Thomas Nast's classic cartoon created the symbol of both parties
Caveat #1: This post has nothing to do with policy; it is entirely about the strategies and tactics, individual strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates for the two parties’ presidential nomination. It is a purely intellectual exercise, not an ideological one.
Caveat #2: We are 13 months out from the election; the political landscape can cartwheel three or four times between now and then. This post reflects conditions as they presently exist.
Among the GOP: Historically, the only non-politicians elected president by Americans are generals who just won major wars that either protected the U.S. or expanded its holdings. Trump, Carson, and Fiorina will not make the cut.
If you are not a fresh face to national presidential politics this year, you are yesterday’s news. Quite specifically, if you didn’t soundly defeat the rest of the ’08 and ’12 fields, why should anyone believe you can beat the Democrats’ 2016 candidate?
Bush fatigue is a real thing, and nobody thinks he did a good job anymore (at best they will claim he was sincere in his efforts). Jeb Bush has been campaigning in a way that makes one suspect a passive-aggressive agenda: He is bowing to family and old boy network pressure to run, but he’s saying things that -- while the old boy network can’t fault him -- drives more and more potential voters away.
That leaves us with Rubio and Kasich.
On paper, Kasich is the least problematic: Solid conservative principles, pragmatism to cross the aisle and get things done. He’s dropped the fewest potential verbal land mines.
The problem is he a middle American white boy at a time when a significant number of American voters have expressed a willingness to listen to what non-middle American non-white non-boys have to say. Ironically, race and gender may be two of his biggest handicaps.
Rubio is a little more of a firebrand, but his public utterances haven’t been as extreme as other GOP candidates and he would be able to plausibly appeal to Latin American voters as having earned the nomination on his own, not as a GOP ploy to win minority votes.
As of today: A Rubio-Kasich ticket looks like the GOP’s most viable team. Carson has an outside chance as the bottom half of the ticket, especially if Bush can’t convince enough of the GOP base not to vote for him.
Among the Democrats: Clinton fatigue is real, too. Hilary Clinton has the chops to do the job, but after 8 years of Bill and 8 years as Obama’s secretary of state, a lot of voters -- Democrat and independent -- have had enough of her.
Bill C. has done her no favors, either; and by Bill C. I mean Bill Cosby. In an astonishingly short time, Cosby plummeted from one of the most admired and respected figures in America to a pariah. The generation of female voters who came of age after 9/11 look at Bill Clinton’s shenanigans in light of Cosby’s disgrace and curl their lips in disdain. Hilary’s relationship with Bill is not a strong selling point with this crowd.
Bernie Sanders is old, he’s white, he’s Jewish, and he’s a socialist, but oddly enough those characteristics tend to cancel themselves out, making him the most ideologically pure candidate in either field (“ideologically pure” in the sense that identity politics have been nullified).
As an old white guy, he’s reassuring to old white voters; while his age and whiteness have no appeal to younger and/or non-white voters, his other characteristics do.
He’s Jewish, which appeals to people sick of evangelical Christian influence in politics. Conversely, he has successfully reached out to evangelicals and told them what while they’ll never get what the GOP promised them, there are things President Bernie can deliver.
The evangelicals are listening to this.
He is a socialist, but he’s a socialist from one of the most contrarian conservative states in the union. The fact he has served them and served them well tells voters that even though he’s the most extreme left candidate, he’s still comfortably within mainstream American politics.
(As of this posting, neither Joe Biden nor any other viable potential candidates have officially announced for the Democratic slot. Biden is not the goofy uncle the public perceives him to be, but nonetheless they perceive him as the goofy uncle and it’s too late in the narrative to change that. Of the others, only Elizabeth Warren today offers an outside shot of securing the nomination but she seems willing to wait 2016 out. It’s not impossible she could end up on the bottom half of either a Clinton or Sanders ticket.)
Clinton faces a unique situation among candidates in both fields: She has started the campaign with the most support she can possibly get and must now keep voters from defecting to Sanders or later to the GOP candidate. She will lose supporters but if she can keep it down to a trickle and not a stream or more disastrously, a torrent, she can win handily. To do so she has to defeat Sanders in the early caucuses and primaries, defeat him decisively yet diplomatically so as not to alienate his supporters.
As of this posting: The nomination -- and quite probably the election -- is hers to lose.