FrontPage | 11.8.12
By Alan W. Dowd
With the president winning a
second term, what many Americans hoped was just a brief detour into
European-style statism turns out to be the opening chapter of a new era. Like
other transformative presidents, President Barack Obama will, in effect, shape
a decade of American politics and leave a lasting legacy on our nation. In
concrete terms, we can expect the federal government to consume not the
historical average of 20 percent of GDP, but rather the Obama average of 24
percent or more of GDP—permanently; we can expect the debt to grow and to
eclipse the GDP; we can expect individual freedom to be more limited while
government becomes less limited; we can expect the military to have fewer
resources, a smaller reach and a lesser role overseas; and we can expect more
Americans to expect more from the government and less of themselves. These are
the consequences of the 2012 status quo election, as a schizophrenic America
reelects a president with a gaudy record of serial spending, reelects a House
with a mandate to stop the spending free-for-all and reelects a Senate too
dysfunctional to do much of anything. There was no breakthrough, no mandate, no
message—except to continue an unsustainable status quo.
Fatigued by nearly two years
of presidential campaigning, the electorate may not want to start thinking
about 2016. But this status quo election virtually forces us to look ahead.
First things first: Mitt
Romney was an imperfect candidate, but he didn’t lead the GOP into oblivion. Parties
have been written off into “permanent minority status” too many times to count.
Things like this were said of the GOP after FDR’s landslide and LBJ’s
landslide, after the post-Watergate elections and after Obama’s 2008 victory. And
things like this have been said of the Democratic Party, too. After all, it won
just two presidential elections between 1860 and 1908. In fact, just two Democrats were elected president between 1860 and 1932.
After 1994 and 2004, the party pondered whether it had lost the country.
The coming years will bring
new challenges (see above). And a number of governors, lawmakers and political
veterans from both parties will answer these challenges with new solutions and
new ideas. In no particular order, here are some names to keep in mind.
- Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said 2012 “was probably my time,”
adding, “There’s a window of opportunity in life.” But the popular
governor is still young, is known as a reformer and is widely respected by
people within and outside his party. He would appeal to independents and
Hispanics. The drawback of his last name—his brother remains deeply
unpopular in polling surveys—will become less of drag as time passes. It
pays to recall that when Truman left the White House, he was considered
neither successful nor popular. His approval rating was 26 percent at the
end of his presidency, owing to the unpopular Korean War. But history’s verdict is much different today. George W. Bush, like Truman, made hard decisions
and chose the hard path. Only time can validate those decisions and that
- Senator Marco Rubio, a fellow Floridian, is on everyone’s short list.
To see why conservatives like Rubio, read his speech
at the Reagan Library, in which he talks about the proper role of
government, a vibrant civil society, a reformed entitlement system and
American exceptionalism. The son of immigrants, Rubio offers a message of
upward mobility, free enterprise and core values of faith and family that would
appeal to many inside and outside the GOP—and especially to the growing
Hispanic and Latino populations, who are playing a growing role in American
- Gen. David Petraeus saved
Iraq—and American honor—with his surge plan in 2007-09; led CENTCOM through
some of its toughest years; took over command in Afghanistan at the
eleventh hour; and has steered America’s military and intelligence
machinery through the entire war on terror. He’s a fixer and a consummate
man of duty in a country with lots of problems to fix and too few people
willing to do their duty. Of course, the Benghazi debacle,
which promises to haunt and hound the Obama administration through 2013, could
impact the CIA. To his credit, Petraeus has
made it clear that his agency did not cover its ears when Americans under
fire called out for help. “No
one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims
to the contrary are simply inaccurate,” a CIA official declared as the White House began to search for a scapegoat.
- Although she is a natural name for 2016, no one seems as damaged
by the Benghazi debacle as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Moreover, she
will be almost 70 by the time the next elections rolls around. To be sure,
that’s not too old to serve. After all, Reagan was 69 when he was elected,
and Clinton’s generation of Baby Boomers will remain a key chunk of the
electorate. But it is rare for the electorate to go back a generation.
Obama, it pays to recall, was born at end of the postwar Baby Boom and/or the
beginning of the post-Boom generation.
- The age problem also faces Vice President Joe Biden,
who is even older than Clinton. Still, he has openly talked about a 2016
- Other Democrats to watch for include the two Virginia
senators—Mark Warner and Tim Kaine—and governors Deval Patrick and Andrew
- Soon-to-be-former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was recruited
heavily in 2011-12 but said no. The likelihood that he will say yes in
2015-16 seems low, given his new apolitical
role as president of Purdue University.
- A more-likely Hoosier to run for president is the governor-elect,
Mike Pence. First elected to Congress in 2000, Pence is a small-government
conservative committed to a strong defense and traditional values—firmly
in the Reagan tradition.
- Sen. John Thune, the plain-spoken, tough-minded conservative from
South Dakota, has hinted that he might run. Although he doesn’t have a big-state base, he has all the positions
and traits of a solid candidate.
- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could be a factor in the next
cycle. He contemplated a run in 2012. His 2016 hopes may be impacted by
frustrations some in the GOP expressed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy,
when he praised Obama’s help in dealing with the effects of the killer
storm. But that could just as easily be spun as evidence of Christie’s
ability to put partisanship aside.
- Rep. Paul Ryan was catapulted into the national consciousness and
conversation when Romney asked him to join the ticket. The coming two years
promise to position Ryan at the very center of the debate over the size
and scope of government, which will only elevate him nationally. Indeed,
Ryan, who retained
his House seat, could arguably play a larger role in the looming
fiscal fights chairman of the House Budget Committee than as vice
president—a post John Adams dismissed as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man