The New Republic's big profile of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and the hastily-built and quickly-challenged pedestal under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are 2016 fantasy football picks. People are pretending Democrats might nominate an extreme partisan and that the Republicans might not. This is mostly due to boredom. We're at the point of 2016 fantasizing during which we couch our "what-ifs" in "hows." Pundits embrace unlikely nominee possibilities, and weave complicated narratives of what can be done over the next three years to move from unlikely to inevitable.
Warren has emerged as an unlikely vehicle for that speculation. The "Elizabeth Warren for President 2016" Facebook page has a rather respectable 8,000 likes. Daily Kos is trying to gin up financial support. The idea has been raised by the Boston Herald, the Post, and, you know, The Atlantic.
Most recently, the cause was taken up by The New Republic's Noam Scheiber. The case Scheiber makes for Warren's 2016 candidacy falls squarely in the realm of the theoretical. "[I]nevitable candidates have a way of becoming distinctly evitable," the magazine writes, suggesting that Clinton is no more certain to grab the nomination in 2016 than she was in 2008. The Democratic party, it argues, has a new-found disdain for the center and the Democratic-leaning bankers that lie within. Warren is decently positioned for a presidential run, absent Clinton, being closer to early-primary state New Hampshire than was Palin to Russia. And New York City just elected a populist in a landslide; public outcry submarined Larry Summers' bid to lead the Federal Reserve.
It's less about Warren as a candidate than about a Warren-like candidate's advantages against a Hillary Clinton-like candidate. As Politico reminds us, Warren herself signed a letter earlier this year encouraging Clinton to run in 2016, not exactly the sort of move that someone hell-bent on undermining a candidacy would do. But that's not the point; the point, TNR argues, is that liberals are at last ready to demand a fervent populist as their candidate.
It's impossible, given the latter "power of the people" argument, not to draw comparisons to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who's made enacting the will of the people (at least: the people of Texas, the people of the Tea Party) his mantra. Scheiber draws the comparison, unsurprisingly finding Warren's political and policy positions preferable.
Thinking that Hillary can lose the 2016 D nom b/c Obama beat her is like constantly betting on the Giants b/c Manning had 1 good Super Bowl.— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 11, 2013
But the comparison inadvertently reveals the magazine's real agenda. Warren fetishism — again, apparently predicated on little more than that she is a national politician — is a projection. It is a manifestation of lack of enthusiasm about crowning an historically center-left politician as the next nominee. Wouldn't it be great, the idea goes, if Democrats put a sandal-clad foot down over its basic principles?
On the Republican side, Christie's massive win in Democratic New Jersey has inspired the inverse sort of dream: Could the Republicans embrace and elect a moderate? Mitt Romney was not a hard-right conservative, of course, but as the first post-Tea Party nominee, he had to fight off bruising challenges from multiple candidates to his right. The strength in the Republican Party will, by all appearances, lie with the extremists in 2016 as well. Despite that, could Christie become the agreed-upon, palatable choice for Republicans, an apparent inevitability like Clinton? National Journal argues that he's trying. (Which of course he would.)
But it won't happen. Already, the party's celebrity right is bashing Christie's less-dogmatic positions. On the Today show on Monday, Sarah Palin warned that "when you stand in the middle of the road, you’re gonna get hit on both sides of the road." Texas Gov. Rick Perry questioned whether or not Jersey conservatism looked anything like conservatism in the rest of the country. Comparisons between Christie and Rudy Giuliani — as Politico made over the weekend and we've done in the past — make Perry's point. Giuliani's New York conservatism won him all of zero primary states in 2008, thanks in part to a deeply terrible campaign. (We'll note: TNR warns that Christie is more conservative than liberals might expect.)
The most likely scenario for 2016 is much like the one we saw in 2012. A relatively moderate presumptive Democratic nominee who faces little opposition; a Republican fight with a number of conservatives swarming a more palatable general-election candidate. The Democrats could see a strong challenge mounted by an outsider; the Republicans could, after seeing two mainstream candidates lose in a row, embrace the argument that only by digging deep into their conservative roots would they win in November. Both of those scenarios would be more interesting. Neither is the most likely. But they're more fun to talk about.