An estimated 37 percent of eligible voters in the United States participated in the 2014 midterm elections. That's the lowest turnout since World War II, when people didn't vote because they were off fighting in World War II. You were listening to Taylor Swift. That's not the same. But even though, thanks to social media and ubiquitous messaging and 9,000 email lists you don't remember signing up for, there was no shortage of reminders about the midterms, the song remains the same: people mostly care about voting for president.
Lucky us, then. Because for the next two years, the only thing happening in politics is going to be the campaign for the White House. (Doubly so considering that Congress is red and the president is blue, which is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole while a bunch of people scream at you.) For the first time since 2008 and only the second time this millennium, we're looking at a presidential election with no incumbent, which means double the number of candidates to brush up on as we head into primaries. Either that, or it'll just be Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush, and we can all pretend we live in feudal England.
The Democrats have an interesting task on their hands. Even though Barack Obama won re-election by a landslide in 2012, his approval rating is at a catastrophic low of 42 percent, which means the president is no longer an asset. Two years of battling a Republican Congress could destroy him even further or turn him into something like a martyr, but either way, Obama can't be counted on to deliver another Democrat to the White House. And that means candidates who present themselves on the left have to decide how closely they want to identify with Hope and Change.
Saying Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination is like saying Prince Charles is the frontrunner for the British throne—it seems like both her right and the kind of thing she'd have to give up herself if someone else were to win. But it's easy to forget that Clinton lost to Obama in 2008, and she's eight years older than she was then—at 69, she'd be the second-oldest president ever to take office, just behind Ronald Reagan, who was a slightly older 69. She's the polar opposite of Obama in 2008, an Establishment Candidate who'd promise a return to neoliberalism and the fiscal priorities of the 90s. This might appeal to the Democrats more senior contingency, but it won't mobilize youth and minorities like Obama did, and an election of elderly voters might have the same end for Democrats that the 2014 midterms did: that is, a bad one.
Ironically, considering they're both women—or not ironically, because women are people who have their own individual opinions and beliefs—Elizabeth Warren might be the anti-Clinton candidate. Unlike Hillary, she's brazenly liberal, with an appeal based on populist rhetoric that attacks the rich and well-to-do. Warren is an academic and a fiscal reformist. And she's a current US Senator, whereas Hillary's full-time job is basically considering whether to run. But this will be the fate of all possible Democratic candidates: They'll get compared to Hillary, and stereotyped accordingly. Warren offers the closest analogue to 2008 Obama, which is exciting for a party that wants to win. But aside from only Joe Biden, she also offers the closest comparison to the current 42-percent-approval-rating Obama, meaning that she'll need to figure out a way to define herself, and herself in relation to the president, before 2016 rolls around. Also, she insists she's not even thinking about running, so there's that.
Nothing in politics is sexier than the phrase "a socialist Independent from Vermont." It's like introducing yourself as being "super into Birkenstocks." But Bernie Sanders, Vermont's indie senator who caucuses with the Democrats, is out here trying to live on that street cred. And while the word socialist might send Benjamin Kunkel into heat, it's unlikely to get any real American human past the primaries. Think of what people did to Obama over his taste for arugula. Now think of what self-identifying as a socialist means.
After serving two terms as governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley just watched his hand-picked successor and former lieutenant governor get his ass handed to him by a real-estate developer who had never held elected office. The American electorate has a short memory, but if — and most likely when — O'Malley runs for President, expect his opponents to remind him often of this fact. O'Malley's chances could depend heavily on whether Warren makes a run; if she does, he'll have competition for the mantle of most progressive, and if not, he'll have a clear identity.
Jim Webb was the secretary of the Navy under Reagan. He served one term as a Democratic US Senator from Virginia. And he's written a bunch of war novels that have sexy sex in them, which his Republican opponent read aloud during his 2006 Senate campaign. Webb's possible candidacy is mostly staked on his opposition to hawkishness among Democrats, but its entertainment potential is 100 percent dependent on the fact that he wrote fiction about people doing it.
Joe Biden's already 71 years old. He's unsuccessfully run for president twice before, and one of those times, he was felled by a plagiarism scandal. He's inextricably tied to Obama. But he's Joe Fucking Biden, and if he wants to run for president, then goddamit, he's going to run for president.
As Mitt Romney so painfully discovered in 2012, the two halves of the Republican Party, symbolically represented as a country-club financier in tennis whites and a man holding an AR-15 in Chipotle, have about as much in common politically as they do in real life. The GOP's 2016 presidential campaign will hinge on which side of that schism the party chooses to embrace. Or, if we're all lucky, they'll once again force a candidate to somehow skate down the middle, and some gray-haired plutocrat will have to pretend he likes killing and frying his own turkeys.
