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  • 2011

    "An Evening with Stephen Sondheim" features the legendary composer and lyricist in an informal conversation facilitated by Professor of Theater Davis Robinson and Associate Professor of Music Vineet Shende.

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What Will Happen in 2016?

Where do you think the US will be in 2016? Ready to elect another Democrat, or ready to shift to the right and elect a Republican? Who might be running for president in four years?

Janet Martin: It is far too early to make projections about 2016. The best illustration is the case of President George H. W. Bush. His popularity was so high following the Persian Gulf War that the most prominent Democrats stayed out of the 1992 nomination contest, suspecting there would be no way that an incumbent and popular George Bush would ever lose reelection. A little known Governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton entered the nomination contest, and as President Bush’s popularity precipitously dropped, especially as he was challenged in the Republican primary by Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire for breaking his pledge “not to raise taxes,” Bill Clinton went on to win the Democratic nomination and the White House in 1992.

With no incumbent in the 2016 race, the nomination contests for both the Democratic and Republican Parties will be wide open. And the rules in effect in the quest to win delegates are not yet known. Both parties have a number of strategic calculations to make, including the front-loading of contests; and both parties will need to do some assessment of its political base.

Andrew Rudalevige: One of the lessons of the Obama administration is we have no idea who could be president! In 2004, you probably didn’t say, ‘You know what, in 2008, I think that guy, [the one who gave] a good speech, I think he’ll be president.’

Political scientists do factor incumbency into their forecast models. Usually after one term, people are willing to give the incumbent party more time, but after two terms [their support] begins to fade, after three, the “time for a change” variable is a real drag on the incumbent party’s success. For example, George H.W. Bush was able to win what you might call the third term of Ronald Reagan, but not a fourth. So at best in 2016 this factor is neutral, and probably negative, for whoever the Democratic nominee is.

Then you have the big if, which is what the economy will look like. You do have a fairly plausible set of Republican nominees, much more plausible for 2016 than they would have been for 2012 – younger officeholders like Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal. The Republicans hold 30 governorships, which is a common stepping-stone upwards. The problem, as we saw for Gov. Romney, will be trying to negotiate the challenge of a Republican primary season where you’re pulled pretty hard to the right against the general election, where you have a pretty solid group of moderate voters.

The Democratic side is also in theory wide open. You’ve got, obviously, Secretary Clinton. Vice-president Biden has at least mischievously talked about it, but he’ll be 74 by then. There are fewer Democratic gubernatorial ‘stars’; Andrew Cuomo is perhaps an exception.

The Republican side will have a fairly big struggle, because I think a lot of it will be about what the party wants to stand for. Paul Ryan, still in the House,is arguably “next in line”; Rob Portman, in the Senate, is also plausible.. But I’m not sure I see a Washington person getting the nomination on the Republican side. I think you’ll see a number of people tentatively put their feet into the race, but public approval of Congress is so low that it’s hard to imagine that being a really great springboard into the presidency at this point. I think it’ll be one of the governors, someone coming from the outside who can stake a more plausible claim to being an effective reformer. Mitch Daniels comes to mind, [even] Rick Perry (there are many second acts in American politics!)

There have been a number of people in the House who have been very active: Eric Cantor, Ryan — I think you’ll see a number of people tentatively put their feet into the race. But public approval of Congress is so low that it’s hard to imagine for either party that being a really great springboard into the presidency at this point.

But at this point, we don’t even know the rules of the next nominating season. Ask me again after the midterms!