Monday, March 10, 2014
WASHINGTON — As the Republican field for 2016 stands today, Hillary Clinton doesn’t have much to worry about. In fact, for all the talk about Benghazi and Obamacare, she has a lot to be happy about.
The drum-beating of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — the GOP’s pre-presidential coming-out party — gave us a glimpse of the Republican future. And for the GOP, the future is bleak.
Sen. Rand Paul officially won CPAC’s presidential straw poll. His message of libertarianism plays well with the small government crowd. But it is hard to see how he makes the sale in the primary, let alone the general. While the American public may share his concerns about the NSA spying and IRS scandals, they don’t see the Constitution being drastically eroded as he does, and his message — coupled with an unpresidential lawsuit over the NSA — will sound more like alarmism than a rallying cry. He’s seen largely as a fringe candidate, and an isolationist. In a time when the Ukrainian crisis has brought foreign policy concerns back into sharper focus, Clinton beats Paul on that front, Benghazi notwithstanding.
The GOP is fragmented as it is. Don’t expect the Republican establishment to embrace this anti-establishment candidate.
Like his father, Ron Paul, he polls well with a small, activist wing of the party. He polled neck and neck at 12 percent with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in last week’s Herald-Suffolk poll in New Hampshire, but don’t except him to gain much beyond that.
Christie, the blue state Republican whose post-Superstorm Sandy embrace of President Obama cost him an invite to CPAC last year, was politely welcomed by the party’s conservative base this year. The George Washington Bridge thing didn’t seem to phase them — though it effectively kneecaps him on one of the Democrats’ greatest vulnerabilities, abuse of government authority. It’s his reputation as a moderate.
The Republicans so far seem to be ignoring their greatest area of strength. Absent from the rostrum were New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, all women with national name recognition and potential nationwide campaigns in their future.
Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon, theoretically beats Clinton by winning 17 percent of the black vote. You know, because he’s black. Then there’s Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who famously self-destructed in 2012 and now thinks a polished speech and glasses will make him look smarter. As for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party darling won’t win a general election.
If this is the best that the Grand Old Party’s got, I doubt Clinton is losing much sleep ... though I’m willing to bet the Republican national leadership is. That could leave them with the most interesting possibility of all — one that actually polls well for the GOP. Bush vs. Clinton, with Jeb and Hillary representing the two major American political families in the starring roles.