Democrats Have a Dinosaur Problem Too

Matthew Dowd

By Matthew Dowd

Mar 28, 2013 6:00am
gty biden clinton mi 130326 wblog Democrats Have a Dinosaur Problem Too

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Biden, Clinton, Cuomo are considered the leading candidates to seek the Democratic nomination for president in the coming open election.   Are we talking about 2016 or 1988?

Yes, this headline could apply to 2016.  But the funny thing is, this could have also been written more than 25 years ago in advance of the 1988 presidential elections.  While we are talking about a different Clinton (this time Hillary and not Bill) and Cuomo (and the son Andrew and not the father Mario), it is amazing how the bench of the Democratic Party seems trapped in years gone by.

A few days ago on “This Week” on ABC I referred to a meeting of CPAC as something that could take place in the Mesozoic era.   The interesting thing is both parties in different ways seem trapped in the past.

For many, Republicans seem to be annunciating policies and programs and a vision that seems outdated and out of step with modern America.  Their stands on many social issues (though there does seem to be some evolving going on related to gay marriage) and tax policies and view of government do not seem to fit society in the 21st century.  As I’ve said, a conservative message could be very successful; it just needs to be one that fits today’s economic, social and political environment.

But Democrats shouldn’t bask in the idea that they don’t have a dinosaur problem too.  Look at that list of names at the top of this column; it is a list from a time gone by.  Where are the new names? Where is the bench that isn’t named Clinton, Biden or Cuomo?  I understand two of these folks are relatives of the names from the 1980s, but come on, isn’t there a future for Democrats that isn’t a dinosaur name from the past?

And while Republicans have a message that could be described as drawn up in a time of dinosaurs, Democrats must solve a personnel problem to move successfully into the future.   Right now the personality and persuasion of President Obama ties the Democrats together in a loose coalition of a diverse variety of demographic groups.  He is the leader that looks much more like the 21st century, but after President Obama leaves office in 2016, whom do they have that isn’t a name drawn from 25 years ago?

Republicans actually have a new group of leaders emerging.  Sure, a Bush seems to be circling the field, but the names that have gotten more buzz today among conservatives are Rubio, Christie and Walker.  None of these names were on the political scene 10 years ago, let alone 25 years ago.

And if one of these candidates (or another new Republican out there) catches fire, and has the courage to create a conservative policy model for the next generation, the Democrats are in serious trouble in 2016.

Both parties are an imperfect fit for this next presidential election, as well as to appeal to the new generation of voters emerging in America, but for totally different reasons.  One has a policy problem; the other has a personnel problem.   But in many ways, the Republicans’ situation is an easier fix.

You can’t create a brand new candidate that is ready for prime time out of thin air.  But a new candidate can create a new set of messages and policies if they are willing to lead and have the strength and capacity to put together a viable electoral coalition.  In politics, you nearly always need a candidate first, and then messages usually flow from that person’s leadership ability.

In 1992, it wasn’t some think tanks or party regulars or the Democratic Leadership Council that created Bill Clinton.  It was his emergence and ability as a politician that gave all of them credibility and brought them into the limelight.  His message and persona fit the time exceedingly well.  And this is what some new Republican is going to need to do if they are going to win.

For the Republicans to emerge from their antiquated messages, they should look not to some Super Pac, or discussions among think tanks or conservagentzia, but to one of the new leaders who is ready to drag the party along.  Whether those leaders have the courage to embrace a new generation is an open question.

And Democrats should just be careful about jumping up and down on the basketball court before the buzzer sounds and celebrating too much about the Republican disarray.   They are about to see their premiere point guard retire, and as President Obama prepares to walk off the court, do they really want to go to a player whose last name seems to be written on a faded jersey from long ago?

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