Legacy

As comments to my previous blog on Hillary Clinton probably having the Democratic nomination wrapped up show, many feel strongly otherwise. (One would assume that their numbers include the other seven candidates running against her.) As is oft being stated by the anti-Hillaristas, front runner standing at the start of a campaign does not guarantee the nomination. Indeed, it is one of the more frequent claims being made by observers (both partisan and independent) and candidates (mostly those behind in the polls) this time around. . Such was the case with Kerrey in 2004, Bush in 2000, Dole in 1996, Clinton in 1992 and Dukasis in 1988. So could be the case this time around as proponents of Obama or Edwards (or Biden or Grassey….) point out. One good stumble and Hillary’s history.

Maybe.

But what this analysis overlooks is the role and effect of legacy, establishment and insurgency candidacies. A legacy candidacy is one based on some past association of the candidate – be it political, social or familial – as the natural heir to a previously dominant tradition and movement within their party. For example, Hillary Clinton is–and George W. Bush was–a clear legacy candidate. Establishment candidates are those who lack a clear connection to a previously dominant movement or persona but are strongly identified with core party values and can count on the support of the major individual and institutional players within the party. In other words, they’re center of the road non-boat rockers. Think Kerrey, 2004. Insurgents are candidates attempting to establish a new party movement that runs contrary to the ideas and strategies of the current establishment. Think Dean Scream.

While it is true the candidates with the most money and public support early in the election season often do not win their party nominations, it is also true that whenever there is a clear legacy candidate, that candidate does win their party nomination. It is only when there is no legacy candidate that an insurgency candidate can have a chance at taking the nomination, particularly if the party lost the last presidential election.

Elections since WWII have borne this out. In 2004 GW was the clear Republican legacy candidate (there is no greater legacy than the current incumbent). Thus, like Bill Clinton in 1996, Bush had no challenge to his nomination. With neither a Gore nor a Clinton running, however, the Democrats had no legacy candidate to fall back on. This gave Howard Dean his opportunity to run as the insurgent, seeking to pull the party farther to the left than had centrist Bill Clinton and his famous strategy of triangulation. But the party establishment rallied around the familiar (if horsey) face of a long term Senator whose candidacy promised to be as bland as white bread. (Or flaky as a croissant, take your pick…). Yes, Dean was the odds on early favorite in a weak field of second tier candidates to the press and pundits and Kerry did come back to defeat him. But the 2000 race was not seen by most Democrats as a repudiation of the Clinton/Gore legacy–it was seen as an election stolen. Thus party leaders and interest groups were not as open to the Dean revisionist platform as they had been with the Carter insurgency of 1976 and the Clinton one in 1992. Hence Dean flames out fast and furious.

In 2000 both parties chose legacy candidates. Gore was the VP inheritor of the Clinton mantle (or, like George H.W. Bush, what may be called a 22nd amendment legacy – Democrats would have much rather voted for Bill one more time but for the pesky two-term limit). And George W. was the inheritor of the Bush dynastic mantle, with 2000 being the Republican chance to undue the political miscarriage of 1992. John McCain, running radically to the middle against the harder-line Reagan rhetoric that dominated the party establishment was quickly—and viscerally—crushed by the Bush legacy.

Republicans, likewise, went in 1996 for the Dole legacy candidacy. Groomed for the Presidency since the Nixon years, denied his turn at bat by Bush I’s own Reagan legacy run in 1988 (and 1992), faithfully leading Republicans in the Senate to majority status in 1994, 1996 was Dole’s year – his entitlement for thirty years in the party trenches. Like Bush in 2000, however, Dole’s candidacy was almost (and there’s the key: almost) derailed by the Buchanan insurgency from the far right. But after Buchanan’s momentum coming out of New Hampshire was blunted by Stevo Forbes in Arizona, the party establishment rallied behind the Dole legacy as the safest route.

