Hillary Clinton isn't blocking out anyone's star. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Hillary Clinton isn't blocking out anyone's star. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Can we try to kill off one of the sillier media themes of 2016 right now? No, Hillary Clinton’s dominant position in the presidential nomination contest isn't “blocking” new party leaders from emerging, as Alex Seitz-Wald argued in National Journal last week. Nor will it “stymie the rise” of “new stars,” as Chris Cillizza wrote yesterday in the Washington Post.

Presidential nomination fights don’t produce future national party leaders.

Let’s go through it, starting with the Democrats. Which politicians left the nomination process without winning, but with a good chance of competing in the future?

The 2008 cycle didn’t produce any. Joe Biden was helped by becoming vice president, and Hillary Clinton remained a viable candidate, but I don't think either was particularly helped by the nomination process.

2004? One clear winner, John Edwards, though he fizzled in 2008.

2000? No one.

1992? No one.

1988? Al Gore probably helped his future prospects, though it’s not a clear-cut case. Did Richard Gephardt? Maybe. Biden? No; his campaign hurt his national standing. Bruce Babbitt, even though nothing came of it?

1984? Gary Hart went from nobody to future front-runner … but he also probably spread at least the seeds of the lack of trust from party leaders, which undermined him. No one else; unless someone wants to argue that Jesse Jackson fits the bill.

What about Republicans?

Did the 2012 cycle produce any new party leaders? I guess the answer depends on whether one believes in Rick Santorum. Minor yes, I suppose.

2008? A good year: Both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee emerged stronger than they went in.

2000? John McCain, I guess, though he was already a fairly major figure.

1996? Lamar Alexander. Well, sort of.

1988? Jack Kemp.

1980? George H.W. Bush, mostly thanks to the VP nod.

That’s about it for Republicans.

OK, that’s a long list, but it works out to about one emerging star (outside of the nominee) per cycle. And it isn't a list that produces presidents, or even very many nominees, with the exceptions of Romney and maybe McCain.

Now, think of the list of people who were thought to be viable national candidates -- until they were wiped out in a nomination contest. Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry, Bill Richardson, Phil Gramm, John Glenn, John Connally, Howard Baker. Or those who emerged only to get clobbered, such as Howard Dean. My guess is that it’s a much longer list than the emerging stars.

Now, it is true that if Clinton continues to dominate and the other current (but very quiet) candidates such as Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar drop out well before 2016, some of them will have missed their opportunity and will never run again. That’s too bad for them! But it’s not particularly bad for the Democrats; by 2016 -- or 2020 if Clinton wins -- the next group of potential candidates will be ready to go, at least as long as Democrats do well in statewide elections.

Because the real story is that exciting groups of new national candidates come from statehouses and the Senate, not the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. The reason Republicans have such a deep field before 2016 isn’t because of their very open 2008 and 2012 presidential nomination battles; it’s because of their 2010 landslide.

To be fair, Cillizza is more focused on the point that having a competitive 2016 nomination contest also means fighting out emerging policy ideas, and I strongly agree with him. Those policy fights can happen further down the ballot, and they also could happen to some extent even with a Clinton coronation, but overall I think he’s right about that part of it.

But the idea that Democrats need a presidential nomination battle to create strong future national candidates, or that, as Seitz-Wald claims, “Democratic dependence on Hillary Clinton hampers the development of a Democratic farm team”? Nonsense.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.