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January 24, 2014 3:48 PM Democrats are United, Republicans are Divided. So What?

By Seth Masket

One shouldn’t read too much into party tea leaves, but those leaves can be so damned unsubtle at times. Yesterday, for example, we learned that the nation’s largest left-leaning SuperPAC, Priorities USA Action, was backing Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, and that Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina would be leading their efforts. So if there was any doubt that Clinton was the preferred candidate of Democratic party elites or that the Obama folks would be helping her succeed him, those should have been well allayed by yesterday’s news.

On the Republican side, however, we learned that there would be three separate responses to next week’s State of the Union address. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) will deliver the official GOP response, but Sen. Mike Lee (UT) will deliver one on behalf of the Tea Party Express, while Sen. Rand Paul (KY) will deliver one on behalf of… Sen. Rand Paul. It’s great that Republicans have so much to say, but really, three responses? It’s hard not to look like a divided party when you do that sort of thing.

Does any of this matter for 2016? Not remotely! Just as the strength of a party’s field of candidates doesn’t really tell us anything about how their ticket will do in the fall election, neither does the appearance of unity. The entire primary/caucus process exists to winnow the number of candidates down to one, even when there are many competitive prospects. Yes, it would be destructive to the party if a separate Tea Party candidate ran for president in November, but that’s highly unlikely, and we’ve seen plenty of instances of intra-party squabbling among Republicans in recent years even while they rally around their presidential nominee.

Suffice it to say that Hillary Clinton is very likely to be the Democratic nominee (assuming she wants to be), that she will face a strong Republican opponent in the fall of 2016, and that she will win somewhere between 45 and 55 percent of the vote. I only say this because that’s pretty much what always happens in open-seat presidential elections.

[Cross-posted at The Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.

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