Creative Commons Photo

According to Andrew

By Andrew Geisler, Columnist 

Presidential politics talk can never start too early, but it’s only really safe to write about it when the Des Moines Register starts polling. Though it’s been going on for quite some time, the 2016 silly season feels like it officially began last week when Bloomberg Politics and the Register teamed up to release some interesting polling data.

True to form, the silly season’s early polls have led to some truly silly early interpretations of the coming race. The highlight of the poll is certainly the match-up of Hillary Clinton—who everyone simply assumes will be the Democratic nominee at their own peril—and seven of the perceived front-running Republicans for the nomination.

Only Mitt Romney leads Hillary, and he leads just 44-43, out of a field including (in order of how they fare against Clinton) Representative Paul Ryan, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

This poll is not good for the Beltway consensus on the 2016 election. Despite leading against a bunch of people who probably have low name-identification in Iowa, Clinton’s favorable/unfavorable rating is upside down—47-49.

But let’s go back to the real headline from this poll—the Romney factor. Due to their revulsion toward anyone espousing actual conservative views, it is understandable that the mainstream press would enjoy pumping up the Romney 2016 buzz. The reality is that Mitt Romney will only be the next Tom Dewey (who lost for Republicans in both 1944 and 1948) if Republican voters are dumb enough to let him.

Fortunately they are not. His level of support in this poll is likely due to the fact that he’s a known quantity more than anything else. The problem—the one that submarines his hopes—is that Republican voters, before his too-little too-late comeback against the president, knew he spoke conservatism as a second language, as pundits like Jonah Goldberg put it.

Romney looks fine now, but put him back in Iowa next winter and the result would be identical to his tie with Rick Santorum. The search for the not-Romney would simply begin anew. The reason he won’t jump in this time is because, as Romney must know, the not-Romney’s this cycle are sure to be much stronger.

Replace Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum with people like Rubio, Cruz, and Paul for 2016. The views might be similar in some ways, but the level of professionalism at the political game will be quite different. A rich old billionaire with a big happy family like Romney doesn’t need to deal with another race against a better field.

Early presidential polls are funny too. Who really knows if Hillary Clinton is worth polling as the clear front-runner? Maybe the Democratic Party is a whole heck of a lot closer to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said over the weekend, “when the going got tough, his economic team picked Wall Street,” of the president. This was nota compliment.

If the Democratic base really likes that type of sentiment, the Clinton machine will be on the outside looking in again in 2016.

The same goes for the GOP. Does the party need to be more populist, not more moderate like writers like Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner argue? It is certainly possible. It is also possible that the party simply wants to go corporatist and moderate.

The loud consensus on both sides is one thing, but the views of the foot soldiers can be totally different based on the economic and political circumstances. And that’s the thing. American voters, above all else are economically insecure. Whichever party can make the case that they’re better for everyone’s economic security will probably win.

In politics, it’s never really clear when the changing of the establishment guard has happened until it’s over. This was true when Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan won the presidency. After their successful runs, it looked like Clinton represented an inexorable Democratic march to the middle. And it looked like Reagan represented an inexorable Republican march to the right.

Then the GOP nominated George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney in succession—all squishy moderates from the word go. After Clinton, the Democrats tried out their own middle of the roaders with Al Gore and John Kerry. Then they assumed Hillary Clinton had it in the bag in 2008 only to have those hopes railroaded by the upstart, true believing President Obama.

Where are the voters of the two major parties leaning headed into 2016, upstart or establishment? Populist or corporatist? The answers to these questions will become apparent soon enough. The only thing we shouldn’t do is bank on a Hillary vs. Romney or some other GOP establishmentarian race simply because establishment journalists are sourced by big donors who assume their views will win the day.