Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Photo by Gage Skidmore.
It’s been four decades since I covered my first presidential debate, when I wrote about a televised encounter between President Gerald Ford and candidate Jimmy Carter for my college newspaper.
Ford committed a famous gaffe in that debate, declaring that there was “no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe” at the height of the Cold War. Carter went on to win the White House, although Ford’s pardon of ex-President Richard Nixon and a subsequent sharp recession probably had more to do with the outcome than the general incredulity over his remarks about the independence, or lack thereof, of Poland and other Soviet satellite states.
When you follow politics as closely and for as long as I have, you can get so engrossed in the contest that even the most predictable campaign holds your attention as you wait for something unexpected to happen. The Ford-Carter contest was not a predictable campaign, and this year’s presidential race is even less so. Although I’m always eager to see the outcome, I rarely find myself saying I wish the whole thing would be over already.
A lot of other people feel differently, however, and there is a good chance you are one of them. In which case I have bad news: The 2020 White House race is clearly underway even before the first debate between the 2016 candidates has happened.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is obviously trying to position himself for the inside track to the GOP nomination for 2020. His first step, having dropped out of this year’s race after only winning his home state primary, is to try to stay relevant. His attempts mostly involve casting shade on Donald Trump at every opportunity: staying away from the Cleveland convention while hosting his own events in a bid for attention, hitting the Sunday morning talk shows to announce that while he would never vote for Clinton he won’t back Trump either, and attacking GOP Chairman Reince Priebus by proxy for having the temerity to expect Kasich to honor his pledge to back the party’s nominee.
A Trump victory in November would put a serious crimp on Kasich’s ambitions, since Trump would presumably seek re-election in four years. A Clinton victory would put her, in 2020, in the same position as George H.W. Bush when he sought a second term in 1992, after his party held the White House for a dozen years. Incidentally, Bush was knocked off his presidential pedestal by someone else named Clinton.
With less hubris and more humor than Kasich, Jeb Bush – son of the president Bill Clinton defeated, because I just can’t shake these characters no matter how long I follow politics – has also hinted that he would like to give it another go. As part of the opening segment of this weekend’s Emmy Awards, Bush appeared in a sketch moonlighting as an Uber driver. After telling host and nominee Jimmy Kimmel, “if you run a positive campaign, the voters will ultimately make the right choice” – and subsequently having to explain that this was a joke – Bush ejected Kimmel from the car and shouted “Jeb, Exclamation Point,” lampooning his much-derided campaign branding. He then drove off, displaying a “Jeb! 2016” bumper sticker with the “16” crossed out and a “20” written in.
This sketch seems to have played well to its target audience. But for the elements of the Republican party that prefer to see Trump rather than Clinton move into the White House come January, there is nothing funny about the Bush family’s ongoing refusal to support the nominee that was chosen by the same party electorate that has kept them in public life even longer than I have been following this sport.
Kasich and the Bush family are not the only Republicans who continue to withhold their support. Stories of former friends and colleagues refusing to even speak to one another over differences over Trump have evidently become common, especially inside the Beltway. This summer, the radio program “This American Life” profiled Doug Deason, a major Republican donor who was originally wary of Trump but eventually came to support him. This decision put him at odds with a man Deason described as his mentor: Charles Koch, who has held firm that he will support neither Trump nor Clinton. Some of the Republican staffers who recently spoke to The Hill about pro- and anti-Trump disputes in Washington asked to be anonymous out of fear their Trump support would hurt their careers.
So it is no secret that many Republicans dislike Trump, and more than a few have staked out public positions against him. It isn’t a huge surprise to see party insiders, in particular, oppose the candidate whose entire candidacy is based on not being an insider. I imagine these GOP not-blind loyalists will get religion in a hurry, however, if Trump should happen to win the White House and thus find himself in need of candidates to fill between 5,000 and 10,000 decently paid and highly prestigious administration positions.
And if he loses? Kasich and Bush will be looking for early financial backers for their 2020 presidential campaigns. They’d better do it quickly, too. My guess is that the longer the GOP donor base has to put up with Clinton administration appointees to the courts and to key agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Labor Relations Board, Federal Communications Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Treasury, the less happy they will be with the outcome of 2016’s balloting and the less inclined they will be to support Republicans who did what they could to ensure Trump’s candidacy would fail.
I don’t blame you if you cannot wait for the 2016 race to be over. I am in no hurry, however, especially since the 2020 race has already begun.