Enough With the 2016 Talk

Speculating about the 2016 presidential race is a fool's game.

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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas walks through the Capitol complex in Washington, Friday, March 22, 2013, after his attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act was defeated during a flurry of votes on amendments to the budget resolution.

The talking heads certainly wasted little time before training their sights the 2016 election. Less than four months after President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term, the chatter about who might succeed him has already begun.

The Democratic field is mostly frozen as possible contenders wait for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to decide whether or not to throw her hat into the ring. She is widely viewed as the prohibitive front-runner to win her party's nomination – though that hasn't stopped the likes of New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Vice President Joe Biden from speculating about making runs of their own.

Meanwhile, a battery of Republicans waits in the wings, with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, current New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, Florida senator Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan all considered possibilities to snag their party's nomination. On Wednesday, Texas senator Ted Cruz became the newest addition to that list when National Review Online's Robert Costa revealed in a story that the Tea Party favorite is considering a run.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

The announcement caused many on the left to react with glee. As Robert Schlesinger wrote here on the Thomas Jefferson Street blog, "Ted Cruz is an almost perfect distillation of the extremism that has come to dominate the Republican Party."

I suspect these election watchers on both sides of the aisle are getting ahead of themselves, however. Four years is an eternity in politics. In fact, two years is an eternity.

One look at the electorate's wild swing from 2008 to 2010 and 2010 to 2012 makes that point plain. In '08, Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans by seven points and handed Obama an eight point landslide win. In '10, the electorate was split down the middle – 35 percent Republican, 35 percent Democrat – and the GOP picked up 63 seats to comfortably take back the House of Representatives. By '12, the pro-Republican sentiment had dissipated sufficiently to allow Obama to win re-election by a five million vote margin, and Democrats once again outnumbered Republicans at the polls by some six percentage points.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

These are massive shifts.

The same type of rapid change in attitude and temperament saw Bill Clinton elected in 1992 and then Republicans storm back to retake the House in 1994. It saw George W. Bush reelected in 2004 and then Republicans lose both houses of Congress to the Democrats two years later. It saw Massachusetts voters send Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate and then bring him home again, decisively, within a three-year span.

The idea that polls taken 18 months before the midterm elections could reliably tell us much of anything about where the electorate will be next November is almost a farce. Just one-twelfth of Obama's second term is in the books so far; spending time worrying about who might choose to run in an election 42 months away suggests we're working with a set of seriously misplaced priorities.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Three and a half years of policy battles will be fought and won before voters are faced with the decision of who to make their next commander in chief. The impact those battles have on our society, our economy and our national security is going to be far more important to determining what happens in 2016 than anything written about the slate of potential candidates today.

As a one-time freshman senator from Illinois with little national exposure could tell you, things happen fast in politics. If the chattering heads don't stop and look around once in a while, they could miss it.

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