That it was a route to near certain defeat was true but a Dole defeat still left the party viable to run against the inevitable Clinton legacy in 2000. A Buchanan nomination and resulting landslide defeat might have banished the party to the presidential wilderness for another two or more terms. Dole had also faced the rival establishment candidacy of Texas Senator Phil Graham who had raised the largest war chest running up to the primaries of any candidate in history. Graham’s money couldn’t buy him one primary win while Dole’s legacy bought him the nomination.

In 1992 insurgent candidate Bill Clinton (who, like McCain, would try and radically pull his party back to the center and, unlike McCain, would succeed in doing so and win the nomination) faced only weak competition from the party’s liberal Ted Kennedy/Mike Dukasis establishment candidate, Paul Tsongas. (Note to Democrats – when are you going to give up running politicians from Massachusetts? Hasn’t worked since the Adams.) Winning the party nomination and Presidency established the Clinton legacy that last to today. But Clinton faced such soft opposition because the candidate most preferred by the surviving of post-War Democratic hegemony establishment—New York Governor Mario Cuomo, chose to sit things out.

And the list goes on. 1988 Republican: legacy Bush I beats establishment Bob Dole. 1988 Democrat: Liberal establishment Dukasis beats out left wing insurgent Jesse Jackson. 1984: Legacy Reagan takes on Carter legacy Walter Mondale. 1980: Legacy Reagan (the choice of the party faithful in 1976) takes on legacy Carter. 1976: Insurgent Carter running in a fractured post-Watergate Democratic field takes on legacy Ford. 1972: Democrat George McGovern wins as an insurgent in a Party still reeling from the 1968 defeat of Johnson legacy Hubert Humphrey and the self-destruction of Ted Kennedy’s legacy candidacy. And in 1968 legacy Dick Nixon beats Johnson legacy Hubert Humphrey, who wins the Democratic nomination only after the assassination of uber-legacy RFK.

The pattern is clear. Where there is a clear: established legacy candidate in the nomination process, that candidate wins. This is regardless of whether they are at the front of the pack out of the starting gate (Nixon, Ford, Carter in 1980, Bush in 1988,or have to struggle up through the candidate ranks (Ford in 1976, Reagan in 1980, Dole in 1996, Bush II in 2000.) Insurgent candidates have only won their party nomination in the election following a crushing party defeat in the previous election: Clinton post Dukakis, Carter post McGovern and McGovern post Humphrey.

What does this mean for 2008? The Democrats have a clear legacy candidate, Hillary Clinton. Though John Edwards can also lay claim to the legacy mantle from 2000, his is a weaker dynastic claim. Obama is the Democrats’ insurgent candidate. As the history above indicates, he should lose the nomination to Clinton. The star power, establishment support and built-in power base of legacy candidates like her own have simply overpowered all insurgencies for the last two generations. That this might change in 2008 is, of course, possible. But it would appear to also be unlikely.

The Republican race is more convoluted. All the candidates to date are running as heirs of the Reagan legacy (there ain’t a self-admitted Bushie in the lot.) But none of them have a direct – or even much of an indirect – claim to that legacy. Former insurgent McCain is running on his own 2000 legacy platform. Giuliani, meanwhile, is the current establishment candidate de jour. Should Fred Thompson formally enter the race, this might well change. The social conservatives – Brownback, Huckabee and Tancredo, while running on the Reagan legacy, are actually more to the Goldwater/Buchanan right than was Reagan or even George W. Bush. As such they are better classified as insurgents. Given that no insurgent has won against a legacy candidate and no legacy candidate has lost to an establishment candidate, the logic of this would seem to indicate that Senator John McCain will, after a bruising primary process, emerge as the GOP nominee.

Bets, anyone?

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California dreamin’

OK, the headline’s trite but true. And the seven Democratic presidential hopefuls preaching to the faithful at last weekend’s California Democratic Convention in San Diego underscores the point.

Democratic presidential hopefuls have historically seen California as the rich aunt of the party—great for hitting up for lots of money but not the one you take to the big dance. Democratic candidates have always raked in cold California cash to campaign for the nomination. But it’s the voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and the other hodgepodge of Southern, mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states whose primaries have historically come earlier than California’s—usually months earlier—whom have put candidates over the top in the delegate count.

