The wind is at the GOP’s back in 2016… for now

On Monday, the respected political analyst and founder of the Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook, took a preliminary look at the state of the race for the presidency in 2016. Though he conceded that it was an admittedly early look at the state of play ahead of the next presidential cycle, Cook did draw a variety of conclusions.

“It isn’t yet clear whether the dominant theme of the general election will be ‘Time for a Change’ or ‘Changing American Demographics,’” Cook observed. “The strong pattern of throwing the ‘in party’ out after two terms suggests it will be the former and that the GOP will prevail.”

If the second theme overshadows the first, however, it will be advantage Democrats: They won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, and the electoral vote in four out of six. Under the “Time for a Change” scenario, Republicans would have upward of a 60 percent chance of winning the White House; if the nation goes for “Changing American Demographics,” however, the Democrats could see a similar advantage. If we split the difference, that gives each party a 50-50 chance of winning the presidency.

Cook concluded that there is no safe money for those inclined to gamble on the results of the general election in November of next year, and those predisposed to claim that either Democrats or Republicans enjoy a substantial advantage at this stage are basing that assumption on faith.

If, however, Cook’s conclusion that the GOP has the wind at its back ahead of 2016 if voters are inclined to seek a dramatic shift away from Barack Obama’s style of governance is true, then the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll must compel the political handicapper to concede that Republicans enjoy the pole position.

“In the poll, 59 percent of all voters prefer a candidate who will bring greater changes to current policies, even if he or she is less experienced and tested – up from 55 percent who said this in July 2008 during the general-election contest between Barack Obama and John McCain,” wrote NBC News Political Editor Mark Murray.

Sixty percent of registered voters (including 42 percent of Republicans) say that Bush represents a return to the policies of the past, versus 27 percent (and 49 percent of GOP voters) who say he will provide new ideas and a vision for the future.

By comparison, 51 percent of all voters (but just 24 percent of Democrats) think Clinton represents a return to the policies of the past, and 44 percent (including 73 percent of Democrats) say she’ll provide new ideas for the future.

Murray’s analysis seems to conclude that the GOP would be ceding their natural advantage following a two-term Democratic president by nominating Jeb Bush, and this poll does suggest that the former Florida governor is not the best positioned to take advantage of a “change” sentiment. That’s probably true to an extent, but is Bush fatigue enough to overcome the historically headwinds that a party faces in the effort to retain the White House for a third consecutive term? Charlie Cook’s analysis doesn’t seem to indicate that this is the case.

Moreover, if the Democratic Party’s hopes rest on Jeb Bush winning the party’s nomination in 2016, that is an unsound foundation upon which to rest the “in party’s” hopes.