If you’re one of the few Americans over 35 not running for president, I hope you’ll be one of the more than 100 million who will vote in next year’s general election.
There will be debates about whether this next election rises to the level of “the most important in our lifetime.” I argue “Hell, yes!” for the reasons that follow. But there’s no doubt that it will be the most expensive. When we go to the polls on November 8, 2016, billions of dollars will have been spent to elect the 45th president.
Things neither candidate nor party can control — primarily economic growth — will likely play a larger role in determining who will be president than campaigns, debates, or the candidates’ personalities. Still, there are a number of unique variables at play in this second post-Citizens United election that make it fascinating and unpredictable.
America hasn’t sent the same party to the White House three times in a row since 1988 — if you ignore the fact that Al Gore won in 2000. Democrats haven’t held the presidency for more than three terms since Franklin D. Roosevelt won four times, followed by Harry Truman’s victory in 1948. And you have to go back to the 19th century to find another three straight wins for Democrats.
Anyone who watched how disciplined and effective Republicans were in exploiting a fortuitous electoral map in 2014, as Democrats scrambled away from their own president and policies, should recognize the GOP is definitely capable of avoiding the clown show that marked its 2012 campaign. But given the 16 or so declared or nearly declared candidates, led by five frontrunners tied at 10 percent in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, the potential for idiocracy in action looms large.
Even larger are the consequences for the nation. Here are five things you need to know about the 2016 election now — before it’s too late.
1. The next president could easily determine control of the Supreme Court for decades.
By the end of the next president’s first term, four of the Court’s sitting justices — Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — will exceed or butt up against the life expectancy for their genders. They will all have passed the average retirement age for the Court since the early 1970s. Of these four, three — Kennedy, Ginsburg and Breyer — are the majority of the majority that has upheld the Roe v. Wade decision we rely on to protect reproductive rights for women in all 50 states. So a Republican president would have a 3 out of 4 chance that his or her first appointment will capture the conservative movement’s golden fleece and allow states to begin prosecuting women and doctors for miscarriages.
Sheldon Adelson and David Koch, two billionaires who have personally directed hundreds of millions of dollars to elect Republicans, claim that they’re pro-choice. But they reserve their support for candidates who think only people born male deserve reproductive rights, for one simple reason: The justices who oppose women’s rights are also champions of corporate rights. No two justices have voted on behalf of corporate interests more during the last half century than John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
In the past, GOP presidents have made the mistake of appointing moderate Republicans who became rational while on the Court. That will never happen again. The sort of judge any Republican will appoint now will be in the fiercely partisan mode of Alito. Today Republicans have four votes on the Supreme Court for almost anything they want. Electing their nominee in 2016 could raise that number to as high as seven. That wouldn’t just mean the end of Roe. It could be the end of the minimum wage, Medicare, Social Security and most environmental laws as we know them.
2. Republicans need a miracle performance to win.
Former Obama administration senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer said this quote from a recent Washington Post article by Dan Balz is “almost all you need” to know about 2016:
Based on estimates of the composition of the 2016 electorate, if the next GOP nominee wins the same share of the white vote as Mitt Romney won in 2012 (59 percent), he or she would need to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote. Set against recent history, that is a daunting obstacle. Romney won only 17 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012. John McCain won 19 percent in 2008. George W. Bush won 26 percent in 2004.
Some Republicans suggest that the next GOP nominee could appeal to more white people than Mitt “The Dictionary Definition of White Guy” Romney. But to do that they’d have to replicate Ronald Reagan’s 49-state sweep that had more to do with a booming economy than anything else.