Who Can Beat Them?

The State Funeral Of Former South African President Nelson Mandela

This is what you call “inevitability”:

Clinton stands at an eye-popping 73 percent in a  hypothetical 2016 primary race with Biden, the sitting vice president, who is the only other candidate in double digits at 12 percent. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has signed a letter along with a handful of other Democratic senators urging Clinton to run, is at 8 percent. And that’s it.

That lead is almost three times as large as the one Clinton enjoyed in Post-ABC polling in December 2006, the first time we asked the 2008 Democratic presidential primary ballot question.

Yes, the same was said last time as well, and she still managed to screw it up. But this time, there is no Obama in the wings, and this time, her coronation would follow a humiliation in 2008 and rehabilitation as secretary of state. Obama has also broken the barrier of an African-American president, and Democrats will find the appeal of the first woman president – and the gender gulf that could thereby open up – irresistible.  Even veteran Clinton-skeptics, ahem, find the appeal of a woman president galvanizing – the perfect way to add charisma and excitement to a very establishment and uncharismatic figure. Then there’s the Bill factor – a second Clinton presidency would be a reprise of the two-for-one package of 1992 and 1996. But this time, it would import into the White House the best political salesman in the country, with invaluable foreign policy experience and chops. If Hillary wins, Bill should be secretary of state. A formal role on the world stage is far preferable to an informal role on the inside fucking everything up.

What do her Democratic opponents have that could possibly match this appeal? And whom do the Republicans have? Their centrists are pedestrian, Pawlenty-style Midwesterners with little of the personality and star power that a presidential campaign demands. I mean: Walker? Kasich? They’re solid governors, but … it’s hard to see them in the White House. The base faves – a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul – could get the nomination pretty quickly, given the new primary calendar and rules. But it would be very hard to frame a race between Clinton and, say, Cruz, as anything but a Johnson-Goldwater moment.

Which leaves Jeb Bush. It would, I guess, be a fitting testimony to the stalling of social mobility in America that a race in 2016 could be between a Clinton and a Bush, just as it was in 1992.

But since American politics is essentially an aristocratic, nepotistic oligarchy pretending to be a meritocratic democracy, many will presumably shrug their shoulders. Bush brings two things to the table: access to the big donor base, and raising the share of the Latino vote for the GOP. But it is hard to see Jeb really being able to unite the establishment and the Tea Party, without some serious internal ructions. And dynasty hurts Bush in a way it doesn’t Clinton.

Bill Clinton’s presidency now appears to have been an elysian time of peace and prosperity. George W Bush’s remains a recurring nightmare for many, especially Independents. And Jeb may not run anyway.

Of course, I may be missing something that throws all of this up in the air – like Christie’s bridge scandal. A scandal could emerge from the shadowy nexus of money, power and influence that comes with the Clinton network. Bill’s zipper could malfunction again. Hillary’s or Bill’s health may conceivably impact the race. Or simply “events, dear boy, events” could shake everything up.

What fascinates me is not just the dynamics of the race that is shaping up, but what could happen after. Imagine the GOP losing to Obama twice, and then losing to their bugaboo of the 1990s in 2016. Wouldn’t that be a shattering blow to morale? Could the GOP be drifting toward its role in the 1950s and 1960s again – a dyspeptic regional party with no ability to win a national majority? Or would a third presidential defeat in a row (and the fifth loss in in the national vote in six elections) lead to a civil war from which a saner Republican party could emerge at last?

I don’t know. But I don’t think this combination of factors will be boring.