Republican Civil War Unresolved
There’s a tendency to read too much into off-year elections as implications for the national picture, so I’ll try to resist that here. But it is worth noting that the election results from Virginia and New Jersey do tell us a few things that may or may not indicate where national politics are heading in the next year or so.
First of all, the Republican family feud between Tea Party elements and more establishment party activists is not over. Not by a long shot. Chris Christie’s convincing second term win as governor of New Jersey will be seen as a boon to traditional Republicans who argue that the Tea Party is divisive and that the party needs to stick to its conservative but practical roots.
Christie has already positioned himself as a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, especially among those looking for a candidate who can broaden the party’s appeal to women and minority voters. Christie did well with a number of voting groups that Democrats usually dominate, including Hispanics, and you can bet that mainstream Republicans were taking careful notes.
Christie still has some issues—his temper for one—and may have to curb his ‘Jersey-style’ broadsides if he wants to enter the national political arena as something more than an occasional guest. But at the same time, Christie has probably decided he will have to be himself if he moves ahead with a White House bid, and that means challenging voters to accept him for who he is, warts and all.
The Tea Party and Obamacare
Democrat Terry McAuliffe eked out a win over Tea Party favorite and Republican Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia in what turned out to be a scarily close race for a guy thought to be cruising in the polls in the final weeks.
Democrats were hoping for a smashing victory here as a rebuke to the Tea Party and a final slap at those behind the recent government shutdown. But then came the politically disastrous rollout of the president’s health care law and that made the race in Virginia all of sudden very competitive.
You can bet that Democrats around the country who are concerned about their re-election prospects in next year’s congressional midterm elections are paying close attention. Unless the Obamacare mess is fixed soon, you will see a lot of Democratic incumbents in swing states or congressional districts start to put some distance between themselves and the health care law. And that is not good news for President Obama, whose approval ratings are already plummeting.
Republicans, of course, are chomping at the bit to get out and campaign for the 2014 elections against Obamacare. For them it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
The Tea Party faction did suffer a defeat in a Republican congressional primary in Alabama where the more mainstream Republican contender won. But this week’s election results do nothing to clarify the state of battle between the Tea Party and establishment Republicans. If anything, the problems with Obamacare will probably embolden conservatives with Tea Party backing in Congress and could make them more inclined toward another showdown with the Obama administration early in the New Year. Shutdown? What Shutdown?
It’s Hillary Versus Christie, Right?
Not so fast. Hillary Clinton is tied to the Obama administration whether she wants to be or not, and so if she runs in 2016 she will have to do a few delicate dance steps on where she stands on Obamacare. Clinton has already suggested she would try harder as president to work with Republican in Congress, a none-too subtle jab at the current president’s ability to work across the partisan aisle.
But there is also the question of Hillary’s ‘inevitability’ as the next Democratic Party presidential nominee. It will be her second go-round and don’t forget she was a heavy favorite the first time until some young upstart upset the apple cart. Won’t voters be looking for something different, a new face, in 2016? If not Clinton, who? Vice President Joe Biden? Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley? Clinton and Biden give the Democrats some big names, but the rest of their bench is not well known.
And that brings us back to Governor Christie. Yes, mainstream Republicans will start fantasizing about who will fill out his cabinet. But before we get to that point there is this little matter of winning the Republican nomination and going through numerous nominating caucuses and primaries, complete with raucous candidate debates. Will the Tea Party accept Chris Christie? Or will conservatives be so divided that Christie can find a way to clinch the nomination, assuming he runs? Christie can rest easy for now and worry about these things another day. But the timetable looms sooner than you think–he’ll have to make a decision about running probably by the end of next year.