The Democrats' Gathering Storm

Democrats should forget about Chris Christie's bridge and start thinking about how to avoid their own impending mess.

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While many in the media are focused on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's George Washington Bridge scandal, they're gliding over the increasingly troubled political waters surrounding New York's Hillary Clinton.

But the problem isn't really Clinton. It's more what's going on within the Democratic Party at the moment and where politics are likely to be in another year – after the 2014 midterm elections, but before the Iowa caucuses.

For while it's true that politics, like life, can change on a dime, and those who are up may suddenly be down (see for example, Christie), it's also true that there are regular patterns evident in American history that prevent politics from being merely stories of personal fortunes and partisan combat. There are deeper currents moving politics and the nation.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on Chris Christie.]

What they suggest just now is that 2015 could prove a difficult year for Democrats.

Coming off an election cycle in which Democrats may not only lose seats in the House, but also their majority in the Senate, one would expect a factional dispute to quickly break out. After having been forced to defend President Obama's questionable policy leadership – from the ACA to the NSA and the jobless recovery – to no avail, the Democrats' progressive and pragmatic wings are highly likely to start fighting over what are the appropriate policy correctives to return their party to power. They're also likely to debate who exactly should represent the Democratic Party as the presidential nominee in the post-Obama era.

Obama's opinions won't much settle matters either. His preferences are likely to be ignored by all but the most loyal. Aside from his soon-to-be "lame duck" status, he chose not to groom an heir apparent or take sides among his advisers. Obama let Clinton and Vice President Biden vie for his administration's mantle. Were he to weigh in next year, just as candidates are launching their bids, both his potential successors and former supporters would be apt to perceive his efforts more as an intrusion than a helping hand.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

To some extent, this ambivalence about the Democratic Party's future is already in play in Iowa, where the nation's first voters cast their ballots. As CNN's Peter Hamby explained, the Hawkeye State currently possesses "a restive and emboldened progressive base long suspicious of Clintonian moderation, a hunger for fresh Democratic voices, and a caucus electorate that boasts a cherished tradition of voting with its heart rather than its head."

Enter one Democratic "outsider," former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who not only believes that the tide is turning against Obama, but is also betting on Clinton getting caught in its undertow. It's not yet 2015 and party rumblings are already afoot. For Hillary Clinton, again, "inevitable" seems to come with the qualifying phrase, "for now."

Democrats would do well to stop worrying about Christie's bridge and start thinking about how they avoid what appears to be their own approaching storm.

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