Not this time. Auntie has gotten an electoral facelift, and now she’s the potential belle of the presidential nominating ball. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. But conventional wisdom is often wrong. Despite moving near the front of the primary pack, California may well prove irrelevant yet again in picking the Democratic presidential champion for 2008. Only this time the entire primary process may have been rendered obsolete, as well.

Why so? Look at whom this front-loaded primary season—with 15 states and half of the national population casting ballots by the time California’s precincts close on Feb. 5—favors. That would be the candidate with all the early name recognition, establishment support, warehouse full of political IOUs to call in and accessible deep, deep pockets to pick necessary to be able to run flat-out from now to what has essentially become a national primary between Jan. 14 and Feb. 5.

And the only candidate matching that description is Bill Clinton.

Er, I mean Hillary.

Face it. Of the eight candidates in this Donkey race, Hillary is the Snow White (OK, Snow Hard-as-Granite White) of this tale, and the others are the dwarves. (One can have no end of fun around the family dinner table coming up with dwarf handles for them: Kucinich as Shorty, Gravel as Kooky, Edwards as Great Hairy and Obama as Oh-My-God-He’s-Got-Charisma-And-I-Would-Have-His-Love-Child-But-I-Ultimately-Have-To-Vote-My-Head-And-Go-For-Snowy.)

Hillary has the Clinton name (a point she downplays in speeches, referring Saturday to Bill only in passing), and that name’s a political machine. And she is nailing down the support of the Democratic powers that be now, nine months before the primaries start. She can pick up the hearts—or at least the votes—of the party rank-and-file later, once she’s driven everyone else from the playing field.

This was made clear on Saturday when she addressed the Democratic delegates in San Diego. The dais, chockablock with California Democratic movers and shakers, was clearly with her, party chair Art Torres leading the cheer. At her follow-up press conference Speaker Fabian Nunez and a delegation from the state Assembly endorsed her. She’s conquering the state party without firing a vote.

The delegates, however, were not so clearly on her side. She entered the hall surrounded by a phalanx of Hillaristas dressed in matching polo shirts. While the Clinton blue shirts cheered her rousingly throughout her speech, the rest of the delegates mostly gave her polite—though at times energetic—applause and a smattering of cheers. But love did not fill the room.

Not so with Barack Obama, who addressed the convention that afternoon. Prior to his speech, a mob of motivated Obama supporters stood outside the convention center cheering his name. When he came to the podium, the response of the delegates was, in a word, thunderous. His speech was by far the most energized and enthusiastically greeted of the day, with more people and press crowding the hall to witness it than had for Hillary. Clinton is a party power. Obama is a rock star. And he clearly won the hall Saturday.

Even John Edwards, given an inferior time slot Sunday morning (when many delegates were still holding their heads from the parties at the various hospitality suites the night before) got a much more emotional, supportive welcome than did the former First Lady. His calls for restoring social justice in America and restoring America’s stature in the world received standing ovations that rivaled Obama’s and outshone anything that had shined on Hillary.

If the Democratic 2008 nomination was resolved solely on the basis of a vote by delegates to the San Diego convention, my bet is you’d be looking at an Obama/Edwards ticket. Maybe Hillary would get Secretary of State.

But as the San Diego Democratic Convention goes, so the rest of the party does not. To begin with, delegates to party conventions come in stark primary colors, attended overwhelmingly by the reddest of red-staters and the bluest of the blues. The Democrats who committed to spending all of the last weekend holed up in the convention center were, in general, more liberal and, indeed, far more romantic (or pathologically obsessed, take your pick) in their conception of whom their champion should be.

With such an audience, Dennis Kucinich—a man whose national stature matches his physical but whose rhetoric (impeach the vice president, end the war now) is bloody red meat for his deep-blue-state audiences—becomes a star.

And charismatic Obama becomes a messiah.

