There are two key assumptions about human nature that help me predict who the next U.S. presidential candidates will be.
Number one: humans tend to be enamored by one quality without realizing that every strength in a candidate is also his/her greatest weakness and, conversely, every weakness is also a strength in a different context. The second axiom of presidential politics is that most Americans search for the candidate who is closest to center right.
Putting these two assumptions together will help determine who the candidates will be in 2016.
Assumption 1: George W. Bush listened to his gut when making major policy decisions. That was both his strength and weakness. It was his strength because he came across as one of the guys, someone you could sit down with and discuss things over a beer. That down-home quality got him elected. It was his weakness because his decision to invade Iraq did not take into account all the complex factors required both to conquer and then to nation-build a democracy in the fractious Middle East.
People got tired of the Bush emphasis of heart over head and in the 2008 election decided to find the candidate who was the most cerebral and unemotional. They chose Barack Obama – a law professor who earned the nickname “No drama Obama.”
Obama’s overall analytical, cautious approach to issues pleased those who favor thought over emotion, but angered those who felt it was timid when bold decisions were needed. One of his greatest criticisms on Capitol Hill was that he did not smooze enough with Congress. President Obama is definitely not the kind of person to sit down with and have a beer.
Now we are on the cusp of an election year where Americans are looking for someone less brainy. Republican voters are looking for someone who is honest and authentic, who can say things are the way they are and cut through the fluff to the heart of a matter. Thus, we see Donald Trump high in the polls. We also see Carly Fiorina, who comes across as tough and competent. She has little patience for fools.
Democratic voters are also looking for an honest and authentic candidate, someone who doesn’t change his/her views based on political calculation. That explains why Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are rising and Hillary Clinton is declining in the polls.
Clinton’s bid for the presidency adds an interesting complication to the presidential race, because of her husband’s presidency and her own well-known personality and views. Her strengths are also her weaknesses.
Assumption 2: The search for a candidate who is closest to center right is being decided right now, but will not emerge until late in 2016. The majority of Americans don’t really start thinking much about the presidential race until late summer and early fall. It’s only the true believers of both parties who actually participate much during the primaries. That’s why we’re seeing candidates rising to the top that most of us know do not stand a chance to win the national election. Trump is, well, too Trump, and Bernie Sanders is too liberal for most Americans.
It’s my guess that at the end of the day the moderates of both parties will emerge.
That’s what happened in 2012. Fortunately for the Obama camp, it was Mitt Romney, and not Jon Huntsman. The Obama campaign was deeply concerned that Huntsman’s character and moderation would make him a tough opponent in November 2012.
Who are those moderates going to be? It’s too early to know, but it won’t be Trump or Sanders. It might be Ben Carson because he’s a nice guy with strong Christian values. He’s bright, and honest, and also handsome. Never mind that he knows little about politics or the Constitution. It could also be Jeb Bush because he’s personable with political experience and also because he has a Latina for a wife and is fluent in Spanish. Bush is the most moderate of all the presidential candidates but his last name could be a game stopper for him.
Unless some other candidate appears on the scene that we haven’t considered, I’m guessing it will be Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. She’s the best the Democrats have. And just like Republicans had to pinch their noses to vote for Romney in 2012, so the Democrats will have to do the same with Clinton in 2016.
I’m betting my two assumptions – of looking for the closest opposite to the previous president, Obama, and finding the moderate who is closest to center right – will prevail. Time will tell. If I’m wrong, no one will remember. If I’m right, I might become famous!