Over a decade ago, The Weekly Standard published a scathing look at the writing habits of a prized New York Times columnist.
“The Immutable Laws of Maureen Dowd” pulled no punches, accusing the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner (honored so, for her commentaries on the Monica Lewinsky scandal) of five mistakes: reducing political phenomena to caricatures of the personalities involved; whining rather than offering solutions; writing in a style that’s cute but not coherent; using her column space to justify a consumer-driven, self-involved life; and, what may be the worst sin of all, believing Europeans are always right.
Perhaps it’s time to add a sixth immutable law: her obsession with the psychodrama that is Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Take Ms. Dowd’s latest column, in which she offers this take on the former First Lady and Secretary of State: “From the sidelines, she is soaking up a disproportionate amount of attention and energy, as though she were already Madam President.” And: “We can’t hear ourselves think here this summer over the roar of the Clinton machine — and the buzzing back to life of old Clinton enemies.”
Indeed, there has been an inordinate amount of sleep summertime attention paid to Mrs. Clinton these past few days, much it having to do with the Republican National Committee objecting to CNN and NBC green-lighting (presumably fawning) Hillary biopics – and the odd political alliances the RNC’s complaint has spawned.
Buzz, yes. But hardly the infestation-like mania that Ms. Dowd imagines.
The other form of Hillary obsession: let’s call it the “fait accompli fatalist” branch of the media, which already has her inked in as Barack Obama’s successor. Here’s a particularly egregious example: “16 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Will Win in 2016”.
A word of caution about assuming that Mrs. Clinton has a mortal lock on the job her husband once held. Should she run in 2016, she’ll be aiming to replace a lone president who’s held the job for eight years (as compared to presidential “co-administrations” – one man dying or quitting, his vice president then taking over – in the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s and 1970s). We’ve faced this scenario only five times in the last 35 presidential elections. However, four of them have happened in the television age – 1960, 1988, 2000 and 2008).
Here’s the potential rain on the Clinton parade: in only one of those elections (1988) did the party in power hold on to the Oval Office. Instead, what we’ve seen is a drop-off from the retiring president’s re-election to the torch recipient, with the latter winning fewer states and fewer electoral votes (but not always fewer popular votes).
Here’s how the numbers break down:
2008. John McCain wins 22 states – 9 fewer states than George W. Bush in 2004 – and 2 million fewer votes. McCain collects 113 fewer electoral votes.
2000. Al Gore earns 3.5 million more votes than Bill Clinton in 1996, but he wins only wins 20 states – 11 fewer Clinton. And he suffers the same 113 electoral-vote drop-off as McCain.
1988. George H.W. earns 5.5 million votes, 9 fewer states and 99 fewer electoral votes than Ronald Reagan in 1984. Then again, the bar was ridiculously high: Bush still 426 electoral votes and carried 40 states.
1960. Richard Nixon earns 1.4 million fewer votes than Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, 15 fewer states, and 138 fewer electoral votes. And he loses the election by an excruciating one-tenth of one percent of the popular vote.
Taking an average of these four elections, Hillary Clinton would be looking at 11 fewer states, in 2016, than the 2012 Obama-Biden ticket that carried 26 states. Her Electoral College haul would be 116 votes lighter than Obama’s – just 216, or 10 more than: just 216, or 10 more than Mitt Romney.
How could this happen, given Obama’s success in the last two elections in supposedly move purple swing states into the Democratic “blue” column? The answer is simple: Obama’s last victory was wide (a majority of the 50 states – though he carried two fewer states in 2012, a rarity for a winning incumbent) – but it wasn’t deep.
Obama won nationally by almost 3.5 million votes. However, take away Obama’s advantage in the biggest of the blue states – California, Illinois and New York, which combined Obama carried by approximately 3.75 million votes – and Romney actually wins more votes in the remaining 47 states.
Of course, as Al Gore discovered in 2000 (and Clinton could also find out in 2016), it’s electoral votes that matter more. And were there to be a Democratic drop-off in 2016, if would most importantly impact the following nine states:
Florida 29 ev’s diff. of 63,000 votes (0.9%)
Pennsylvania 20 ev’s diff. of 290,000 votes (5.2%)
Ohio 18 ev’s diff. of 104,000 votes (1.9%)
Virginia 13 ev’s diff. of 116,000 votes (3%)
Wisconsin 10 ev’s diff. of 215,000 votes (6.7%)
Colorado 9 ev’s diff. of 113,000 votes (4.7%)
Iowa 6 ev’s diff. of 89,0000 votes (5.6%)
Nevada 6 ev’s diff. of 66,000 votes (6.6%)
New Hamp. 4 ev’s diff. of 41,000 votes (5.8%)
TOTAL 115 ev’s diff. of 1.1m votes
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, the race works 5% to the Republican candidate’s advantage in 2016 (a plus-minus combination of a better GOP candidate and a weaker Democrat adding up to that number). That would put Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado in the Republican column – a total of 69 electoral votes. Had that happened for Romney in 2012, he’d have won the election with 275 electoral votes.
Is a 5% swing possible? Again, let’s look back at those previous “one-man/eight-year” outcomes – this time, comparing the party-in-power’s performance in the open-seat contest versus the previous re-election.
Here’s what we get:
1956: GOP +15%
1960: GOP -0.1%
1984: GOP +18%
1988: GOP +7.7%
1996: DEM +8.5%
2000: DEM +0.5%
2004: GOP +2.4%
2008: GOP -7.2%
Given that the most modest of these shifts was 8%, maybe Hillary Clinton’s ascension isn’t as easy as the press likes to assume. Yes, Republicans will have to field a better candidate. And a lot can and will happen between now and the 2016 elections – the outcome of the 2014 midterm vote, Obama’s popularity (or growing lack thereof).
But with another 118 Tuesdays between now and the time we choose a new president, we know what the definition of “is” is: be it succeeding a lone man who’s held the job for the past eight years, the party in power is in for a hard time extending the stay.
Unless Hillary Clinton manages to buck the historic trend in 2016, and we learn that the rules don’t apply when it’s a woman – looking to do the man’s job.
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen