What does it say about America’s two major political parties when their two hottest summertime commodities (which I’d define as presidential candidates drawing unexpectedly large crowds or defying polling gravity) are:
2) A guy who’s polling better than expected on the Democratic side, but isn’t even a registered member of that party.
We can dwell on the causes contributing to the phenomena of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. That’d include a lot of voter resentment in the forms of anti-politician and anti-media sentiments — plus the complicated relationship that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have with their parties’ faithful.
And that got me to thinking three historical what-if’s that might have significantly changed 2016 — arguably, for the better.
1) California Chooses A Shade Other Than Brown. Rather than Jerry Brown, at present the Golden State’s oldest and longest-serving governor, the winner instead in 2010 is Gavin Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor and an announced candidate for Brown’s job in 2018. Let’s assume that Newsom is re-elected, by a landslide, in 2014. He then does what California governors historically have fallen prey to: a presidential. Suddenly, Hillary Clinton is facing a youthful rival (there’s a 21-year age gap between the two) with at least one accomplishment that impresses core progressives: while mayor of San Francisco back in 2004, Newsom started the ball rolling on same-sex marriage; Clinton, on the other hand, didn’t publicly come out of marriage equality until 2013.
But that’s assuming Hillary isn’t already in the Oval Office, which might have happened had . . .
2) Hillary Divorces Bill A Decade-Or-So Ago. Without her husband looking over her shoulder and his legacy overshadowing and, at time, at odds with her aspirations (not to mention that nasty habit of the former president going off message and making a mess for his wife’s campaign), Hillary Clinton is free to achieve something that eludes her to this day – establishing herself as a more confident, independent political entity. The more-sure-of-herself, not-having-to-tote-her-huband’s-baggage Clinton thus fends off a challenge, in 2008, from a promising young senator from Illinois.
That is, if . . .
3) Jeb, Not George, Is Bush 43. Under this what-if scenario, both brothers win their governor’s races in 1994 (in the real world, Jeb Bush wasn’t elected until 1998). Supposedly more politically ambitious than his older brother, Bush runs for president in 2000 as a very successful second-term Florida governor. So much for dangling chads and “selected, not elected” (whatever did happen to Katherine Harris?). Now, the big question: Does this Bush 43 invade Iraq? If not, then there’s no anti-war breeze at Barack Obama’s back in 2008, and Clinton never casts that Senate vote that still dogs her.
And where does that leave us for 2016?
There’s no Clinton on the ballot for 2016 (though, legally, a 35-year-old Chelsea could do it). One doubts that George W. would be in the hunt — one doubts he would have have hung around Austin for as long as did Rick Perry.
And where does that leave voters?
On the Democratic side, that young Illinois senator denied his party’s nod in 2008 is at it again — promising to close Guantanamo and fight for universal health care for all (the kind of liberal bucket-list items that a cautious President Hillary Clinton maybe doesn’t pursue). Meanwhile, Newsom touts California’s economic revival and dogs Obama for being a late convert to same-sex marriage.
But on the Republican side, it may not be much of a different picture. Let’s presume Mitt Romney still runs and loses in both 2008 and 2012. Absent a strong second-place finisher in 2012, the GOP probably finds itself in the same predicament as now: a wide-open field with the wide-mouthed Trump as the center of its universe.
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