Byline: Howard Kurtz
Campaign fatigue? Get over it. The jockeying for the next presidential run is already well underway.
Presidential Politics never really takes a break these days, so the circling contenders and their gurus are already focused on 2016. For Republicans, the search for a nominee who can break their two-election losing streak will be fueled by a broader ideological war for the soul of the party. For Democrats, the question in the wake of Barack Obama's resounding reelection is far simpler: will Hillary Clinton run, and can anyone derail her if she does?
Let's start with the GOP. In the ideological warfare about to consume the party, the right wing clearly has the upper hand. Conservatives, their resentment heightened by Mitt Romney's last-minute lurch to the middle, will argue that both Romney and John McCain had too much moderate baggage to offer voters a stark contrast with Obama's liberalism. They will have considerable advantages in disseminating this argument: the money, mojo, and media machine that power the party are embedded on the right, as are the grassroots activists who keep knocking off more centrist lawmakers.
That will pose a huge challenge for any center-right candidates. Chief among them is Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor has plenty to recommend him: he has good relations with Hispanic voters and is a certified grown-up. On the downside, voters might be wary of a third reign for the Bush dynasty (which one GOP operative dismissively called "deja vu deja vu"). But perhaps more problematic, Jeb has criticized the party's rightward lurch, saying Ronald Reagan would have a hard time fitting in today. "Jeb is not a lockstep, pissed-off, cranky wingnut," says an informal adviser. "He'll think it through." A consultant who knows him adds that Bush is worried about the impact on his wife and his son, George P., who is eyeing a political future.
Another moderate aspirant, Chris Christie, seemed to start his 2016 run at the Tampa convention, where his keynote speech was mainly about himself. His hard-charging persona can be compelling (when he doesn't veer into bullying), an antidote to all those cautious, poll-tested candidates. But the governor has had his setbacks in New Jersey, and his full-fledged embrace of Obama after Hurricane Sandy may especially alienate serious partisans. "The perception that he was an October surprise that many Republicans didn't enjoy could hurt him," says a party warhorse. Another pointed to Christie's weight, saying, "You can't be that out of shape in the modern era."
On the hard-edged right, Paul Ryan has long been a champion of conservative orthodoxy, but his VP run was hardly the game changer for Romney that his fans expected. Ryan was supposed to bring an intellectual defense of smaller government to the ticket, but grew oddly muted as Romney soft-pedaled his plans to slash spending and cut taxes. What's more, the congressman's Medicare voucher plan could prove an albatross among older Republicans who depend on the program.
Rick Santorum, who was the year's surprise with 11 primary wins, appears to want another shot. He has set up an organization called Patriot Voices to cultivate donors and position himself for a likely run. But that would require the former senator to expand his appeal beyond Christian conservatives animated by social issues--and exercise more discipline than he did in talking about church and contraception.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the younger conservatives is Marco Rubio. Charming and charismatic, the Florida senator is a fresh Latino face (though he takes a harder line on illegal immigration than many in his community would like). He is beloved by the party's Rush Limbaugh wing and has been giving speeches on foreign policy. One strategist who deals with Rubio says he won't …