Why Much of the Conventional Wisdom About 2016 Is Wrong

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is increasingly more Republican than Libertarian.  (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is increasingly more Republican than Libertarian. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Since Hillary Clinton formally announced her continued participation in the 2016 presidential race, the campaign has been brought into sharper focus. Ms. Clinton is now an official candidate and several Republican candidates including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have announced their candidacy, while others such as Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have emerged as frontrunners for the GOP nomination.

As the campaign progresses, many insights will be repeated and repeated, becoming conventional wisdom. Some will prove to be true. For example, Martin O’Malley is very unlikely to pose a significant challenge to Hillary Clinton; the election will come down to the same six to ten swing states; and the Republicans are fighting a battle against changing demographics. However, many of the tropes that become conventional wisdom are false or nonsensical. Here are five examples.

Hillary Clinton has a problem on her left flank. Although there is progressive dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton, her problems among progressive voters are almost entirely an elite phenomenon that has not reached most of the electorate. Ms. Clinton’s commanding lead among Democratic primary voters would not exist if she was having real trouble with progressive voters. Recent polls also show that only ten percent of Democratic voters have ruled out voting for Ms. Clinton. Among African American voters, that number is five percent.

Ms. Clinton’s problems among progressive voters seem bigger than they are because there is substantial frustration, particularly among progressive elites with Ms. Clinton’s move rightward over the years and with the absence of any strong challenge to the Democratic frontrunner. This has not translated into a genuine political weakness for Ms. Clinton. Moreover, as conservative attacks on Ms. Clinton increase during the campaign, this will only mobilize non-elite progressive to support her more.

Elizabeth Warren is more valuable in the Senate. This line is frequently repeated by progressives who would like to see Ms. Warren run for President, but are recognizing that she will not. It is found in articles, comments on blog posts, conversations among progressives and the like. It is also nonsense. First, Ms. Warren would not have to give up her seat in the Senate to run for President. She is not up for reelection until 2018, so she could easily run for President and, if unsuccessful, seek reelection when her term is up. The argument is additionally silly because the notion that an outspoken relatively junior senator of the minority party has a greater impact than a President or Vice President is bizarre. Clearly, Ms. Warren would be much more effective as a leader of the executive branch than in her current role. Ms. Warren is wisely not running for President not because she is needed in the Senate, but because she would have an extremely difficult time beating Hillary Clinton in a Democratic primary.

Jeb Bush speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on February 18. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Jeb Bush speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on February 18. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Jeb Bush is a moderate Republican. Implicit in Jeb Bush’s appeal is that he is the grownup among a group of radicals seeking the Republican nomination. This is reflected in Mr. Bush’s demeanor and style, but that does not mean he has governed as a moderate. As Governor of Florida from 1999-2007, he was at least as conservative as his brother was as Governor of Texas. Laura Meckler, writing in the Wall Street Journal, noted that as governor “Mr. Bush championed tax cuts, privatized state jobs, fought for school vouchers, won power over the judiciary and labored to prolong the life of a brain-damaged woman, Terry Schiavo.” Ms. Meckler added “Mr. Bush also sparked protests with his One Florida program, which aimed to end affirmative action preferences for minorities in universities and state contracting. Mr. Bush initially opposed offshore oil drilling, before backing down.” This is not the record of a moderate Governor. Mr. Bush may run towards the center in the primaries and general election and may sound more rational than Mick Huckabee or Ted Cruz, as he clearly seeks to represent the electable wing of his party. That, however, does not make him a moderate.

Rand Paul is a Libertarian. Ron Paul is a Libertarian. His son Rand is a Republican who has some interesting ideas, but on many issues is in the mainstream of his party. While Rand Paul has taken some positions, notably around police violence, foreign policy and medical marijuana that lean Libertarian, his views on social issues such as marriage equality and the economy are clearly Republican. His recent comments that “I’m for traditional marriage…marriage is between a man and a woman…(same sex marriage) offends myself and a lot of people,” is not by any stretch of the imagination consistent with Libertarian views. Similarly, Mr. Paul has sought to have it both ways on foreign policy, calling for a large intervention against ISIS, hardly a Libertarian position, while occasionally also urging a less interventionist approach to foreign policy. Senator Paul is not quite just another Republican, but he can no longer be called a Libertarian either.

This is the most important election of our lifetimes. We have not heard this line very much yet, but that is because the general election is still over a year and a half away. During the final weeks of the election both parties will repeat this mantra. The problem with this assertion is that it is made in every election. It is, of course, not possible for every election to be the most important of our lifetimes, unless magically every election is more important than the previous ones. Moreover, this claim makes it difficult to more rigorously assess the relative import of presidential elections. Obviously, this line is used for political reasons, not as real analysis, but it creates an atmosphere where voters are encouraged to lose perspective and, more broadly, the impact of previous elections are ignored.

Lincoln Mitchell is national political correspondent at the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LIncolnMitchell. Why Much of the Conventional Wisdom About 2016 Is Wrong