I have long maintained that many of the Republicans current problems can be placed at the feet of George W. Bush, but not for the reasons many people think. The angst and anger within the Republican Party come not from Bush’s policy prescriptions directly, but from Bush having Dick Cheney as Vice President.
I adore Dick Cheney and his family, but having a Vice President who does not intend to run as the successor to a President is a bad idea. It denies the party of the incumbent President the ability to debate his legacy through voting for or against his Vice President. Presidents who have a Vice President following them will do things and not do things in order to smooth the path for the Vice President. Bush did not have to worry about that. He never had to worry about policy X upsetting his Vice President’s path to victory. His staff never had it enter their minds in a way it would have had their other boss been on the balllot.
As a result of Dick Cheney not being on the ballot, the GOP in 2008 had to go back to 2000 and refight old battles all over again with John McCain. Those battles have never really stopped playing out. Now, as I predicted several years ago, the same thing is starting to happen on the Democrats’ side of the aisle.
Democrats cannot really have a strong debate on Barack Obama’s legacy because Joe Biden is not running. There will be no referendum at the ballot box on the direction Barack Obama took the party. Obama, in turn, does not have to worry about helping his Vice President so he is free to do and not do things with public policy he might otherwise reconsider.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign is more or less a call to return to the Clinton legacy. Bernie Sanders’ campaign is a call to move further left. Both claim to be representing the banner of Barack Obama, but neither really is. The party has no standard bearer for their status quo and, consequently, are more and more headed toward the same open rebellion the Republicans have been having. There is no one to preserve the coalition of Barack Obama.
For the Republicans, things finally flew off the rails when Jeb Bush stepped up in 2016. Finally the party that had steadily been moving beyond the Bushes could have their vote on the Bush legacy. Seeing the party bosses align with Jeb sparked worries and fears and Trumpism. The party descended further into chaos as it sought out a new legacy.
If Clinton wins in November, which I suspect she will, the Democrats’ issues will be cut short. But historically it is rare for a party to hold the White House three terms. I suspect in four years the chaos within the Democratic Party will reach the boiling point we are now seeing within the Republican Party.
The moral of the story is pick Vice Presidential candidates who intend to run as successors of a President’s legacy. It let’s the party course correct sanely and cathartically. The Republican Civil War may be the focus of the press right now, but the Democrats are starting to divide up.