The old saying goes that, come election time, Republicans fall in line and Democrats fall apart. The tradition in the GOP has been that, if you ran for president and came up short — Ronald Reagan in 1976, George H.W. Bush in 1980, John McCain in 2000, Mitt Romney in 2008 — next time, it would be your turn. Among Democrats, it was a free-for-all. Hillary Clinton was thought to have a lock on the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, but Barack Obama had other ideas.
That’s how it has long been in our politics. Republicans were the party of order, Democrats were prone to chaos.
No more. In 2013, the Democrats seem pretty well organized. All of them eyeing the presidency — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, et al. — seem to be waiting to see what Hillary Clinton will do in 2016 before announcing their intentions. Last week, in Washington, Clinton even had a cordial lunch with an old friend who she ran against once and may run against once more — Vice President Joe Biden.
Meanwhile, Republicans are engaged in a series of messy food fights.
You have Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas vs. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida over immigration; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vs. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky over domestic surveillance and the cost of preventing terrorism; Paul vs. Sen. John McCain of Arizona over whether the Kentucky senator would — if he ran for president — be preferable to Hillary Clinton; Rubio vs. the GOP establishment over defunding Obamacare; and Cruz vs. well, just about everybody over just about everything.
The only thing even partially relevant in this ridiculous fantasy is the notion that the GOP used to have a defined waiting list when it came to running for the presidency. This is somewhat true and, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, a system that hasn’t worked very well in the modern era. (George H.W. Bush was nominated and won solely because of his years in the Reagan White House, not because he was a dynamic candidate or “part of the plan.”) It’s given us Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney as “electable” options, two of whom lost to vulnerable incumbents. George W. Bush hadn’t been waiting around for his turn to run for president — everyone knows the long-term family plan was to get Jeb into the Oval Office.
So, if that’s the kind of stability the press would like the Republicans to return to, yeah…no.
The GOP is a party in transition and that is a very good thing. A little ideological throwdown between people who might be running for president in THREE FREAKIN’ YEARS is hardly a cause for concern. And anybody who says that it’s getting more personal than ever really isn’t well-versed in American political history.
True, the Democrats used to bicker more. They also used to be a party that brooked dissent. As the ’60s era progressives began to have more influence, the hive mind began to take over. Now they view any disagreement between members of the same party as a sign that the apocalypse is nigh.
Let them think all hell is breaking loose in the GOP. Then let the GOP produce a battle-toughened candidate to run against the 69-year-old white woman that the party of youth and diversity is coddling until 2016.