Can America move past sequels and reboots in 2016?

posted at 12:41 pm on March 20, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Although I love to write about films, that headline isn’t an anticipatory shot at the blockbuster summer season for Hollywood two years from now. No, the headline refers to the 2016 presidential primary races, whose emerging theme seems to be “Blast From The Past,” or a “Dynasty” reboot. We already have Hillary Clinton crowding out most of the other potential Democratic contenders in the next presidential race, and a panoply of super-PACs emerging to keep it that way:

The prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy hasn’t just fostered the network of semiofficial outside groups that comprise her shadow campaign in waiting. Clinton fever has also led to a proliferation of smaller groups and websites that hope to capitalize on Clinton’s name, but may not help her get to the White House.

More than two and a half years out from the 2016 election, there are no fewer than nine PACs or super PACs that include Clinton’s name in their own, according to Federal Election Commission records, on top of dozens of Hillary-themed websites. Some are serious efforts with real money and professional staffs; others seem well-intentioned, but politically unsophisticated; more still seem out make money or have missions and strategies too nebulous to comprehend. …

This week, another super PAC was added to the mix when Hillary PAC launched. Sam Deskin, a Los Angeles lawyer who started the new PAC, says that while he respects other pro-Hillary groups, he wants to do something more—though what exactly that is remains a bit hazy at the moment. “Ready for Hillary is important, I get it. They’re a very big organization with a lot of Clinton friends in there, but there needs to be someone who fights against extremists in Congress,” Deskin told National Journal.

The group’s Facebook page—”Hillary Clinton for President 2016,” which started way back in April 2012—has more than 380,000 “likes.” Hillary PAC partnered with the special-effects company behind Team America: World Police to produce a comical Web video that riffs on the introduction to Mission Impossible, warning that extremist tea partiers have taken over Congress.

Tea Partiers haven’t “taken over Congress” by a long shot — after all, Democrats still control the Senate, although they like to forget that when it’s convenient. They’re also not taking over the early 2016 conjecture. Both Reuters and the Associated Press ran stories on Tuesday speculating that former Florida governor Jeb Bush is preparing to toss his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination, and that his inner circle are “at the beginning of a very serious conversation.” The AP said that Jeb’s potential candidacy overshadows GOP preparations for the next presidential election:

The scion of the Bush political dynasty will likely be asked the question many times in the coming weeks as he raises his profile with appearances in Tennessee, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas — where he’ll bump into another possible 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Bush’s “yes” or “no” is one of the most significant factors looming over the 2016 Republican presidential contest. A White House bid by the brother and son of presidents would shake up a wide-open GOP field, attract a legion of big-money donors and set up a showdown with the influential tea party movement. Bush has said he’ll consult with his family this summer and make a decision by the end of the year.

In general, I like Jeb Bush, and think he made a fine governor in Florida. He may have made a better President than his brother George, although that’s sheer speculation; I’m not sure he would have had any different approach to policy, but might have been better prepared for the public-relations fight.

However, Jeb’s a figure from the past, and as I argue in my column at The Fiscal Times, his appeal parallels the impulse in Hollywood to produce sequels and reboots rather than risk some original thinking. The Republican Party — and the Democratic Party too, for that matter — needs original thinking and proven success in the present, not a look back to formerly-successful franchises as a lazy way to market to voters:

Republicans ought not to fight dynastic fire with fire. First, the field is very uneven; while those American voters who remember Bill Clinton’s personal peccadilloes might be wary of his return to the White House as First Gentleman, the memory of the Clinton economy and relative (and short-lived) peace caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union will offer them an opportunity for gauzy nostalgia. Voters thinking about the Bush era are more likely to think of economic collapses and unpopular nation-building, the consequences of both still get blamed on George Bush as much as Barack Obama to this day.

More to the point, though, we should use these election cycles to look for fresh voices and fresh approaches, not demand reruns of old dynastic franchises. Republicans have a better opportunity to offer that kind of nominee, thanks to the lack of any dominant figure in their party at the moment.

Governors like Susana Martinez in New Mexico could bring a fresh look to conservative principles or Mike Pence in Indiana who can claim both executive and Congressional success. Scott Walker has fought and won critical reform battles that allow taxpayers to control government costs. Walker just won a big battle in Wisconsin to return those savings to citizens through a tax cut that ended up drawing bipartisan support.

Republicans, at least, have better options than just sticking a number after an old, well-known brand name. Instead of looking backward, as Democrats seem intent on doing, the GOP can offer a fresh perspective and solutions for the future. That may mean that the branding will take more work, but if they focus on the product, the GOP might end up with a bona-fide original that can capture the imagination of voters rather than a retread that only energizes the true believers. Consider that the recipe for a real Republican reboot.

Some will argue that holding the Bush fatigue against Jeb, who had little to do with it, is unfair — and there would be some justification for that challenge. In the end, though, that’s reality, and no one is owed a nomination for the presidency on a party ticket. The real issue is whether Republicans (and Democrats!) want to live in the past in 2016 or look to the future. We don’t need reruns of Dynasty or Bush III: The Return of the Jebi. We need original thinking by people who have less baggage and more innovative experience at governance.


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