Eight years ago, the 2008 presidential campaign season was already underway. The majority of candidates had announced they were running in late 2006 or early 2007, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. John McCain. For the year leading up to the Iowa caucuses, I’m sure the media was just as annoying about all the presidential election hype as they are now. However, there’s one major difference: no major candidate has declared for the 2016 election cycle.
A few candidates, including my favorite boot-as-a-hat-wearing Democrat, Vermin Supreme, have formally declared their candidacy, but no one with any name recognition has made the jump into the presidential election season. Some notables, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley have created exploratory committees or political action committees (PACs).
Outlets across the country are clamoring for formal announcements. If a day goes by without a “When will [candidate name] declare?” article, it’s a miracle. This week, CNN reported that Ready for Hillary, a PAC supporting, you guessed it, Hillary Clinton, is close to signing a lease for Clinton’s Brooklyn, New York headquarters. The article also reports that Clinton is set to announce her candidacy sometime in April. My question is, why not wait longer? In fact, why don’t all the candidates wait just a little bit longer before announcing? It can only help them and our election process.
No one should declare in December or anything crazy, but how much of a difference would announcing in April be from announcing in June? For those with a national presence, such as Clinton, Christie, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden etc., there’s really no point in campaigning longer than necessary.
Clinton especially can only benefit from a later start. Especially in the middle of “email-gate” (quotes to emphasize heavy skepticism), Clinton needs to separate her tenure as secretary of state from her campaign. The House Committee on Benghazi has already subpoenaed her emails, and Clinton promised to release all emails as soon as possible. The PR nightmare that could ensue should be enough for Clinton to hold off her announcement. If Clinton launches her campaign amid the media storm, it would only spell trouble for the fledgling campaign.
Furthermore, Clinton really doesn’t need to declare now. Except for the overwhelming pressure from the media and supporters, there is no reason for an announcement. Because Clinton is so far ahead of any other candidates, the time off the campaign trail won’t do much to her poll numbers.
Quick side note, though: Let’s not discount the laughable, creepy grandpa figure currently sitting in the Vice President’s office. Biden has made a few, quiet trips to New Hampshire already, and his scathing response to the Iran letter of 47 Republican senators (don’t get me started) sounded authoritative, and dare I say it, presidential. If he can avoid any more offensive gaffes or embarrassing plagiarism scandals, he might be a contender. But that’s a big “if.”
For the Republican contenders, there’s some advantage to declaring early, but I don’t know if it’s enough. Most of the candidates are already de facto campaigning anyway. The Associated Press reported that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s two sons are already planning to forgo their fall semesters at Marquette University and University of Wisconsin-Madison to help campaign. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, among others, made appearances in New Hampshire this past weekend. Just because you’re not calling it campaigning doesn’t mean it’s not campaigning.
The earlier you declare, the more money you spend and the more open to political blunders you are. No one can keep skeletons in their closet forever, but statistically speaking, you’re much less likely to say something stupid if you say fewer things. In other words, you can’t hide the secret love child, but you can minimize the chance of a verbal slip-up.
Most importantly, do we really need a two-year campaign cycle in the first place? As fun as the literally endless stream of media covering the presidential election is, aren’t there other things for people to write about? Elections are simple. There is a winner and a pile of losers. There are blunders and victories on the route to those results. There are sound bites and posters and literally billions of dollars spent, but it’s simple. It’s a competition.
Governing, on the other hand, not so simple. Behind every issue, there are thousands of books and papers and memos and position papers. Nothing is superficial or easy to understand. We can form an educated opinion, but there will always be more to read and take in. It’s easy to campaign. It’s easy to follow election coverage. It’s not easy to cultivate change and economic growth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Running for government isn’t nearly as important as running the government.