BY SCOTT RASMUSSEN
Charlie Cook, a veteran inside-the-beltway political analyst, recently wrote of a focus group discussing the 2016 presidential election. He observed that the conversation among 12 Colorado voters “would be jarring to anyone who assumed that the nominations of Bush and Clinton are inevitable.” Cook added that, “When half a dozen voters in a conversation say they would back a law that would ban any Bush or Clinton from running, it makes you sit up and take notice.”
The jarring thing to me is that there is anybody who would be surprised by this response. In my decidedly outside-the-beltway world, I don’t know anybody who sees a Bush-Clinton race as inevitable or even likely. But Cook is a good observer of the nation’s political elites. So, I accept his premise that a decent number of political insiders are counting on a battle of the family dynasties.
What I don’t understand is why.
Those in the nation’s political class may be out of touch with voters, but they are not stupid. They surely recognize the massive voter unhappiness with politics, government and official Washington. So why would a group of very smart men and women in Washington think voters are looking to standard bearers of families that have dominated politics for a generation?
Partly the answer has to do with the so-called invisible primary — the competition among candidates for donors, campaign managers and other key players. Because it is based on insider connections and family history, it is a competition that both Bush and Clinton are well equipped to win.
Still, you’d think that all those smart people would have second thoughts given the general unhappiness with politics as usual.
I suspect, however, that some in Washington actually believe that voters are longing for a Bush-Clinton match. That belief stems from a failure to understand why voters are angry.
Some appear to believe that voters are unhappy because the political process has not been working smoothly in recent years. Budget showdowns and sequesters, the dismal launch of healthcare.gov, the failure to pass immigration reform and more are cited as reasons to explain away the discontent.
If that is the problem, then the solution is to find someone who can make government work, and a Bush-Clinton campaign makes sense. No matter who wins, voters would get a president whose family and friends understand the way that Washington works — a president who could reach across the aisle, compromise and pass legislation.
Ironically, that sounds a lot like the premise of the campaign run against the first President Bush. In 1988, the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis said the choice was about “Competence, not Ideology.” Bush, running on Ronald Reagan’s record, expressed his ideological commitment with a memorable refrain, “Read My Lips; No New Taxes.” Voters chose that clear ideological commitment over the elite preference for competence and compromise.
We’re in a similar spot today. The political elites mistakenly think the goal is to make government work better. Voters have a higher standard: the goal is not to create a government that works but to create a society that works.
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