But the diehard Democrats who went to this convention will, come November 2008, ultimately suck it up and vote for whomever the party nominates. In their partisan eyes, even the Clintons’ cat Socks would be a better choice for president than any Republican. Democratic party leaders—and Hillary—know this. So they—and she—can ignore the rank-and-file at this point in the campaign and pile on the endorsements and donors until the money gap between her and her runner-ups becomes insurmountable.

Which ultimately is Clinton’s best strategy for victory and the reason for the ridiculously early start of this primary season, which Clinton helped to trigger with her early declaration of candidacy back in January. Clinton’s other seven rivals are now forced to commit to nine months of debates, state conventions and frenzied campaign organizing—before they even get to be tested by the voters. And those who survive this political hazing will face a primary season front-loaded with big, media-costly states like California, New York and Florida, requiring the money and people to run an essentially national campaign over three frenetic weeks of primary voting.

Result: most of the candidates currently running will be left behind as political road-kill on this pre-primary Bataan death march. Which means that by next January, the Democratic field may well be reduced to three. Kucinich will still be running his no-budget sideshow, if only for the ego stroke it brings him. And a bruised Obama, bleeding money as donors desert him for the surer Clinton thing, will be pushed by the party elite to do the right thing and withdraw so the Democrats go into the primaries united behind their chosen leader.

That would, of course, be Hillary.

The Republican establishment, desperate back in 2000 to retake the White House, did much the same thing. When Republican voters in New Hampshire blew it and went for dark-horse John McCain, the party leadership rallied around the legacy candidacy of George W. and backed Bush while he eviscerated McCain in South Carolina. Pro-Hillary Democrats may well wish to do as much in 2008—albeit in a kinder, gentler manner—throwing so much support so early behind her that she runs over her rivals before the first citizens caucus in Iowa.

If that happens, then all of those who hoped moving this state’s primary forward might finally make the Golden State politically relevant will find their California dreams dashed. But so, too, would all those other states that are jockeying with each other to get to the front of the primary line. This could be the first competitive presidential nominating contest in history resolved before the first primary or caucus ballot is cast.

Pop Quiz

Quick quiz. Of whom was the following said:

“The [national leader] made up his mind without a second thought…The [national leader made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one. Also, his decision was made without close study of the complex features of the [the country invaded] and of the military, political and diplomatic options available to [his own country]. He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the [military], despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs. In addition, he did not adequately consider political and professional reservations presented to him before the fateful decisions [to go to war]. . The[national leader] is responsible for the fact that the goals of the campaign were not set out clearly and carefully, and that there was no serious discussion of the relationships between these goals and the authorized modes of military action. He made a personal contribution to the fact that the declared goals were over-ambitious and not feasible. The [national leader] did not adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations of [his country’s] actions were not realistic and were not materializing. All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence.”

Was it:
(a) Napoleon for his decision to invade Russia.
(b) Emperor Hirihito for his decision to attack America.
(c) Bill Clinton for lying about Monica Lewinsky.
(d) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his invasion of Lebanon last summer.
(e) George W. Bush for his invasion of Iraq.

If you said (e) – oh, so close. And you should be forgiven for your confusion, as just about all of the conclusions of the Israeli independent Winograd Commission Report on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his invasion of Lebanon last summer could be said of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. With two important differences. First, to date, President Bush has not been formally criticized for his handling of the war in Iraq by any independent commission– the Republican Congress has guaranteed him four years free from real public scrutiny and oversight. Second, it is very likely that Olmert (and his defense minister) will soon be forced from office because of this fiasco (a member of his cabinet has already resigned in protest, with more likely to follow) by a vote of “no confidence” in the parliament. George W. Bush however, will likely stay in office for the remainder of his term no matter how bad things get in Iraq. Democrats do not have the votes in the Senate to remove him even if articles of impeachment are voted by the House. And no Bushite has resigned from his government in protest of the war (though Rummy was offered up as scapegoat for it.)

Parliamentary system, any one?

(Oh, and if you said (c) what are you doing reading this anyway. You’re missing Sean Hannity’s show….)