Sure, it’s Paul Begala, but he’s not wrong — at least, not here. Even more amazing, Van Jones isn’t wrong either in saying that Democrats may need to look harder for anyone else who might still be on the bench. This is what three cycles of decline have produced for Democrats in the Barack Obama era (via Daniel Halper):
“If Hillary Clinton doesn’t run,” [CNN’s Jake Tapper] asked, “who’s on the bench then?”
“No one,” said Begala. “No one. My party–it’s not fair, there are impressive people, that I think could be good presidents, but don’t have I think the electoral prospects that Hillary does.”
Begala once wrote a book, Third Term, arguing that John McCain’s presidential run was doomed from the start because of the hangover of George W. Bush’s unpopularity. Begala goes on in this clip to argue that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy would be different because Obama won’t be as unpopular as Bush was at the end of his term, based on … nothing at all, actually. Obama is on the same arc as Bush, but lacks any of Bush’s political skills except during campaigns. Obama’s entire presidency can be charted as declines in voter approval with a single, sustained spike during the re-election bid. With Republicans in control of Capitol Hill and a war going much worse for Obama than it was for Bush, good luck with that assumption.
Van Jones throws even more cold water on Begala’s premise by noting that Hillary will actually excite the base even less than Obama did in this cycle. She’s too close to Obama — McCain, at least, hadn’t served on Bush’s Cabinet — and isn’t any better at retail politicking than McCain either. Jones suggests that Elizabeth Warren is the one bench candidate who can do the job, but that’s a measure of how cocooned progressive analysts have become. Voters just swept Democrats out of office in favor of Republicans, and the answer is someone even more radically to the Left than Obama? If anything, it just demonstrates how few options Democrats have in 2016.
Begala and Jones aren’t the only ones noticing the failure, either. Two wipeouts in four years have left Democrats with lmost no farm team with which to work, Politico points out:
After the Republican waves of 2010 and 2014, the party is depleted not just in its major-league talent, but also in its triple-A recruitment prospects. It amounts to a setback, Democrats say, that will almost certainly require more than one election cycle to repair.
At the start of the 2014 campaign, Democrats envisioned an election that would produce new national stars for the party in at least a few tough states – Georgia Sen. Michelle Nunn or Kentucky Sen. Alison Lundergan Grimes, for instance, or maybe even Texas Gov. Wendy Davis. Even if the party fell short in those “reach” states, Democrats hoped to produce new heavyweight blue-state Democrats – Maryland Gov. Anthony Brown, the country’s only black state executive; or Maine Gov. Mike Michaud, who would have been the first openly gay candidate elected governor.
Any of them could have landed on a vice presidential short list in 2016.
Instead, all of them lost.
Joining them were numerous down-ballot Democrats widely viewed as future contenders for high office: attorney general candidates in Nevada and Arizona who looked like future governors; aspiring state treasurers in Ohio and Colorado who could have gone on to bigger things; prized secretary of state candidates in Iowa and Kansas as well as countless congressional hopefuls around the country.
I made the same point yesterday, arguing that the gubernatorial and state dynamics of the Republican wave had enormous consequences for Democrats:
While the Democrats’ bench largely consists of Beltway figures and retreads like Hillary Clinton, Republicans are grooming talent in the states. Their performance in state legislatures make it clear that their advantage in the “farm system” will continue, too …
This is a recipe for a long-term arc that returns the GOP to dominance. Especially in a populist environment where connections to Washington are considered baggage rather than assets, the GOP has greater opportunities to outpace Democrats on development of presidential contenders through the ranks of the governors for the next generation.
Republicans may surf this wave for a long time to come.
In the meantime, this may be the Democrats’ only argument in the primaries for 2016: