Jim Webb: I'm not ruling out running for president in 2016

I listened to the clip below, scratched my head, and tried to figure out which Democrats he’d theoretically be peeling away from Hillary in a primary. The answer:

Matt Lewis thinks Webb has promise if he tries to fill the Brian Schweitzer niche, running as a lefty economic populist with roots in red-state culture to appeal to both liberal and centrist Democrats. Case in point:

In the interview, he sounded the sort of populist theme on widening wealth disparity that has drawn cheers from Democratic audiences. “We have a situation in this country where the people at the very top have moved away from everyone else in terms of how they live, how much money they make and in some cases the amount of taxes that they pay,” he said. Concerns about disappearing pensions and looming student-loan debts could be addressed “by the right kind of leadership and the right kind of policies.”

Hillary’s saying the same things lately, though, as will any Democrat who ends up in the race. Ostentatious concern about income inequality is a litmus-test issue for Democrats at this point, not something that sets Webb apart from the pack. As for Webb’s advantage with rural Democrats, Hillary’s married to the ultimate red-state Democrat, of course — and more importantly, I think liberals would be rightly suspicious that Webb would govern from the left as president. Remember, this is a guy who was appointed to be Secretary of the Navy by Ronald Reagan. Shortly after Bill Clinton left office, Webb wrote an op-ed noting how happy he was that Clinton was “finally being judged, even by his own party, for the ethical fraudulence that has characterized his entire political career.” Five years later, after Webb emerged as a surprise Democratic challenger to George Allen, the left — including Bill Clinton! — embraced him in the interest of winning a seat in a purple state. He was a good soldier for the party in the Senate, but no one seriously believes that Webb’s a committed liberal in the Elizabeth Warren mode. If forced to triangulate between congressional Democrats and Republicans, there’s every chance he’d be more conservative as president than he was as a senator. And he’s a year older than Hillary. If her age is an issue, his is even more so.

Plus, which prominent Dems realistically would support Webb over Hillary? Who’s going to be the Claire McCaskill of 2016, legitimizing the upstart challenger with a big-name endorsement that instantly makes his candidacy credible? No one’s going to cross her this time. Doing so for a phenomenon like Obama, who was a historic candidate, was one thing. Doing so for an ex-senator, whose chances are dubious, is another. Webb’s better off running as an independent, where he’ll be more free to play up his red-state credentials and to take the sort of pox-on-both-houses attitude towards the Dems and GOP that’ll resonate with voters. Between that and his record of military service, if people can get past his age he’d get a serious look — maybe not enough to win, but enough to cause headaches for the two party nominees. (As a nominal Democrat, he should be more of a threat to steal votes from Hillary than from the GOP, although I’m not sure it’ll work out that way.) Like I said the other day, if we’re destined to have another Bush/Clinton election, it’s only right that there be a Perot in the race too.