The Absurdity -- and the Bright Side -- of 2016

The Absurdity -- and the Bright Side -- of 2016

By Heather Wilhelm - December 18, 2014

On Tuesday, when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he would “actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States,” America’s legion of political junkies didn’t exactly jump for joy. On the contrary, many of them—especially if they are conservative or libertarian-leaning activists—rolled their eyes, sighed with world-weary despair, or simply fell into a spell of gentle, quiet weeping.

“If Jeb Bush is the nominee,” best-selling author Brad Thor announced, “I will never vote Republican again.” On Twitter, writer Ben Shapiro lampooned the “GOP geniuses” behind the Jeb push: “In 2012, top issue was Obamacare, so we ran the Republican who invented it. In 2016, top issue is immigration, so we run Jeb?” Meanwhile, over at the left-leaning Salon, the Jeb-inspired antipathy was equally thick, though for different reasons:  “If George Bush Sr. was a drama and Junior was a tragedy,” wrote Heather Digby Parton, “that leaves Jeb with the farce.” 

“Farce,” at least at this point, appears to be the appropriate word. A popular governor of Florida who has been out of politics for seven years—and, in the meantime, served as a private equity adviser to crash-and-burn investment bank Lehman Brothers—Bush is a favorite among the GOP “donor class,” a group notoriously interested in plucking a moderate, “safe” Republican candidate for 2016.

Ruth Marcus, a decidedly non-conservative writer at the Washington Post, echoed these sentiments in late October when she called upon Jeb to run: “Jeb Bush is not naive about the GOP’s loony tendencies and the distorted ideological landscape of its nominating process. For him to be weighing the race indicates that he believes those extremist instincts can be tamed.”

What seems “loony” to many people, however, isn’t a “distorted ideological landscape” or the party’s “extremist instincts.” It’s that, at least in terms of presidential politics, we keep seeing the same names thrown up again and again—and they’re often, quite bafflingly, tied to mediocre candidates. “If people want to try Bushism again,” Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote in The Week, “they should at least have the decency to demand that Marco Rubio's face be stretched over that political zombie's head.”

On Twitter, meanwhile, the Federalist’s Sean Davis nicely captured the nation’s nascent Political Dynasty Exhaustion: “The George P. Bush vs. Chelsea Clinton presidential race in 2028,” he wrote, “is going to be a doozy.”

Here’s the good news:  Despite a flurry of excitement in certain sectors of the press (“Now the big question,” journalist Tina Brown asked breathlessly upon Jeb’s announcement, making me briefly wonder if I had passed out for many months and missed the presidential primaries, “is will Condi be his Veep?”) Jeb certainly isn’t inevitable. And there’s some additional good news, depending on how you look at it: The Democrats, at least at this point, are even crazier than the Republicans.  

Witness Hillary Rodham Clinton, the reported Democratic frontrunner for 2016.  Ms. Clinton leads the pack, as I have pointed out before, merely because she is (a) a woman and (b) a Clinton. She also, early indicators show, might be a gigantic flop.  As Jamie Fuller reports in The Washington Post, when Clinton appeared on the cover of People magazine in June, it was the worst-selling issue of the year. The only aspect of the cover that seemed to interest people, in fact, was the question of whether the beaming 67-year-old Clinton “was using a walker.”

Whether or not you find this somewhat amusing—and I do—and regardless of whether you find People magazine sales numbers a useful presidential indicator, Hillary, like Jeb, certainly isn’t a shoo-in. As columnist David Harsanyi recently pointed out, Mrs. Clinton, in her own way, “is the Democrats’ Mitt Romney.” And her top competitor, the uber-progressive Elizabeth Warren, is a bit of a genetic lottery winner: In addition to being dubiously “part Native American,” she also happens to be a woman, which, at least this year, might be as good as having a famous last name. 

With this in mind, it’s entirely possible that the real news of 2016 will be that the latest American “presidential dynasties”—and it’s not like we haven’t seen powerful political families before—take a hit. Another serious Hillary liability, after all, comes with the guy who started the whole Clinton political business to begin with: Bill. Just this week, in his usual charming fashion, the grinning former president was photographed at a party with his paws on the upper arms of a bodaciously busty, somewhat scantily clad blonde—a 23-year-old supermarket heiress  who, speaking of political dynasties, is married to Richard Nixon’s grandson.

So it seems we’ve come full circle. You can either laugh, or cry. But if you are driven to actual despair by the current raft of questionable presidential candidates, you can at least admit that the whole hapless circus is kind of entertaining. It may take an enlightened soul and the detachment of a Buddhist monk, but it can be done. As Daniel Drezner advised this week in the Washington Post, it might be time to sit back, relax, and “pass the popcorn.” There’s still a bit of time before 2016.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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