Future Versus Past

I know enough to take with a shaker of salt any analysis from William “Wrong Way” Kristol. But he does make a salient point about that CNN/ORC poll released earlier this week that asked voters to describe various proto-candidates for president as representing “the past” or “the future.”

The survey asked whether each of seven presidential possibilities better represented the future or the past. All four Republicans (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker) were viewed by a plurality of respondents as representing the past more than the future. Jeb Bush fared much the worst: 64 percent of Americans considered him as representing the past, only 33 percent the future.

As for the Democrats, the good news was that Vice President Joe Biden had identically poor numbers to Jeb Bush. The not-so-great news was that Elizabeth Warren’s future-vs.-past numbers were a strongly positive 46-37. The truly alarming news was that senior citizen Hillary Clinton, who has been at the center of the national stage for over two decades, managed a positive 50-48 result.

So voters (admittedly, by a small margin) think Hillary Clinton “represents the future.” And they believe all the Republicans represent the past. Yikes.

Kristol isn’t all that clear about what he specifically he takes away from the poll other than “alarm”; one guesses it knocks a big hole in the common assumption that running against HRC takes care of Jeb’s dynastic problem. But any way you slice it, it’s bad news that four Republicans who have never run for president before–including one who never ran for anything before 2010–are considered relics.

One thing Republicans could do is nominate someone like Scott Walker instead of Jeb Bush. Walker’s numbers (39 future/42 past) at least put him within hailing distance of Hillary Clinton. Maybe one of the possible candidates not included in the poll (Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? Mike Pence?) would do better on the past/future question. But the numbers that we have do suggest a deeper Republican problem.

Could it have something to do with the GOP’s constant resistance to cultural change, or its endlessly expressed idolatry towards a president who left office over a quarter-century ago, or its old-white-guy-heavy matched set of elected officials and voters? Kristol doesn’t say specifically.

It’s of course very early in the 2016 cycle. But it’s never too early for some healthy alarm. Are we the only ones who are struck that many of the leading Republican candidates, whether moderate or conservative, seem to be planning stale and tired campaigns? Hillary will herself, it’s safe to predict, run a stale campaign with tired themes. But the polls suggest she would prevail in a conventional matchup of boring campaigns.

I dunno. Ben Carson and Ted Cruz and even Mike Huckabee are pretty exciting, in the sense that howling culture warriors are always either frightening or entertaining. But it’s clear a lot of swing voters would just as soon observe conservative extremism in the rear-view mirror.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.