Despite the supposed lessons of 2012, and the palpable desire of the donor class, and “reforms” initiated from on high to make the nominating process shorter and less messy, it’s increasingly obvious the 2016 Republican presidential contest could be an unpredictable slow-motion riot. As Politico‘s Haberman and Sherman report today, GOP elites are watching the field form with a sense of horror, but don’t know what to do about it:
The message from Republican officials has been crystal clear for two years: The 2016 Republican primary cannot be another prolonged pummeling of the eventual nominee. Only one person ultimately benefited from that last time — Barack Obama — and Republicans know they can’t afford to send a hobbled nominee up against Hillary Clinton.
Yet interviews with more than a dozen party strategists, elected officials and potential candidates a month out from the unofficial start of the 2016 election lay bare a stark reality: Despite the national party’s best efforts, the likelihood of a bloody primary process remains as strong as ever.
The absence of any front-runner increases the incentives for others to at least give it a try. “Reforms” like the (probable) elimination of the Ames Straw Poll mean less opportunity for winnowing the field before the real contests begin, and the shorter track of the contests themselves makes the sort of serial disposal of unelectable rivals Mitt Romney conducted in 2012 will be harder. Meanwhile, even if the elites used to a disproportionate role in the process can reach agreement on a champion (Jebbie or Mitt), it’s unclear he’ll run, or that the rank-and-file will go along.
There’s a lot of pious talk in the Politico piece about the 2016 candidates agreeing not to attack each other, and to save their fire for the dreaded Hillary, but nobody is likely to forget from 2012 how easy it was for the candidates to remain relatively sunny while their Super-PACs ran ads attacking rivals as instruments of Satan.
If Republicans have as good a midterm election as they expect, the temptation to think of 2016 as the year the conservative-movement-dominated GOP finally consolidates power will be very strong. Which potential candidates will want to pass up the opportunity to get in on that, particularly if a failed run sets ’em up for the future? I don’t know, but I do know this could be the cycle when the cliches about the Republican Party being “disciplined” and “hierarchical” finally get retired once and for all.