Ninety-nine percent of voters will get as far as Jeb Bush's last name before deciding what they think of him. But despite the amateur painting of a tire fire that is W's legacy, Jeb Bush offers Republicans a candidate with experience governing on a large scale, access to a colossal and well-oiled fundraising apparatus, and political leanings that put him somewhere in the middle of the party. Jeb's also an immigration reformist, meaning he could be a possible olive branch to the demographic that Republicans desperately need: Hispanics. That is, if it doesn't kill his chances with the conservative base. The entertainment value of a Bush run will be high, but the likelihood of him escaping the crossfire unharmed may keep him from even running.
The similarities between Chris Christie and Rex Ryan, the coach of the New York Jets, are both uncanny and disturbing. First, they are both large men with prodigious appetites. Second, they are residents and embodiments of the great state of New Jersey. Third, they were at one time very popular, but have since caused their stock to fall by being very bad at their jobs. Long a straight-shooting and tough-talking prototype, the political equivalent of a sitcom dad, Christie's been plagued by scandal, including the incident in which he (allegedly) shut down lanes of the George Washington Bridge in a pissing match with a small-town mayor. Even without Bridgegate hanging over his head, Christie is a fiscally oriented governor from a blue state—not exactly catnip for social conservatives.
Until the Republican Party nominates a libertarian as its presidential candidate, everyone will keep saying that the Republican Party will never nominate a libertarian as its presidential candidate. (But if you think I'd let Barry Goldwater move in next door or marry my daughter/ you must think I'm crazy.) Regardless, Paul is an intriguing option for the party in terms of galvanizing a group of voters that actually cares about voting. Now he just needs to convince the rest of the conservative electorate that he isn't some weird Kentucky spin on a pacifist hippie.
The only Republican governor who shares a name with a darkly avant-garde singer-songwriter, Walker also might be the Republicans' best option for nominating a staunch conservative who isn't certifiably insane. He's made a career out of narrowly surviving close calls—he clobbered unions in his home state of Wisconsin and then emerged from the wreckage by surviving a recall, before just barely winning his campaign for re-election in the midterms last week. Walker has both social- and fiscal-conservative bonafides, but he lacks the passionate backing of someone like Paul, or that a Tea Party candidate might be able to summon, which could work against him as he tries to out-yell his opponents in the primaries.
Speaking of passion and yelling: Rick Santorum might run again! He'll have to tear himself away from his Christian movie studio, but everyone's favorite Google-search cautionary tale can always be relied on to get a certain slice of the electorate all frothy and excited—namely the part that thinks ObamaCare is similar to apartheid.
In 2012, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made a big show of saying the Republicans need to avoid becoming "the stupid party," but since then, he's gone neck-deep into Tea Party politics, headlined by his determination to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It doesn't help that if Jindal has any chance of making it deep into the Republican primaries, he'll have to prove that this classic moment in political speechmaking isn't representative of what he has to offer, which, in that case, would be speaking like a kindergarten teacher all the time.
Unless you're a die-hard fan of conservative talk punditry, it probably seems like Mike Huckabee spends his time underground, rising every four years to have his ego stroked by the Republican apparatus. Huckabee's appeal is straightforward—he's an ultra-conservative rhetorical roundhouse kick to the face. But he hasn't held office since 2007, and persuading the GOP that he isn't just running for his own edification could be a tall task.
Ben Carson's just your typical black ex-neurosurgeon who's the first person to ever separate conjoined twins at the head; be praised by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal; mention gays in the same breath as NAMBLA and practitioners of bestiality; not believe in evolution; say the Affordable Care Act is the worst thing to happen to the United States since slavery; and raise $11 million in the name of running for president. Nothing to see here.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio's late turn as a foreign-policy hawk is an attempt to make up for the huge hit he took among conservatives for supporting immigration reform, which absolutely destroyed his rep among his own constituents. He's still in the running for the nomination, but it's going to take an uphill climb.
If you have a conservative cause, no matter how small, Ted Cruz will come to your house and take it up for you. Need a fence built in your yard? Call Cruz. Picketing an abortion clinic? Call Cruz. Burning evolution textbooks? Call Cruz. Cruz is trying to compensate for his minimal experience as a first-term senator by being the loudest and highest-profile far-right candidate who actually holds office, and though it might take some stars aligning, he could gain the support of the Republicans' far-right fringe.
Interestingly, the former Vice Presidential candidate's viability as a Presidential option could suffer from his integral role in Congressional politics—he takes a larger share of the criticism that is regularly and justifiably heaped on Congress, and his status as a tax maven doesn't make the stuff he's working on all that sexy. But he's a "serious" candidate, and that's not something the Republican Party always has in surplus.
Will Rick Perry's new glasses be enough to catapult him to the presidency? Who knows. But they do dovetail nicely with his turn toward bipartisanship and an intellectual brand. Whether anyone buys this maneuver after the debacle of the 2012 Republican primary debates remains to be seen.
Mitt Romney for President, 2016—the GOP's equivalent of sleeping with an ex.