The presidential primary races are on, with much fanfare and little substance. Here are some comments on the primaries from four pundits. We have Tom Friedman, Ross Douthat and David Brooks from the N.Y. Times, as well as your humble blogger.
First Tom Friedman, Liberal
“For a presidential campaign that has started so early, it’s striking how little most of the candidates want to engage with major issues of the day, let along the future. Hillary Clinton won’t take a clear stand on two big issues she helped to negotiate as secretary of state: the free-trade deal with Pacific nations and the nuclear deal with Iran. Jeb Bush’s campaign seems stuck on whether he is or is not his brother’s keeper. Marco Rubio was for comprehensive immigration reform before he was against it. While Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders are motivated by clear ideologies, the others, so far, evince much more compelling ambitions to be president than compelling reasons why they should be.”
Next we have Ross Douthat, Conservative
“The economy is sluggish but improving. President Obama’s approval rating is mediocre but not disastrous. Memories of Mitt Romeny’s unsuccessful presidential campaign are relatively fresh—not least because Romney popped up briefly to remind everyone of them. And the Republicans pondering a run for president in 2016 all seem to sense that they need to do things a little, well, differently if they expect to ultimately win.
“Maybe that means talking more about inequality—even putting it right in the heart of your economic pitch, as Jeb Bush seems intent on doing. Maybe it means trying to reach constituencies (young, black, Hispanic) that the Romney campaign mostly wrote off, which is what Rand Paul thinks his libertarian message can accomplish.
“When it comes to the Republican Party’s basic presidential-level problem, the fact is that many persuadable voters don’t trust a Republican to look out for their economic issues. It should be easy to tell whether the way a candidate differentiates himself will actually make a difference. Just look at what he proposes on two issues: taxes and health care.
“These are obviously not the only domestic policies worthy of debate. But they’re two places where the immediate link between policy and take-home pay is very clear and two places where abstract promises about “opportunity,” “mobility” and “the American dream” either cash out or don’t.
“One reason issues like immigration and education are appealing to Republican politicians looking to change their party’s image is that policy change in these areas seems relatively cheap—more green cards here, new curricular standards there, and nothing that requires donors and interest groups to part with their favorite subsidies and tax breaks.
“But you can’t reform the tax code or health care that easily, which is why those issues offer better, tougher tests of whether a would-be reformer should be taken seriously.
“Not coincidentally, they’re policy tests that Obama-era Republicans have often conspicuously failed. On taxes, the party has been enamored of reforms—some plausible, some fanciful—that would cut taxes at the top while delivering little, or even higher taxes, to most taxpayers. On health care, the GOP has profited from the unpopularity of Obamacare, but we are now at year six and counting without anything more than the pretense of a conservative alternative.
“These failures have not been for want of policy options; they’ve been for want in ingenuity and will.”
Now we have David Brooks, Moderate Conservative
“Every serious presidential candidate has to answer a fundamental, strategic question: Do I think I can win by expanding my party’s reach, or do I think I can win by mobilizing my party’s base?
“Two of the leading Republicans have staked out opposing sides on this issue. Scott Walker is trying to mobilize existing conservative voters. Jeb Bush is trying to expand his party’s reach.
“The Democratic Party haas no debate on this issue. Hillary Clinton has apparently decided to run as the Democratic Scott Walker. Clinton strategists have decided that, even in the general election, firing up Democratic supporters is easier than persuading moderates. Clinton will adopt left-leaning policy positions carefully designed to energize the Obama coalition—African-Americans, Latinos, single women and highly educated progressives.
“It’s worth noting, that no recent successful first-term presidential campaign has used this approach. In 1992, Bill Clinton firmly grabbed the center. In 2000, George Bush ran as a uniter, not a divider. In 2008, Barack Obama ran as a one nation candidate who vowed to transcend partisan divides.
“The Clinton strategy is based on the idea that she can generate Obama-level excitement among African-American and young voters. If Clinton comes across as a stereotypical big-spending, big-government Democrat, she will pay a huge cost in the upper Midwest and in the Sun Belt.
“Furthermore, this strategy vastly exaggerates the supposed death of the swing voter. It’s true there are fewer persuadables, but according to the Pew Research Center, 24 percent of voters have roughly equal number of conservative and liberal positions, and according to a range of academic studies, about 23 percent of the electorate can be swayed by a compelling campaign.”
Last and least – Me, Centrist
Mrs. Clinton has already set the tone to avoid as much contact with the press as humanly possible to duck the issues Tom Friedman has brought up, as well as her lack of explanations for the State Department emails, Benghazi and the questionable donations to the Clinton Foundation.
Any Republican candidate stonewalling the press like Clinton would be blasted unmercifully.
Ross Douthat’s suggestion on the two topics that would differentiate a Republican contender is right on the money, but I’ll be amazed if any of the Republican gaggle will address them.
The Republican Party did a smart, welcome thing by cutting the number of debates in half; however, the almost doubling of the number of candidates will produce a bloody brawl that will antagonize the voters.
I’m tired just thinking about it!