It's only mid-April, but with "Why Hillary Clinton Is Probably Going to Win the 2016 Election," New York's Jonathan Chait has zoomed into the lead in the race to win this year's chutzpah-in-punditry award.
Don't get me wrong. Even with the general election still 19 interminable months away (that's 571 days, but who's counting?), Chait makes a strong case for a Clinton victory. But I still wish he hadn't written the column. The last thing Democrats need is to be lulled into complacency. Yes, they have a number of demographic advantages going into the next election cycle. But that doesn't mean Clinton will coast to victory.
Chait relies heavily on a new Pew poll, and much of his analysis is sound. Democrats are indeed likely to benefit from two demographic trends: the "emerging Democratic majority" (which is a product of liberal-leaning segments of the population growing at a faster rate than conservative-leaning ones) and the replacement of more conservative older voters by more liberal younger voters.
But Chait fails to note a finding in the Pew poll that should give him pause — namely, that 39 percent of the public now identifies as independent. That's the highest level in over 75 years of polling.
It's true that many of these independents are "closet partisans" — functionally Republicans or Democrats in their ideological leanings. But not all of them are, and even some of those who lean one way or the other are persuadable by the other side under the right circumstances and by the right candidate.
This appears not to trouble Chait because, as he notes at the conclusion of his column, he has faith that the Democrats are the only "non-crazy" party in the U.S. at the moment, and thus the only party that will appeal to non-crazy voters.
I submit that this might make a decisive difference if the GOP ends up nominating Ben Carson — which it won't. It may also prove important if they go for Ted Cruz — which is highly unlikely. And it may even have some effect if they put up Scott Walker or Rand Paul.
But bland-and-boring Jeb Bush? Or Cuban-American pretty boy Marco Rubio? I don't think so.
Sure, Chait — a loyal Obama supporter and merciless scourge of the right — thinks the GOP nominee doesn't matter, because the party (as displayed most vividly by its congressional brinksmanship since 2011) is fundamentally nuts. Even a temperamentally moderate Republican president would have to ride the Tea Party tiger while in office.
I largely agree. I just doubt most voters will. If Republicans can manage to nominate a candidate who sounds halfway reasonable, Hillary Clinton will have a real fight on her hands.
Democrats are going to have to work hard to prevail in 2016. The left's sharpest minds would be well advised not to encourage Democrats to deny this fact.