I guess it’s time to start.
The Republicans will certainly have a contested primary this time around, but the actual details are too horrifying to contemplate quite yet. I’m going to avert my gaze for a little longer, and instead ask the question we’ve been puzzling over in my household for months now: if not Clinton, then who?
Conventional wisdom seems to have annointed Hilary Clinton the Democratic nominee, as we’ve all expected since 2008. She has been the presumed front-runner before, but this time around is different. Four years as Secretary of State have marked her as her own person, emerging from Bill’s shadow to hold the spotlight on her own merits (whatever those may turn out to be).
All the smart money is riding on Clinton, but we still haven’t heard from her. What if she doesn’t run?
Here’s the rundown on who the Dems have got if Clinton sits it out. Some of them will be in even if it means running against her, but most are probably waiting to see what she does before they make up their own minds. Those that run against her anyway, despite their rhetoric, won’t be running to win. They’ll be trying to pull Clinton to the left, or introducing themselves to the public for 2020 or 2024, or else auditioning for a cabinet post- or VP if they’re both ambitious and masochistic.
This is my own list without benefit of Wikipedia or CNN. I’ll come back later and see if I missed anyone. These are people who may be thinking about it, or who others are talking about, or at least people with a history of this sort of thing. It’s not just a list of potential candidates or a preview of a Clinton cabinet. It’s also a measure of the strength of the Democratic bench. Who are their heavy hitters that can step up to national issues when called upon?
Let’s start with one who’s definitely in, and one who’s almost certainly out.
Jim Webb. We start with Jim Webb because he’s already announced he’s running. Nobody really noticed, but that’s OK. He was Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, and served one term in the Senate before choosing not to run for a second. I assume he’s running for Secretary of Defense, but he might have an outside chance of VP- military experience, bipartisanship, etc.
Elizabeth Warren. Beloved of the three progressives remaining in the Democratic Party, Warren has been pretty clear she’s not running against Clinton. Even if Clinton sits it out, she hasn’t shown much interest. She doesn’t need the race to raise her profile, and a professor-turned-freshman-senator isn’t exactly the heavy hitter the Dems want at the top (see also: Obama, Barack). She’s got a chance to build a solid position in the Senate, but she’ll squander that if she exposes herself to the vitriol of a national campaign. If Clinton drops out, there’s a chance Warren would get in, but not much.
Joe Biden. Uncle Joe has been waiting for this since (probably) before you were born. Conventional wisdom says he won’t run against Clinton, and we’ve seen no evidence of him going unconventional, but if she gets out, he’s in. Biden is best known for his big mouth, but he’s also the consummate Washington insider. He’s a great pick for VP, but a bit of a loose cannon for the top of the ticket. You might think that sounds refreshing right now, but that’s what the Republicans thought about McCain, and that didn’t go well for them at all. Biden is a lot like McCain, in fact- if he gets the nomination, it will be because he’s been waiting long enough and now it’s his turn. It will be a sign of the party’s weakness, not its strength.
Bernie Sanders. Sanders is the pull-em-to-the-left candidate we might actually get, the one most likely to run against Clinton. He’s not actually a Dem, however, and he’s brave enough to call himself a socialist in public. Of course, he doesn’t stand a chance. If he sucks it up and runs as a Dem, he may succeed in introducing an issue or two into the debate. He’s equally likely to run as an independent, giving the Dems a scapegoat for all their failures, so we’ll be addressing him again when we cover the third party and indie candidates one of these days.
Bill Richardson. Richardson was a reliable B-lister at the national level for years. He was in the running for a Cabinet position in the early days of 2009, but he withdrew to address some local scandal he was implicated in. No one’s heard much from him since. The scandal came to nothing, but it cost him his chance to jump up to the A-list. 2016 may be his last opportunity.
Corey Booker. I don’t think Booker’s ready to run yet, but he’s a rising star. With a wide-open field, he might be induced to jump in. He’s still a first-term senator, though. I think he would build a solid following by running, but he wouldn’t get the nomination. His prize might be a prime-time speech at the convention, but those don’t mean what they used to anymore.
Howard Dean. Remember the scream? I didn’t. I went back and watched a youtube of it, and I can’t see what the big deal was. Nobody’s going to care about that. What they might care about is that he’s been busy organizing for the Dems. He’s done a lot of behind-the-scenes work that plays well with party insiders but doesn’t mean jack to the voting public. It’s enough to buy him a seat at the grown-ups’ table, though, and then he gets to re-introduce himself to the voters.
Assorted Governors. There’s a whole slew of governors and former governors sniffing around, as always. Most prominent is Andrew Cuomo of New York, who was also a cabinet secretary for four years. There’s also some Schweitzer guy (I had to look up his name) who was governor of Montana. I imagine he would run on his winning-a-red-state-as-a-dem experience, but the lessons he learned in Helena may not be so relevant in Washington.
And last but also least, here are the outliers who we don’t need to worry about but who deserve at least one name-check over the next two years.
Joe Lieberman. It would be a little embarrassing for everyone if Lieberman ran, but just a quick reminder- he’s still out there.
Dick Gephardt. I know Gephardt’s not running. It’s just been traditional to toss his name out for thirty years now, and I can’t stop myself. I’ve been making the same joke about his eyebrows since like 1988 or something.
Lyndon LaRouche. I had to look it up. He’s still alive, but he’s 92. No idea if his organization has it together to run someone else, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few, and there can always be someone we’ve never heard of. I suppose if Clinton stays out, there will be enough chaos and confusion that a new face could push their way in outside the usual channels.
I’ll be back to expand this list as necessary (meaning after I run to check Wikipedia, of course), and to say more about some of the individuals who look like they might be going somewhere. But in the meantime, I’ll be preparing myself to wade into the Republican swamp. By the time I’m done with that one, another Bush may even start sounding good.