July 16th, 2014 // 9:08 am @ Oliver DeMille
Setting the Stage
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans went into retreat. Pundits wondered if they’d ever recover, especially after the reversals they’d already experienced in the election of 2006. Some spoke in lasting terms, suggesting that Republicans had become a regional party at best.
Then came the historic Republican victory of 2010, a midterm election that put the GOP in charge of the House and gave it major gains in the Senate. It seemed that a reversal had come at last. A number of conservatives predicted continued victories in the 2012 election and projected that President Obama’s days in the White House were numbered.
With the opposition party gaining momentum in the months leading up to the midterm election of 2014, a number of politicos are forecasting another Republican sweep—some on a major scale that wins control of the entire Congress, others of a smaller but still respectable victory Few, even on the Left, believe that 2014 will go to the Democrats.
In this environment, some on the Right are vocally enthusiastic about the 2016 Presidential election. One elected official said he now thinks Mitt Romney will run again and win, and he has been widely quoted by a number of conservatives hoping for a major change in the White House.
The Common Wisdom
Thoughts about the 2016 election seem to split by geography. Talk to people in most red states, and they’re sure Romney or some other Republican will win this time. In blue states, the opposite is true, and Hillary Clinton is extremely popular. The mainstream media overwhelmingly leans in the direction of “Hillary is the clear front runner,” and most of the alternative (largely conservative) media is hesitant to pick a winner this early—meaning it too thinks Hillary has a lead.
The common wisdom now seems to agree on several things:
- Republicans will likely post some gains in the midterm election in November, but whether these are large or small it won’t have a huge impact on federal policy. The White House will block any drastic changes, and maintain its current agenda, albeit stifled a bit. Voters aren’t likely to see any real change of direction.
- Whatever happens in the 2014 midterm, it won’t signal how things will go in 2016. The 2006 and 2008 elections went in the same direction, but the 2008 and 2010 elections went down totally different tracks. We won’t know what’s going to happen in 2016 until it does.
- Hillary Clinton is definitely ahead right now, and 2016 is her election to lose. All indications are that, regardless of who the Republican nominee is, the strongly blue and red states will vote as expected, and the election will come down to the votes of Hispanics, women, and independents in a few swing states. Hillary will win big with the first two, and probably post a less spectacular win with the third as well.
The wildcard in 2016—and it could change everything—is foreign affairs. On the surface, this should be a strength for Hillary, who traveled widely as the First Lady and both shaped policy and set travel records as Secretary of State. But something deeper is at play. If world events continue to heat up, it could weaken Mrs. Clinton.
Many Americans see Putin’s antics and Syria thumbing its nose at the United States as direct failures of the Obama Administration, not to mention the growing sense that China is replacing us as the up and coming power in the world. Many Americans see Clinton’s role as Secretary of State as partly responsible for these very problems—or for not more effectively addressing them.
Watching rockets rain down on Israel is the worst possible optic for the future of the Democratic Party. (Of course, this is a much bigger issue than American politics, but it matters deeply how America uses its influence in such situations.) If the international incidents continue, or repeat or escalate at any point close to the 2016 election, many voters (most importantly the swing voters) will increasingly see Democratic leadership as weak, naïve and misguided, and yearn for a “strong” Republican-style leader who brings America back to its rightful place in the world.
If Benjamin Netanyahu were running for president in such an environment, it might be a Reaganesque sweep. It would have been fertile ground for Chris Christie, but Bridgegate may have put an end to his viability as the nominee. International unrest could easily increase support for iconic Republican leaders like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, et al. Romney may well consider another run on such grounds.
In fact, the current level of international unrest could have a huge influence on which Republicans (and even Democrats) ultimately run and who wins. Rand Paul is very popular among Republicans, for example, except when he starts talking about national security in what many of his base consider isolationist terms. And Christie might look better to voters in the face of a serious international threat.
In the famous Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate, the large majority of those who listened on the radio thought Nixon had won. Those who watched on television, however, thought Kennedy had the clear upper hand. He looked cool, calm, and excited about the future of America, while Nixon looked driven and frustrated. Obviously, Kennedy won the election.
The 2016 election will likely provide similarly interesting optics. How will Hillary and her opponent look on camera, compared to each other? This may be the true swing-point of the election.
But there is another possibility. What if the picture foremost in American minds at the time of the debates and election day includes a major national security issue? If China becomes more aggressive, or rockets are raining down on Israel, or anything similar, a Republican “tear down this wall” moment might sway the whole thing.
In our current world, this is not just possible but very possible. A candidate can’t count on it, but a front runner can’t be sure it won’t happen either.
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah