With his announcement at Liberty’s Monday Convocation this morning, Ted Cruz has managed to beat his other prospective opponents to the punch in declaring his bid for presidency and officially fired the starting gun for the disorganized bum rush that will be known to history as the 2016 Presidential Election. As America braces itself for the deluge of debates, political advertisements, and awkward family holiday conversations, there are three big things, that may not seem so big at first, that will be worth watching:
1: The End of the Bush/Clinton Dynasties
I really don’t know what else you can call it besides “dynasty,” since these two families feel like they’re second only to the Kennedys and Roosevelts for number of decades spent controlling large sections of our nation’s government.
Both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have been eying up the 2016 presidency, generating obscene amounts of money and making as many promises about their terms of office as they can without ACTUALLY announcing, coasting practically on name recognition alone.
We both just really miss being able to walk into the White House whenever we wanted.
However, both families are also on their last political leg, and this campaign will decide whether or not Clintons and Bushes continue to be politically relevant, or fade from public eye. It might sound a little dramatic, but it’s true. None of the other Bush siblings or children have demonstrated any interest in the political scene, Chelsea Clinton appears perfectly content with her charity work, and neither Jeb nor Hillary are getting any younger. If they decide to run (which they are almost certain to, the ongoing investigation of Hillary’s email notwithstanding), this will be the last big gasp of their legacies.
Of the two, Hillary has been less ham-fisted about her intentions to seek office, but with her age and the various health issues cropping up, this may be her last chance to try. If not for then, then for the steadily increasing amount of baggage she seems to accumulate, intentionally and unintentionally. However, the bigger issue is still her age and constitution. If she does not or can not run, the odds are pretty good she won’t be ABLE to try again. In short, for Clinton, it’s now or never.
Jeb, on the other hand, has to contend with the legacies of two predecessors which share his name, both of whom started their presidencies with very high ratings, and departed very unpopular. Jeb has the uphill battle of convincing a nation that’s gotten tired of the Bush name that he’s still worth voting for, and if he doesn’t make it, a Romney-style “Rinse, repeat, and retry” isn’t going to fly very well for a nation that feels like it’s had enough of the Bush name to last a very long time. He may have been one of only three people to serve two full terms as governor of Florida but, as bizarre news stories continually remind us, the rest of the nation is not Florida. In short, if Jeb Bush is unable to convince the American people that he’s worth electing on his own merit, he’ll have to wait even longer than Hillary to try again, and he’s already long past the average ascension age for presidents.
Either way, one of these names is going to decline. Both have a reasonable chance if they run, but this cycle is likely the last chance they’ll get, and they, in turn, are the last members of their families who have shown any interest in doing so.
2: The Democratic Party Forced to Choose Between Immigration and Organized Labor (And More).
The most recent flurry of Democratic activity has made it pretty clear that immigration reform is going to be one of the major talking points/arguments of the coming election, at least on their ticket, and they’re gearing up to try and claim the exploding Hispanic and Latino voting bloc. Unfortunately, this threatens to divide their foundation in a major way, chiefly among labor unions. For the better part of the last century, labor unions have been a major contributor of the Democrat Party’s bread and butter, both financially and at the voting booth, and it’s seen many unions evolve from the arguably necessary push-back to overbearing business practices of the turn-of-the-century, to little more than glorified election enforcers, who do remarkably little for their members beyond the basic platitudes of negotiating health benefits, and their image to the public is… mixed. However, one age-old tradition that has remained unchanged among organized labor is their complicated and often hostile relationship with immigration. Since day one, unions have been unable to agree on the pros or cons immigration reform, and with the decline of American industry, this divide has only grown wider, with debates over it even threatening the stability of monolithic unions like the AFL-CIO, which has been steadily splintering for the last decade. Less than two years ago, another branch of over 40,000 workers announced their disassociation with the country’s largest labor association, mostly due to AFL-CIO’s fairly open support of relaxed immigration policies and healthcare changes, which many saw as harmful to American labor.
However, even the AFL-CIO has far from given Democrats carte-blanche approval of whatever immigration reform they propose, and honestly, with workers questioning the point of union that would sacrifice their jobs to newcomers, they can’t afford to. Even the relatively party-line AFL-CIO is opposed to open, unbridled immigration, makes no allowance for guest workers, and a number of other major elements of Democrat Immigration Reform. Their relatively close-mouthed endorsement essentially says they want to legalize whoever is already here, already working, and already part of the union, but not much else. In short, the vision the Democrat leadership has of immigration is not exactly shared by labor unions, and if things were tense while immigration was still being treated as a side issue, imagine what will happen when it takes center stage. While the Latino community has been a noted component of American labor and industry since the industrial revolution, they have garnered such major Democratic attention recently largely due to the sudden population explosion and immigration from the Southwest. They recognize that Hispanic and Latino people will comprise a formidable voting bloc in the coming years, and want to secure their votes early.
