, but there's a reason certain folks are kept away from prime-time audiences. I suppose Senator McConnell would be the GOP's heaviest hitter in Congress we haven't mentioned yet, although he spoke at the convention. He's been in the Senate since 1984 and is already 70, failing Criterion 6. The Democratic Party's top congressional leaders are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Both pass Criterion 1 but fail number 6. I suppose the rising star for Democrats in Congress is Steve Israel, who was designated as such by Newsday and has represented Long Island since 2000. He spoke at the DNC, but not in prime time.
So we face 2016 with a GOP elite of Christie, Martinez, Ryan, Rubio, Jindal, Haley, and Cantor matched up against a Democratic elite of Clinton, Cuomo, O'Malley, and Israel. I'll take those odds any day.
The presidential election of 2012 feels of enormous significance. The PPACA (aka, ObamaCare) makes it so, although perhaps less than has been suggested. After all, Prohibition was repealed after 13 years, so some unpopular laws do persist, but it required a constitutional amendment The republic slinks ever closer to the edge of the cliff of entitlements, but a wise legislative body can do much to impede the damage of a reckless executive.
We must take heart that the Progressive movement has not established a generation-in-waiting to push us farther left. We should take pride that the conservative movement is full of young, bright, capable leadership ready to assume the duties of state with commitment to first principles.