In 2014, there are three national campaigns taking place.
The first is the mid-term campaign of the Democrats to
re-take control of the U.S. house and to keep control of
the U.S. senate. Prospects are virtually non-existent for the
former and increasingly unlikely for the latter. The
Democrats will be trying to upset these expectations, but
they are problematically limited by their need to defend
unpopular President Obama, unpopular Obamacare
legislation, an ambivalent economy and the deteriorating
administration foreign policy.
The second campaign are the efforts by the Republicans
to add to their current control of the U.S. house and to retake
control of the U.S. senate. Both those outcomes now look
quite positive, although the latter is not a certainty since the
GOP must make a net gain of six seats.
Making matters more difficult for Democratic Party
aspirations are two factors. First the “rump” wing of the
GOP, usually described as the “tea party” wing, failed
throughout the primary season to dislodge any GOP
senators or to defeat any notable (more establishment)
challengers to vulnerable seats now held by Democrats.
Although some establishment conservatives failed to win
nomination, and some GOP incumbents will lose, the
Republicans seem likely to gain a net of 5-10 seats in the
U.S. house. Even in governorships up this cycle, in which
twice as many incumbent Republicans were facing the voters
than incumbent Democrats, early liberal hopes for significant
gains have been dashed, and the net change in state capitals
will probably be minimal.
The strategies of these two campaigns, easily predictable and
now evident, are (for the Democrats) keeping all races local,
and (for the Republicans) trying to make as many races part
of a national referendum on the president and his
administration as possible.
There is, however, a third strategic campaign underway by
each party in the midst of all this. These are the campaigns
and plans of each party’s leadership in the aftermath of
November’s results to position themselves and their candidate
for president in 2016.
Since the most likely outcome of 2016 (although by no means
yet a certainty) is the Republican control of the Congress and
a “lame duck” Democratic president, it must be assumed that
each party’s leadership and their likely 2016 candidates are
making plans for the post-November period when the 2016
presidential campaign will begin.
Although there is now a growing likelihood that Republicans
and conservatives will have some measure of success this year,
the relative positions of the two parties under that circumstance
might (paradoxically) favor the Democrats for 2016.
Already some are suggesting that Hillary Clinton, the early
favorite for the Democratic nomination to succeed Mr. Obama,
could “triangulate” Republican control of Congress and the
inevitable stalemate that would likely result, and (Harry
Truman-style) run against a do-nothing GOP house and senate.
That presupposes, of course, that she could separate herself
from the president she served for four years as secretary of
state, and that she could come up with a liberal program that
is in contrast to the Obama/Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid record.
After November, 2014, the Republicans have a very difficult
task in spite of likely “Obama fatigue” and Democratic policy
failures. They have to come up with an appealing and
understandable alternative to the past eight years, and they
will need a candidate to carry the message of that alternative.
The ingredients of the former already exist thanks to Paul
Ryan in the U.S. house, several successful GOP governors in
the states, and policy thinkers such as Newt Gingrich who
have been discussing “outside-the-box” new approaches to
governing. While these ingredients do exist, they are not yet
a whole and integrated program, and probably won’t be until
the party has a nominee (or a likely nominee).
This latter requirement is also a problem for the conservative
party which has a large “bench” of suitable candidates, but
no single frontrunner. Governor Chris Christie was emerging
as that candidate, but local New Jersey controversies have at
least temporarily waylaid his early momentum. Former
Governor Jeb Bush has the stature, but not yet the declared
intention to run. Mitt Romney, whose statements in his 2012
campaign now are looking better and better, has numerous
obstacles to a renomination. Senator Rand Paul has a
nationwide base, and several of the aforementioned
successful GOP governors could yet emerge. A volatile and
spirited contest for the GOP nomination lies ahead,
There are also a number of issues, such as immigration reform,
which face the Republican Party in the next two years.
If indeed the GOP is successful in controlling the Congress in
January, 2015, its leadership must then figure out how to deal
with President Obama who, so far, has shown no interest in
compromise, and will have at that point even less motive to
do so. As previously suggested, the GOP will have the delicate
task of proposing legislation that will not seem unconstructive
to the voters over the next two years, and will appear so
plausible that voters, especially independent voters, will look
favorably to the Republican alternative. This is much more
difficult than it might seem today when Democratic policies
are unpopular, but GOP policies are unclear.
While party strategists are now eager to discuss the 2014
campaign, and to show their “stuff” in its remaining two
months, a much bigger political chess game will succeed it.
That is the campaign no one is talking about just now, but it
is also invisibly taking place because of what awaits the 2014
winners and losers, and the much bigger stakes which will
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.