It would be hard to pin down precisely when it happened, but the coverage of the 2016 cycle certainly seems to have kicked into high gear earlier this month. Perhaps the shift in the tone of the press’s coverage of the next presidential race took place at some point between Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul’s (R-KY) campaign unveilings. Perhaps it was when Hillary Clinton’s video announcement dropped. By the time Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) hit the stage in Miami, the race for the White House in 2016 was undeniably on.
For former Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), this is not a welcome condition. In an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee warned that it was far too early to begin speculating about the state of the 2016 race. Particularly, he insisted, because this kind of speculation will impede the Congress’s ability to pass legislation.
“I don’t want to get into any of this 2016 stuff. I know you guys are already kind of tired of talking about this stuff so early out,” the Wisconsin Republican and former vice-presidential candidate said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday.
Ryan said he would rather talk about things happening now, like the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. “Let’s wait for a while. Let’s get stuff done in Congress. Let’s get some bipartisan accomplishments. Then we can worry about who’s running for president later. That’s the way I see it.”
It is a testament to the hollowness of this declaration that he was promptly ignored by his MSNBC interlocutors. Just minutes after requesting that the commentary class cease its onanistic 2016 conjecturing, the hosts demanded that Ryan engage in some himself. Perhaps conceding the futility of his well-meaning request, Ryan obliged.
Asked about Rand Paul’s foreign policy views vis-à-vis Hillary Clinton, Ryan said that the Kentucky senator has “evolved and matured in very significant ways.”
“If you’re asking me to pick between Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton, I pick Rand Paul. Give me a break,” he said.
It would have been appropriate to note that it was far too early to begin speculating about the 2016 race in December of last year, when Jeb Bush announced his intention to form an exploratory committee, but it is by no means too early to talk about the next presidential election today. At least, not by historical standards.
Barack Obama announced his intention to run for the presidency in February of 2007. Hillary Clinton did so a month prior. Mitt Romney announced that he was running for president again in April of 2011. Rest assured, the politicking and campaigning in the “invisible primary” had been ongoing long before any of these candidates revealed their intentions to seek the White House. Observing candidates jockeying for position and noting who is up and who is down week-by-week is not only an American tradition but an industry.
The first GOP debate of the 2016 cycle is already set to be held at the Reagan Library on September 16. Though it is of dubious utility, the Ames Straw Poll – the unofficial start of the primary calendar, though it no longer takes place in Ames – will be held in August. From that date on, the great winnowing begins. And the GOP field is so crowded that the narrowing process will likely be a painful and divisive one. For the health of the party, it is good that it begin as early as possible. If the aim is to leave as few lasting scars among those wounded Republican primary voters who backed the wrong horse before heading into the general election, the 2016 analysis can’t come soon enough.
From Ryan’s point of view, seeing as he spends his days threading needles on tax policy in the legislature, it makes perfect sense to fear the start of the 2016 race. From the perspective of the American public, however, the process of moving on from the Obama era cannot begin soon enough.