Hunter Johnson, Commentary Editor
It’s the spring of 2014 — the birds are singing, the bluebonnets are blooming and shorts are back. What is also in the air is national politics; 2014 is a midterm election year, when all of the U.S. House of Representatives and a third of the U.S. Senate are up for election. While that garners a lot of attention, especially when almost everyone with a properly functioning mind is disgusted with the current state of Congress, it still takes the backseat to the elephant in the room.
Like all midterm years, this year is two years prior to a presidential election. This time, however, it is prior to a presidential election year in which the nominations of both major parties are up for grabs. With so much at stake and so many factors at play, politicos are already abuzz about 2016 and who has the potential to seize the Iron Throne — I mean, the White House.
There is one name at the top of everyone’s list: Hillary Clinton. Clinton was the Democratic runner-up in 2008 and spent the next four years as secretary of state, building up her credentials and (with the exception of the Benghazi mess) repairing her reputation. She left office as the most popular national political figure in the U.S. and the most desirable candidate among the Democrats for the 2016 nomination.
And when I say “most desirable” among the Democrats, I really mean, “They want her more than a termite wants an abandoned house.” The flood of people touting her skills and potential are endless. Political Action Committees (PACs) have already been established in preparation for a presidential run. Donors are already setting aside millions for her campaign, just waiting on her to make the call.
It is not surprising that this leviathan of a campaign-in-waiting has had a sort of “clearing effect” on the rest of the Democratic playing field. While there are several Democrats who would have had a good chance of seizing the nomination in any other year, the mere prospect that Clinton may one day announce her candidacy has kept them all silent. Among the few exceptions is the governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, who has not been shy about his interest in the presidency and has said he is laying groundwork in consideration for a run.
Then there’s Vice President Joe Biden. Whereas the ultimate desires of most of the potential candidates, even Clinton, are shrouded in mystery, it is actually quite clear that Biden wants the presidency. He’s visiting swing states whenever possible, catching up with old contacts, making new ones and quietly bringing influential people into his inner circle.
Of course, for Biden, Martin and the rest of the “maybe” candidates, a Clinton campaign would be an insanely formidable foe in the primaries. If she were to run, it would take an ingenious opposing campaign to take her down while simultaneously propping up its own candidate as a more-than-worthy successor to President Barack Obama. I have an incredibly tough time seeing the gaffe-prone, old-Washingtonian Biden having any shot at beating Clinton. That’s not to say that a fresh Democrat like O’Malley or another candidate doesn’t have a chance.
And that is definitely not saying that a Republican would have little hope against her, either. Where some Democrats shrivel in fear of challenging her, numerous Republicans are all but leaping for the opportunity. According to my count, there are at least 13 Republicans who are (or who are likely to be) considering a run in 2016. However, of those 13, there are some I don’t think stand a chance, simply because their personalities or views are too bombastic and far-right to make them viable candidates. These would include Rick Santorum and (for the near future, at least) Ted Cruz.
For the most part, though, the race for the GOP nomination is wide open. There are the well-known, young-gun types like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul. There are the more seasoned politicos like Jeb Bush and (the rusty, but still seasoned) Rick Perry. Then there are those I call the “sneaky candidates”: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and, especially, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. They may have little name-recognition now, but they have the operational potential and political savvy to steal the spotlight. Chris Christie will still be a force to be reckoned with, but the last few months of scandal have tarnished his reputation to the point that he is no longer the sure-fire bet that he was once. Of the names I’ve listed, the big three to watch are Paul, Bush and Jindal.
The success of any of these candidates in a general election still hinges on the decision Hillary Clinton has to make: Will she or won’t she run? She has numerous strengths, but also a few key weaknesses and spots in her record with the potential to ruin her chances in the end. Her answer, one way or the other, will shape the race to come just as her indecision shapes the shadow-race today. There is no sure way to know whether or not a Clinton campaign will be a winning one, but for now, the fate of 2016 is firmly within her control.