There may be a few stragglers still trying to find a parking place but as of this week the 2016 campaign is finally officially begun with the two presumptive Big Kahunas staging rallies and giving big kickoff speeches.
Unlike Jeb!, who had maintained an absurd and possibly illegal fiction that he was still thinking about running until yesterday, Hillary Clinton had adhered to the laws pertaining to fundraising and officially declared earlier with her announcement video. But she held a campaign rally at Roosevelt Island last week-end in which she gave a very substantive speech outlining what she called the "Four Fights," inspired naturally by Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms.
After spending weeks pouting over lack of access and whining that she was doing nothing but talking to people in living rooms and coffee ships instead of telling the country what she planned to do, the press declared her speech boring and tedious filled as it was with dull policy prescriptions (also known as "telling the country what she planned to do.") If one didn't know better, one would think Clinton just can't please these people. But it was probably wise for her to take a page out of Bill Clinton's book and speak about a laundry list of specifics. The media always hates those speeches but the public always loves them. Media criticism aside, it appeared to be a good launch for the next phase of her campaign.
But if we were looking for a sign that it's game on, then Bush's long awaited speech was the official blowing of the dogwhistle. (That's right, he actually used Ronald Reagan's line endorsing Barry Goldwater in 1964: "it's a time for choosing". A bunch of old GOP dogs sat up and howled at the moon when they heard that one.) And the early media reviews were very, very good. Here is a typical reaction:
Bush's prepared speech didn't mention immigration but when confronted with protesters wearing t-shirts that said "legal status is not enough," he shut them up by saying, “The next president will pass meaningful immigration reform so that that will be solved -- NOT by executive order.” The media swooned with excitement. Whereas Clinton's speech had been criticized for being boring and specific while at the same time failing to spell out the exact process by which she planned to enact these changes, Bush merely asserting that he would pass meaningful reform (with a Republican Congress that is now pondering the idea of stopping even legal immigration) was seen as more evidence of his rather impressive gravitas.
(Unfortunately for Jeb, Latinos aren't as gullible as GOP base voters.)
In fact, the last day or so has seen a familiar outbreak of Village yearning for a Republican daddy figure to come back home. This passage from an article in Politico headlined "In crowded field, Bush runs as the grown-up candidate" is typical of the almost wistful tone the DC press corps has begun to use when writing about Jeb in the last few days:
"Bush [has] one straightforward path to the GOP nomination: an argument based on his durability and electability. As he explained to reporters on his foreign trip last week, he'll remain 'authentic' to the political persona he's carved out over two decades in the public eye. Bush expects to win by emphasizing traits that seem almost quaint by modern campaign standards: maturity, substance and a record of governance."
This quote from the New York Times article on Bush's announcement sums up the general feeling about Bush and his mighty gravitas:
Despite Mr. Bush’s stumbles so far, his friends and allies said his biggest asset was his unwillingness to transform himself into something he is not.
“I think he needs to put aside the last few months and continue to calmly show a grown-up attitude,” said Barry Wynn, a prominent South Carolina Republican and donor. “The two things that will distinguish him are his stature, that he is a grown-up ready for the presidency, and his consistency, that he’s not changing to make everyone happy.”
“The worst thing for Jeb to do,” Mr. Wynn said, “is give his opponents any opportunity to close the stature gap he enjoys.”
Maturity, stature, record of governance, unwillingness to change into something he's not. It's clear that many people find these to be winning attributes. When in comes to Bush anyway. Clinton, not so much. Chris Cilizza probably speaks for everyone who's anyone in the Village when he puts it this way:
Hillary's problem is that so much of who she is -- and so much of the strengths she carries as a candidate -- are rooted in the past.If and when she, at 67 and having spent the last two decades in the national spotlight, has to run against someone like Marco Rubio (age 43), it is going to be a real challenge for her to win the "future vs. past" argument.
That's a polite way of saying she's "mature". And it's definitely seen as a "problem" she needs to overcome if she hopes to win.
Far be it from to suspect that her gender might play into that calculation in a way it doesn't for Jeb who,for the record, would be eligible for Social Security when he takes the oath of office if he wins. But in one of the most hilarious examples of mansplaining ever, Cilizza's claim about her being "rooted in the past" is in the midst of a post telling us that Hillary Clinton has finally learned how to be a woman and explaining how it will help her in the race since she will be the first woman presidential nominee of one of the two major parties if she wins. He actually wrote this down:
Unless, that is, Clinton can show voters how electing her would be the biggest change the presidency has ever seen: After 43 men in the job, she would be the first woman.
Some people won't even give her that much:
“If the question is, is she going to get plenty of people to vote for her such that she wins the Democratic primary, the answer is yes, there’s sufficient enthusiasm,” says former Clinton administration official Jonathan Cowan, now president of the moderate Third Way think tank.
“Is she going to generate the exact same feelings as the first person to become president of the U.S. who is African-American in a country that had a Civil War over slavery? No, but neither did Carter, Reagan, or even Bill Clinton.”
It's true that we haven't had a civil war over women's rights but that hardly makes it such an insignificant change in the course of human history that electing the first woman president is just comparable to electing three random white male presidents. And it's not necessarily even true. As Michael Tomasky wrote when addressing this same subject, the only reason people don't see the significance of this moment for many women is because they apparently don't notice women:
People aren’t going to love her like they loved Barack Obama. Actually, check that, in part: There are in fact millions of Americans who adore Clinton. I saw them in 2000, too; mothers at upstate county fairgrounds, waiting an hour on the rope line to introduce their daughters to Hillary. You don’t become America’s most admired woman in 17 of the last 20 years without lots of people loving you, but somehow this cohort doesn’t register much on the Washington radar screen.
Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg has said women older than 50 would likely comprise the largest bloc of voters in 2016 and it turns out that younger women are quite enthusiastic about Clinton as well. Some women are Republicans, of course, so she will not get every vote from this constituency, but the idea is to generate enough excitement that turnout is high among people who might not otherwise vote.
Perhaps these Washington insiders can't muster any enthusiasm for the historical nature of her candidacy but their enthusiasm isn't really necessary for Clinton to win.
It is still too early to know whether Bush's alleged gravitas, stature and maturity will be the winning formula the media and many Republicans seem convinced it will be or whether young Rubio will sweep in with an Obama-esque message of change to knock him down. And nobody knows if Clinton will win the nomination or if she'll go the distance. That spry young fella Bernie Sanders is making a serious run at it and you just never know. But to assume that she's got an age problem while Jeb's just "mature" or that electing the first woman president holds no meaningful motivation for millions of women betrays the political establishment's biases much more than they reflect the state of the American electorate.