'Ready for Hillary': Are Democrats behaving like Republicans?

On Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill became the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Hillary Rodham Clinton for president. But anointing Clinton this early may not be the smartest move.

Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press/AP
Gert Hobson (c.) and other supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, stand outside DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she was scheduled to speak at the annual dinner of the Club of Grand Rapids on Monday.

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s announcement Tuesday that she is endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton for president should come as no surprise – aside from the fact that the 2016 election is 3-1/2 years away. And the first nominating caucus is probably about 2-1/2 years away.  And the former secretary of State isn’t close to announcing that she’s actually running.

But no matter. The 2016 race is well under way, at least among the politically addicted, which includes those thinking of running and the people who love them (and/or want to work for them). So it also comes as no surprise that there’s already a well-established "super political action committee" – Ready for Hillary – encouraging former Secretary Clinton to run. Former Bill Clinton political guru James Carville is on board, as is former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) of Michigan.

Senator McCaskill (D) of Missouri is the first sitting member of Congress to climb on board, which takes the super PAC’s prestige up a notch. For McCaskill herself, the decision to endorse early may represent a bit of atonement for her early endorsement of then-Sen. Barack Obama over then-Senator Clinton in the 2008 cycle.

But McCaskill puts forth another reason to back Clinton early.

“Hillary Clinton had to give up her political operation while she was making us proud, representing us around the world as an incredible Secretary of State, and that’s why Ready for Hillary is so critical,” McCaskill said in her announcement. “It’s important that we start early, building a grassroots army from the ground up, and effectively using the tools of the Internet – all things that President Obama did so successfully – so that if Hillary does decide to run, we’ll be ready to help her win.”

The idea that Clinton is the inevitable nominee if she decides to run has become an article of faith. In fact, “the only ‘news’ a top Democratic official can make now about 2016 is announcing their intention NOT to support Clinton,” notes NBC’s “First Read” political sheet. “At this point, announcing support for her is not exactly NEWS.”

Well, we think it’s a modest news point, at least worthy of a blog item. And it reminds us that in these early days of the 2016 presidential cycle, the Democrats are behaving like Republicans and vice versa. For the past many cycles, the Republicans have settled reasonably early on a  candidate – often the runner-up from the previous cycle (see Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney), almost always someone who has run before, or, in the case of George W. Bush, the scion of an American political royal family.

Now, it’s the Democrats who are doing that. If Hillary Clinton runs, she effectively clears the field. The Republicans, in contrast, have at least a dozen serious people gearing up to run or thinking about it, and several strong prospects, but no clear front-runner.

So which party is in better shape? There are reasons to say the Democrats, but the fact that they have an obvious next-nominee-in-waiting may not be one of them. Remember, Republicans say, their model hasn’t worked so well of late. In the last six elections, the Republican nominee has won the popular vote only once. Sometimes, it appears, a vigorous, wide-open competition can be just what a party needs. The best is allowed to rise to the top. 

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