Molly Ball reports on the shallow Democratic “bench” of political talent:
It tells you something about Warren’s status as a rock star of the left that before the Massachusetts Senate candidate has even won her first election she’s being pumped as a future presidential candidate. But it tells you even more about the status of the Democratic farm team. There are precious few tabbed for political stardom in the Democratic ranks the way Obama was starting in 2004 or the way Marco Rubio is adored on the right today.
Republicans only seem to have a much deeper “bench” among elected officials because they currently don’t control the White House and because they have a tendency to over-promote new and under-qualified politicians for higher office. Whenever a party controls the executive branch, a lot of its promising and capable members are appointed to administration positions. Depending on the appointment and the administration’s overall record, that can be a political death sentence. Before they were appointed to their Cabinet positions, Napolitano and Sebelius were both seen as rising Democratic stars, but their respective turns at DHS and HHS have almost certainly sabotaged any national aspirations they may have had. The same thing happened to Tommy Thompson and Tom Ridge in the Bush years. In the late ’90s, Thompson was considered an obvious future presidential contender, but by the time he ran in the 2008 cycle it was too late. If Romney wins, we can expect some of the current rising Republican stars to have their careers diverted and possibly derailed in the same way.
The Democratic “bench” looks shallower because 2016 will be the first open contest on their side in eight years. Republicans have just completed their second open nominating contest in a row. Republican voters and activists have been paying more attention to up-and-coming politicians than their Democratic counterparts, and they have expanded the universe of candidates they’re willing to consider because of their disappointment with the actual fields of candidates they have had in the last two elections. At a comparable point in Bush’s first term, McCain’s nomination in 2008 would have seemed very implausible, and Romney wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar as a competitive presidential candidate for 2008 or 2012.
Let’s look at that VP straw poll ballot that Ball mentions as an “instructive contrast” with the dearth of future Democratic candidates. Nine of the twenty-three names on that ballot belong to 2008 and 2012 also-rans plus the extremely unpopular Gov. Kasich of Ohio (who happens to be a 2000 also-ran). Another nine have been elected to their current offices within the last three years. Most of the former have tried and failed as presidential candidates, and in some cases they have failed quite badly (see Perry, Rick). The latter group has been built up as presidential candidate material for lack of plausible alternatives. The Republican bench is now considered very deep because standards have been lowered so dramatically in just the last few years. The other names on that ballot are Jindal, Bush, Portman, Daniels, and Ryan, four of whom are reasonably qualified for the Presidency. Only two of them seem interested in the job. Democrats could compile a similar list of current and former office-holders. That wouldn’t mean that many of them would be viable presidential candidates, but they could boast that their “bench” is similarly deep.