Here come the candidates

Published 1:22 pm Thursday, December 18, 2014

The 2016 presidential campaign has barely started, and I’m already bored.

On one hand, everyone’s ready for Hillary, but she doesn’t seem all that eager for everyone. She’s scheduled two paid speeches for early next year, which means she won’t be kicking off her campaign until the spring. This is seen in D.C. as alternately smart politics and evidence that she’s floundering.

Holding off is undoubtedly good tactics, but while Democrats are waiting for Hillary they’re not talking about America, and that’s a shame. There’s plenty of time for her to lay out a reason to run for president, but when the frontrunner doesn’t enter the race it leaves all the others stretching at the starting line, waiting for the starting gun. And voters learn nothing about how Democrats would lead this county.

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On the other hand, approximately 17,000 Republicans are visiting Iowa and pretending that they’re not running for president yet. And if you thought the clown car primary from 2012 was fun—we’ll always have Uzbekibekibekistanstan—then the 2016 Republican primary should be a rare case when the sequel is better than the original.

We’ve got Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who signed a letter to a Jewish constituent, “Thank you, and Molotov,” which could either have been an autocorrect mistake or a frat-guy joke. And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is having a prayer rally with a group that blames Hurricane Katrina on legal abortion, guys kissing each other, and naked ladies on the Internet.

And for fans of hand buzzers, whoopee cushions, and toy snakes popping out of peanut brittle cans, we’ve got Texas Gov. Rick Perry, bless his heart. The inside word was that he was studying up on foreign policy and stuff since the last time when he looked in the debates like he was roller skating on ice. This time, we were told, he’d be the kind of candidate who could unite subjects and verbs in agreement and not get lost in the middle of sentences.

But you can’t keep a good man down. Recently he told a visiting reporter that a 2016 campaign would not be predicated on his mastery of the word-a-day calendar he got for Christmas last year.

“Running for the presidency’s not an IQ test,” he said. “It is a test of an individual’s resolve. It’s a test of an individual’s philosophy. It’s a test of an individual’s life’s experiences.”

The belief that an American president’s belief system should benefit from book learnin’ is elitist snobbery. Simple bull-headed stick-to-itiveness is good enough for Perry, which is good considering he got a C in animal husbandry in college even though he grew up on a farm.

Add in Dr. Ben Carson, the Tea Party darling who blamed Ferguson on feminism, and you’ve the makings of a sitcom where everyone plays the wacky neighbor. And we haven’t even mentioned Ted Cruz yet.

Alas, it may never come to pass. Republican donors don’t like it when their candidates make their party look stupid by running for president on a platform of “oops” and sweater vests. (Yes, Rick Santorum is back for another round, too.) So they’re holding what amounts to a super-secret primary to pick an establishment candidate from among Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Chris Christie.

We know Bush and Christie are serious about running for president because they’ve been very public about losing weight recently. Also, Jeb now admits he’s “actively” exploring the race, which for my money beats the heck out of passive exploration.

This is a pity. Selfishly, I liked the 2012 Republican Primary. The debates were good theater. Any show in which Newt Gingrich plays the wizened elder statesman is going to be must-see TV. But the primary was most revealing because the candidates were forced to publicly draw contrasts with each other. We didn’t get a generic Republican foisted on us. Instead, Republicans got to examine a variety of candidates, and then they chose the generic Republican.

That’s the problem with anointing a winner in primaries before they’ve even begun. If Republican donors choose a nominee and Hillary is never challenged, then Americans are cut out of a very important and entertaining discussion. And that’s boring.


Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.