The 2016 Baseline

Now that HRC has announced her candidacy, we are beginning to see a wholesome transition from neurotic talk about the possibility of her imploding and leaving the Democratic Party floundering to rational discussion of what she is likely to add to or detract from the Democratic voting coalition.

That discussion in turn begins with the assumptions people bring to the table about what we learned in the last two cycles.

I’m pretty clearly on record–having written a book about it and all–in saying that 2016 should be a lot more like 2008 and 2012 than like 2010 and 2014, for the simple reason that turnout patterns will be “presidential” and so far it appears the Obama coalition will survive him. That’s why last week’s Pew poll on the partisan identifications among various demographic groups was such a positive indicator for Democrats. Yes, maybe HRC would have trouble matching Obama’s exact percentages and exact turnout levels among African-Americans in 2008 and 2012, but it’s likely she’ll get a “historic candidacy” bump among women that will make up for any losses. And again, there’s no particular evidence she will suffer losses among Millennials or Latinos, unless you think Marco Rubio or Rand Paul is going to be the GOP nominee and their “expand the base” claims could survive the primaries.

So the real downside risk for HRC or for any Democratic candidate, is twofold: an economic downdraft like the one that helped turn 2008 into a near-landslide, or a “time for a change” undertow.

This last factor, as I’ve noted many times before, is hard to calculate since there haven’t been all that many two-term presidencies. But betcha that once it becomes more measurable (i.e., via polling) it could have a big effect on what I’ve described as a “safe change” message for HRC. The more “change” the public is demanding from Obama’s agenda and performance, the more HRC will likely supply it, along with contrasting information on the “change” the GOP stands for.

Speaking of the GOP: Jonathan Chait thinks that in the end HRC has one other ace-in-the-hole:

The argument for Clinton in 2016 is that she is the candidate of the only major American political party not run by lunatics. There is only one choice for voters who want a president who accepts climate science and rejects voodoo economics, and whose domestic platform would not engineer the largest upward redistribution of resources in American history. Even if the relatively sober Jeb Bush wins the nomination, he will have to accommodate himself to his party’s barking-mad consensus. She is non-crazy America’s choice by default. And it is not necessarily an exciting choice, but it is an easy one, and a proposition behind which she will probably command a majority.

Since the “party run by lunatics” has won two straight midterm elections, and wasn’t exactly blown out in 2012, this observation may not offer as much comfort as it should. But it certainly validates the importance of paying attention to the GOP’s relative sanity level, as we like to do a lot here at PA.

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.