It’s hard to remember a presidential contest receiving this much attention so long before the election cycle even began. We have the burbling question of whether Hillary Clinton will run, not to mention a look at the former secretary of State and her closest circle of advisers and supporters in a New York Times Magazine cover story; we’ve seen the drama around New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge scandal dominate the news for a couple of weeks; speculation abounds about whether Jeb Bush might make a bid; and Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio have all attracted considerable attention over the past year. It’s an unprecedented focus on a race that has been going on for a while already and won’t even really heat up for another year.
Part of this comes from Republicans. Badly disappointed by 2012, when they blew a very winnable presidential race and lost — rather than gained — three Senate seats, coming up far short of a hoped-for Senate majority, Republicans have already moved on. For Democrats, who are increasingly pessimistic about winning a House majority this decade and are alarmed about the status of their Senate majority, which is teetering on a knife’s edge, thinking about 2016 is a welcomed distraction from current problems.
It’s also true that as far as Democrats are concerned, dreams of the Obama presidency being a second Camelot were dashed long ago. On Capitol Hill, few Democrats love, fear, or even respect their president. They no longer have any emotional bond or commitment to him, and they have begun to move on as well, thinking about better days ahead.
When Obama hits a high note, such as during his tribute to Army Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg and other badly wounded warriors from Afghanistan and Iraq, his eloquence is unmatched, and his words inspiring. The substance of his speeches, though, is often just thin gruel and wishful thinking. Sure, Obama can rise to the oratorical prowess of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. But when it comes to delivering the goods, with anything short of 59 or 60 Senate seats and the huge majorities his party had in the House back in 2009 and 2010, this administration has delivered very little, and that’s what leaves so many Democrats shaking their heads.
The inimitable and indispensable Mike Allen wrote in his SOTU morning-after Politico Playbook,“Things are starting to work. We have a budget, we have a farm bill, there won’t be a white-knuckle debt-limit stare-down. Both sides are at least flirting with immigration compromise. Both Obama and House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers gave upbeat speeches in hopes of keeping this momentum going. This is no grand bargain. But it’s no longer grand dysfunction.”
Allen is accurate on all of this, but if you look at the progress on the substantive matters he mentioned, Obama’s role is tangential at best. I doubt that the White House can produce a picture of Obama, in his shirtsleeves, actually hammering out a deal on the farm bill.
The truth is, Congress has developed coping mechanisms that allow members to move modestly, with minimal, if any, presidential involvement. Similarly, the White House has signaled its intention to do what it can through executive orders and other actions that don’t require congressional approval. In other words, each end of Pennsylvania Avenue has learned how to work around the other, given their inability to work with one another.
The end result is that Washington has begun to kind of work, through moves that can be made with minimal cross-branch or cross-aisle engagement. If the active involvement and close cooperation of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were needed for everything, the government wouldn’t even be able to open its doors most days.
Seeing as how the present is so discouraging, it’s little wonder that, to the extent possible, many have moved on and started thinking about the future. All we need is Scarlett O’Hara saying, “Tomorrow is another day.” (Note to the young: That’s a Gone With the Wind reference.)
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President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”
It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”
It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.
Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.