Is 2015 the new 2016? You tell me.
This past week the New York Times ran two front-page stories about Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.
This past Sunday (yesterday) panel after panel of TV interview show commentators focused the GOP field in the 2016, which by now seems to include everyone except my mother – and my mother tells me she’s forming an exploratory committee. I think she’s trying to keep me out of the race.
Meanwhile, to show that president is determined to set 2016 politics aside and govern, the White House has let it be known that, in this week’s State of the Union address, Mr. Obama will double down on redistribution-of-wealth rhetoric and proposals to tax the nation’s largest earners.
Never mind that, as economist Thomas Sowell has determined, “56 percent of American households will be in the top ten percent [of incomes] at some point in their lives, usually when they’re older [and] of all the people who are in the top one percent in the course of a decade, the majority, the great majority are there only one year; only 13 percent are there two years”
And ignore that research from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank that confirms Sowell’s conclusion, revealing, says its president James Bullard, that “life cycle… accounts for something in the order of 75 percent of the story of measured income and wealth inequality in the U.S.”
So in the name of the middle class, the president plans to attack the middle and upper middle aged, most of whom have been more or less middle income for most of their lives. It is about as big a non-starter with the new Republican majority as you could find.
Which is only to say that, like the media, the White House has decided to focus in 2015 on 2016, too.
Maybe like you, I have already been asked repeatedly to name my candidate for 2016. So, let me share a few thoughts about GOP prospects and the prospective contenders.
First off, don’t believe talk about the Democrats floundering on the electoral ropes.
Remember two years ago? The president had just won reelection, albeit, in contrast to historical norms, by a smaller margin than his first term victory. The talk everywhere was, can the Republican Party survive? It started shortly after the outcome became clear. The GOP must overhaul itself, we heard. It had to jettison its full portfolio of positions, particularly on immigration, if it hoped to survive. The Hispanic vote alone, every commentator insisted, meant the party was doomed.
Now fast forward two years to this past Election Day — again starting about the time the results became known. Those same commentators who two years earlier had predicted a Republican demise began suggesting that it was the Democrats who had no future, having so spectacularly failed to reach blue-collar voters, particularly men.
The lesson here is that, as bad as the performance of the president and the Democrats may look now, nothing has happened… nothing… to alter the fine balance that has characterized American politics since 1980. In those three and a half decades, at least one house of Congress or the presidency has shifted parties every one to three elections. And with each shift, the received wisdom has become that the losing party was finished.
Well, the Republicans weren’t finished in 2012 or after any of its other losses. The Democrats aren’t finished now.
Second, for all the talk of Tea Party versus Establishment, the current division in the GOP – essentially reformers versus old guard – has characterized Republican politics going back to the party’s founding. I wrote about this a few weeks ago (http://bit.ly/ReformvEstablishment). In every era from 1860 on, there has been seriously bad blood between the party’s reform and establishment factions, even though, viewed from the outside, their agendas have fit well together. But in every era, the party has won its pivotal victories when the two wings found a way to unite despite their mutual disdain, usually with a reformer in the top slot and an establishment figure as the running mate. To me, that fact points to the most likely model for victory 2016: a reform candidate for president, an establishment running mate.
Finally, the party must accept its geography problem. With New York and California entirely out of reach, it needs to focus on the industrial Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota) and the Atlantic Southeast (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida). In each region, the GOP is strong in only one state, the one with the region’s fewest electoral votes (Indiana and South Carolina). In each, the rest of the states are purple at best.
So here is the GOP’s question for 2015. What is the reform-establishment combination that has the best chance of breaking through in both regions? Answer that question and you have the best GOP ticket for 2016.