Andrew Sullivan: Look, obviously apart from the Clinton machine sitting there ready to take over, I don’t see anything on either side right now that seems even faintly in the game.
I mean I might have said Christie, but I think at this point no sane person would want that kind of personality in charge of any greater sort of power. Because once you’re wired that way, you’re just not a President. And I say that as someone who was kind of hoping for some kind of moderate, Northeastern Republican in 2016.
But I just can’t see [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich, or [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker; or on the Democratic side, who’s going to go up against it? [Maryland Gov. Martin] O’Malley? [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo?
So what’s going to happen, John? Predict. Because if we’re going to face another Clinton era, I’m gonna need some help.
John Heilemann: Tell me something I don’t know. It’s a very unusual circumstance.
Just as a matter of brute political reality, in many ways she is better situated to be the Democratic nominee than a sitting President would be, in the sense that she has almost all the assets for incumbency and yet she doesn’t actually have to run the government. She is free to be a candidate, but she has all the pro weight of incumbency – she has the record, now, of an incumbent. She’s very much attached to this administration; she’ll be seen as part of it if she runs, with all the attendant benefits in terms of the nomination that that entails.
Much of the Democratic party, having nominated an African-American, now thinks it’s time for there to be a woman nominee. She has extraordinary, extraordinary amounts of loyalty from the constituencies that choose Democratic nominees: women, Latin Americans, African Americans, gays and lesbians, union households – she has strength in all of those communities. Pick an important Democratic nominating constituency, she is incredibly strong with all of them.
She is the only Democrat who can really raise money, if she’s in the race. If she’s not in the race, the donor class is all over the place. But if she runs, she locks up a vast chunk of the Democratic voter base. Beyond health issues or some self-inflicted scandal — or Bill’s health or some potential scandal he could be involved in — she effectively will win the Democratic nomination by acclamation.
But I don’t think that anyone will run against her. Biden will not run if she runs, I believe. Cuomo will not run if she runs. Martin O’Malley has said he will not run if she runs… Who is going to take her on? It doesn’t mean she’s going to be President, but it means that if she wants to be the Democratic nominee, she is close to unstoppable.
AS: How psychologically crippling would it be for the Republicans to lose two elections to Obama, and then lose the next one to Hillary Clinton? Would you not want to just pack up and go home at that point?
JH: The talk of there being a Republican “Civil War” is not radically exaggerated. It has lost five of the last six general elections at the level of the popular vote, and if you look at where the Republican party stands right now with the American electorate, the only thing that’s keeping it afloat is Obama’s weakness, which is real… The party is radically out of touch with the rising demographic forces in the country, and with what the policy implications of those changes are.
I think that most of the Republicans that people talk about as potential nominees are a joke compared to Hillary Clinton.
Who’s the strongest Republican candidate right now? You know, it’s probably Jeb Bush. And there are big issues with Jeb Bush.
But if the Republican party is going to win, they have to find someone who the establishment donor class wing of the party is really behind, and believes can win; and that the Tea Party cultural wing of the party can be energized for. Someone who fuses those two things together, and someone who can talk to the so-called “coalition of the ascendant” (minorities and single women) – not necessarily get a majority of them, but still not get only 27% of the Hispanic vote. Because you can’t win a national election with 27%; you have to get 37, 38% of the Hispanic vote, and Jeb Bush is someone who can conceivably do those three things.
I’m not saying he’s a perfect candidate, but right now, he is someone who could conceivably do those things. Can Paul Ryan do those things? I don’t think so, and I don’t think he’s going to run. Can Scott Walker do those things? That’s kind of a stretch. I mean, have you spent much time with Scott Walker? His a fine Midwestern governor – “fine” in the sense of his political skills, just as a candidate. But is he a major league ball player who can go toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton?
This is like during the last cycle when people would say Tim Pawlenty may have a shot; and I would say, ‘have you been with Tim Pawlenty?’ Like, he’s a really good guy, and he was a successful governor of Minnesota, but you watch him – and I hate to use sports analogies – but it’s like a really good AA player, and you’re going to go out and play against Barack Obama? It’s ridiculous. A very good minor league player, who you’re going to put out on the field to hit against Sandy Koufax.
Rand Paul? Ted Cruz? Obviously not plausible to win.
AS: Not plausible?
JH: Not plausible to win a national election. Could one of those guys, in a very fragmented Republican field, and especially now with the way they’re building the Republican nomination process, could one of them win the nomination? It’s not impossible. But they will not be President of the United States.
AS: But if you win Iowa and New Hampshire [in the primaries], you’re kind of set.
JH: Yeah, you can run the table.
AS: I’ll end on this — what does it say about America that we could be looking towards the most plausible scenario, of the most viable race in 2016, is a Clinton against a Bush?
JH: It says that America, very firmly, deeply, profoundly, and broadly believes it’s time for a change.
[Both crack up laughing.]
A selection transcribed from last week’s ‘Andrew Asks Anything’ with John Heilemann, posted on The Dish.
This new feature is exclusively for subscribing members of the site, and along with the additional resources offered by The Dish, it is well worth the $20 price of a yearly subscription. The site is a current events and cultural hub that covers issues deeply and widely, and is serious but does not take itself too seriously. It’s among the first news resources I check each day. Plus, Sullivan is, in addition to an almost perfectly fluent writer, a commentator whose opinions are decidedly fresh, attentive, and apartisan. His conversation with Heilemann runs over an hour and a half, with this particular portion being just the final 3 minutes.
Above: Heilemann, left, with his Double Down and Game Change co-author, Mark Halperin.