Aaaaaaaand we’re off and running … in November? Former Senator and Reagan administration official Jim Webb formally announced the start of a presidential campaign exploration committee, becoming the first in either party to formally make a move for the 2016 race. In his 14-minute announcement, Webb declares that the nation is at a “serious crossroads,” and that his move comes after “reflecting on numerous political commentaries and listening to many knowledgeable people.” His move will certainly get plenty of political commentaries, but the odd timing might get more:
Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb became the first well-known Democrat to launch an exploratory committee to run for president on Wednesday night, saying the nation is at a “serious crossroads.”
“I have decided to launch an Exploratory Committee to examine whether I should run for President in 2016,” Webb said in a four-page letter on his website, Webb2016. …
Webb, who was Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary and who has held centrist views on a number of issues, has been bolstered by progressive news outlet The Nation as a potential challenge from the left to Hillary Clinton, the dominant front-runner who hasn’t yet said if she will launch a second national campaign.
“With enough financial support to conduct a first-class campaign, I have no doubt that we can put these issues squarely before the American people and gain their support,” said Webb, acknowledging his underdog status against a likely Clinton fundraising juggernaut.
His letter never mentions Hillary’s name, though. In fact, as Daniel Halper notes at the Weekly Standard, Webb’s statement never actually makes explicit which party’s nomination he’s seeking, although the context of this passage makes it implicitly clear:
The Democratic Party used to be the place where people like these could come not for a handout but for an honest handshake, good full-time jobs, quality education, health care they can afford, and the vital, overriding belief that we’re all in this together and the system is not rigged.
We can get there again. The American Dream does survive.
Buzzfeed’s Ruby Cramer considers that a signal to the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party:
The 14-minute monologue suggests Webb’s message to Democratic voters could have a working-class, progressive bent. In the video, he described the Democratic Party as a group that used to be defined by a “vital, overriding belief that we’re all in this together and the system is not rigged.”
The phrase — that the system, or game, is “rigged” — echoes a common tagline by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the popular progressive who has said repeatedly that she is not planning on running for president, despite appeals from the left.
Webb could be a Warren, with more gravitas. Warren just got to the Senate two years ago, but Webb has been in public life on the national level for decades. He served as Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy in the final two years of the administration, became a successful novelist, and then ran against George Allen for the Senate in Virginia at the prompting of the Left in 2006. That was the infamous “macaca” campaign that ended Allen’s political career, although the Democratic wave that year may have been difficult for the incumbent Republican to withstand anyway. Webb served a mainly unremarkable single term as a left-leaning centrist, although he briefly made headlines for opposing the idea of conducting criminal trials in civil courts for captured terrorists. His retirement caused only a few mild ripples.
Given that, it’s difficult to figure how seriously to take this bid. He doesn’t have much of a following any longer, having been all but absent for the last two years. He didn’t campaign significantly for Barack Obama in 2012, if at all, nor did he do anything for Democrats in this cycle — even though Webb tried grabbing attention a couple of times this year about his 2016 aspirations. Webb seems to think that it’s still 2006 and the Left will draft him again without having to do any of the party-building work necessary for most serious contenders, such as Hillary Clinton. She may not have been effective in this cycle, but she and Bill hit the campaign trail and tried to get Democrats elected, as did Warren, Joe Biden, Martin O’Malley, and other Democrats who might be looking at a bid. Webb’s sat out campaigning since the 2008 election for Obama.
Even the gravitas has a flip side. Webb is already 68 years old; by the time of the next election, he’ll be 70, older than Hillary Clinton. That’s not too old to run for President, but it’s certainly old enough to wonder whether Democrats really need another aging Baby Boomer in the crowd. The Republican contenders are already much younger than the Democrats presumed to be in the race, and here comes a blast from the Reagan Era past to underscore that disparity and make it official. The youth vote that lifted Obama in 2008 will only be eight years older in 2016, not twenty-eight years older.
Perhaps that’s why Webb is so anxious to start his campaign that he didn’t wait until after the New Year, so that he can have a brief window of distinction from the rest of the septuagenarians or near-septuagenarians in the Democratic primary. The problem with this timing is that most Americans want to tune out from politics between Election Day and New Year’s Day. They focus on holidays and entertainment, not on a vote they won’t have to cast for at least fourteen months, if not longer. Even the donors whom Webb courts in this video are exhausted, after having spent millions in a catastrophic loss. They will want to wait for the post-mortems before dropping big money on a candidate, especially a long shot. Webb would need a huge boost of enthusiasm to position himself realistically in the race after having been on the shelf so long, and he’s launching in a time frame built for ennui.
Nothing is impossible, of course. If Hillary ends up not running, Democrats won’t have many other options, at least at first, thanks to a thin bench that just got a lot thinner a couple of weeks ago. But Webb’s been on the margins for a very long time, and Democrats would have to be very desperate to embrace him as the party nominee in 2016.