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Roger Simon: GOP thinks Hillary is out of touch - with Democrats

May 10. 2014 1:17AM

SO HERE IS the game: Is it easier to figure out who will be the 2016 Republican nominee or who will be the 2016 Democratic nominee if Hillary Clinton does not run?

Think about it. Got an answer yet?

I know your answer: What normal person is thinking about such things in May 2014?

Well, no normal people. Just the national press corps, political operatives and potential candidates.

The game is afoot. And it will not stop.

The Republican field is in turmoil for at least two reasons. The first is that once again, there is no "next guy in line," i.e., a candidate who has paid his dues and "deserves" the nomination.

Secondly, the Republicans have not solved the problem that afflicts them every time they get the sense they can actually win the White House: Do they go a little to the center to pick up independent and swing voters to make up for the minority voters they are never going to win, or do they stay true to their ideals and go hard right, risking victory in the name of ideological purity?

The far right of the party - movement conservatives and others - is maddened each time the party makes a "safe" choice in the name of victory and ends up losing. Those Republicans want that game to stop in 2016. They want a "true" conservative in 2016.

But will they get one? Could the party really resist a Jeb Bush-John Kasich ticket? It would be a ticket that not only oozed empathetic conservatism but could gain an advantage in two critical states: Florida and Ohio.

There are other choices. But the oft-used saying is that Republicans fall in line while Democrats fall in love.

And the Democrats are in love with Hillary Clinton. Face it; if she runs for the nomination, she wins the nomination. If Joe Biden runs against her, that would be a complication. He would make a terrific happy warrior on the road, a perfect contrast to Clinton's somewhat glum public persona. (I am assured she lights up like a 1,000-watt LED in private, but candidates don't run in private.)

Still, I don't see Biden beating her for the nomination. In fact, I don't see Biden running, even if she doesn't run. Which leaves the Democrats where?

Also in a state of turmoil, that's where. There are all sorts of names: Martin O'Malley of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mark Warner of Virginia, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. The list goes on. (Rahm Emanuel, show us the Chicago way!)

Possible Democratic candidates who have "ruled out" running would likely rule it back in should Clinton not run. But Republican operatives are predicting a large Democratic field even if Hillary does run.

On Tuesday, I spoke to a senior Republican consultant who has had hands-on experience in presidential campaigns. Not unexpectedly, he thinks Clinton has many weaknesses and will not freeze out other Democrats from running in the 2016 Democratic primary.

"Just look at history," he said. "When is the last time there has been a front-runner without a serious challenge? Nixon in 1960?

"But Hillary's biggest problem is that she is out of step with the ideological energy of her party. She is pro-death penalty. She encouraged her husband to sign the Defense of Marriage Act. She encouraged him to 'end welfare as we know it.' She supported the Iraq War. And she never came out for gay marriage when she was secretary of state." (Clinton endorsed gay marriage in March 2013.)

If this sounds like what the Republicans are going to throw at Clinton should she be the nominee, that's because it is.

The operative went on about what a Clinton campaign would face.

"The economy is on pretty shaky ground," he said. "And her relationship with the press, I don't think this will change. She is not going to reinvent herself."

He cited two other factors that could lead to a large Democratic primary field. Super PACs and their super money can keep a candidate in the race who would normally have to drop out because of lack of funds, and primary debates - he predicted there will be at least 20 on the Democratic side - will give candidates TV exposure, even if the media ignore their campaigns.

"Hillary lost the women's vote to Obama last time by a considerable margin," he went on. "There is no data to show that women vote for women more than they vote for men. There is a certain appeal to have the first woman President for both Democrats and Republicans. But if you base your goal on what happens on Election Day, that is a pretty thin platform to run on. People want to know: 'What happens next?'"

And then he gave a final analysis: "Whatever we think will happen won't happen - at least not in the way we think it will happen."

And though that is worthy of Yoda - or a fortune cookie - it is probably true.

Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist.

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