However, their sudden bestowal of lavish amounts of attention to a specific demographic has left other major members of the Democrat party feeling disgruntled and disenfranchised. Organized labor is worried that their jobs are going to be sold out for political reasons, moderates are worried that sudden sweeping reform is going to far too far, and certain branches of the NAACP are pushing back against what they claim is preferential treatment of immigrant students.
In other words, if the Democrats are wanting to make immigration their main show horse for 2016, then they may lose a large portion of their base in the process, not just for this election, but if they make it stick, for elections in years to come.
3: The Weight of Ethnicity.
This one’s all about Ted Cruz, and what he is; more specifically, what people SEE him as. For those unaware, Cruz is of Cuban extraction, and if he were to win, he would be the nation’s first Hispanic president, and the nation is going to have to clarify what it thinks being “Hispanic” is. Technically, the fiercely conservative and controversial Cruz is considered a minority.
This election will be interesting, if for no other reason at all, than to see how pundits, specifically those on the left, treat Cruz’s heritage. While some might just slap a “Latino Uncle Tom” label on him and call it a day, I think it’s much more likely that his opponents in the Democrat party will try and negate his Hispanic background altogether. They can, and probably will, point out that Cruz is just another white guy, with typical “white guy privilege,” and technically, they’d be right.
You see, it gets tricky because “Hispanic” is an ethnicity, not a race. But then again… “Latino” isn’t technically a race either. (It might “become” one in 2020, but they’re still not sure.) So, on the one hand, it would be pretty easy to toss out Cruz’s heritage altogether on those grounds, giving progressives a free hand to berate him for being so, ugh, white and Republican. The PROBLEM with this is that if they do that, they are, in turn, completely trivializing the heritage, struggles, and legacies of hundreds of thousands of Latino people across the United States of America.
In fact, a large number of Hispanic and Latino people hailing from different areas of the Caribbean and Central America are likely to still have a large amount of European extraction in their background, but still strongly identify with their Latin culture. It’s Cruz himself who is making a major statement of his Hispanic heritage, and while he may not be over-politicizing it, he’s certainly not shying away from it either. Since his first official campaign ad was in Spanish, he appears almost ready to capitalize on it:
This has the potential of major significance because race relations are once again an object of major scrutiny. While many liberal pundits will likely be quick to dismiss Cruz’s own heritage, it’s going to force some uncomfortable conversations within the progressive movement.
For a long time, progressives have presented the unbelievably complex racial background of Hispanic and Latino people in a very simplistic manner, especially in issues of race. If they push, critique, or challenge Cruz on this subject, they will need to seriously reexamine the semantics they’ve been using regarding the Hispanic and Latino community for the better part of the last thirty years. We’d have to start asking awkward questions like “at exactly what skin tone does a Latino person become ‘white?'” We, as a nation, will be forced to consider the different of race and ethnicity and how they compare in regard to respect and… (dare I say it?) “Privilege.” For the moment, although liberal websites like Salon have lost no time in viciously mocking him, they have conspicuously avoided talking about his Hispanic background. Perhaps the various talking heads will ignore it completely, or just make passing comments about Cruz exploiting his heritage to “steal” Hispanic votes and go back to making jokes. (Because you OBVIOUSLY can’t possibly be Hispanic AND conservative. EVERYbody knows that.)
BUT, if they DO stop to seriously address it, then the dialogue about the changing cultural landscape of America will have just gotten a WHOLE lot more complicated… All thanks to Ted Cruz merely being present in the proceedings. Will he have a chance of winning? Honestly, at the moment, that seems pretty darn slim. But if Cruz is good at one thing, it’s seizing the spotlight, and while he probably won’t rake in the votes, he’s going to clock a lot of media attention, and with that attention is bound to come a renewed discussion of race and ethnicity.
So, while the bigger moving and shaking of the coming presidential election begins, I, for one, will be very interesting in seeing how this particular trio turns out.
Louis Petolicchio lives and writes in Central Pennsylvania, and he honestly has no idea who he’d vote for in 2016. Follow him on Twitter!