BOB GARFIELD: This week saw a sharp spike in speculation for who will be president in 2017. Reminder, it’s been about 10 months since President Obama was sworn into office, which means the next inaugural is a mere 38 months away.
CORRESPONDENT: This is gonna be fantastic. Add this to the list, Ted Cruz to the list of Republicans who may be considering running for president in 2016.
ERIN MCPIKE, CNN: Hillary Clinton continues to dominate the 2016 presidential speculation.
HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you.
ERIN MCPIKE: But there's an unapologetic liberal who could stir things up, first-term Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
CORRESPONDENT: Well, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie won reelection by a landslide this week, making him the early frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
BOB GARFIELD: Mark Leibovich, in an upcoming piece in the New York TimesMagazine, writes, “NBC has Hillary up 44 to 34 over Chris Christie, in a hypothetical 2016 general election poll from November. The hypothetical debates will be crucial too [LAUGHS], as will any hypothetical gaffes, ads and the campaign’s hypothetical “get out the hypothetical vote” operations.” [LAUGHS] Mark, welcome back to the show.
MARK LEIBOVICH: Great to hypothetically be here, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Hey, you know how irritating it is when the Christmas decorations go up at the mall before your own jack-o'-lantern goes soft? Y – you see where I’m goin’ with this?
MARK LEIBOVICH: I do. I think you’re talking about wildly premature speculation. And one of the political maxims is that no one tunes in to the general election until the World Series. The change now is that the World Series has occurred three years before the actual election –
- rather than three weeks before the actual election.
BOB GARFIELD: And there have been a lot of data points, I mean, if you can call that data. Something from the left-leaning public policy polling last week had Hillary Clinton leading Senator Ted Cruz from Texas by 17 points! Now, Hillary Clinton hasn't declared for anything. Cruz certainly hasn't declared. Yet, the pollsters declared it has the potential of producing the most lopsided national vote since Lyndon Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater in 1964. Well, you got to hand it to ‘em. They’re – you know, they’re swinging for the fences. Not only do they have hypothetical candidates, they’ve got a hypothetical landslide.
MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah, no they do, and I actually – I think if you look at the hypothetical field operation in hypothetical Ohio in 2016, you look at a distinct advantage for the Democrats – no!
I think what we’re doing here, Bob, with our constant percussive use of the word “hypothetical” is really pounding home the utter absurdity of this. This is yet another chapter in the continuum of speculation punditry replacing reporting as the gold standard in our industry.
BOB GARFIELD: We’re treating it as an absurdity, and yet, the New Republic, apparently in dead earnest, did a piece about first-term Senator Elizabeth Warren titled, “Hillary's Nightmare.” How do serious-minded people justify this out-of-control speculation?
MARK LEIBOVICH: One of the funny things about this is that the politicians themselves are playing to this hypothetical environment. I think any serious person or observer of politics would say that Chris Christie is thinking very seriously about running the president and doing the things that you do and, and talking to the people that you talk to and putting organizations in place. And then if you were to actually ask him about it, he would probably say something like, well, I don’t answer hypothetical questions. They operate in a hypothetical landscape and then they just stand above it, shrouding themselves in this very hypothetical-ism that they are partaking of.
BOB GARFIELD: A lot can happen in three years, including Elizabeth Warren and Chris Christie being hit by trucks, including war, including scandal, including sickness, including the rise of some hitherto unknown. At some point, doesn’t it go beyond silly to actual malpractice?
MARK LEIBOVICH: If you were to define irresponsible or malpractice by creating an utter waste of time for your viewers and readers and listeners, and what have you, then yes, you have it. Now, the American people and the American media have a right to complete and utter wastes of time. I, for instance, just spent the last 20 minutes on Twitter. I don’t think it’s malpractice in that anyone is being smeared. I think it’s malpractice in that, you know, you’re certainly not creating a smarter electorate. You’re – you’re creating an electorate that is even more grounded in the purely parlor-gaming hypothetical, you know, world that politics exists in.
BOB GARFIELD: Which becomes, does it not, infotainment and something other than actual journalism?
MARK LEIBOVICH: Yes, although I would argue that there is no “info” behind it and there is no “tainment” behind it.
I mean, there are some truths embedded in it and certainly some possibilities embedded in it that could very well come to pass. But I think, as of right now, our time would be better spent, I don’t know, watching cars rust or something.
BOB GARFIELD: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone and, in this case, he means the Washington Bureau of the New York Times, [LAUGHS] where you hang your hat.
MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: The Times has itself played this little parlor game already, has it not?
MARK LEIBOVICH: We are guilty. We are not above this. I would like to think that we do it less often and, and maybe in a more considered way. But when you hang around in Washington and when you deal in the political class, as I do as a political reporter, much of your time and much of the conversation is given over to the noise, which is exactly what this is, which is not to say that such noise will not exist at an even more intense level in a few years. But a – when you’re three years out and you have caveat everything with, granted, a lot could change, you are just giving a signal to everyone that this could be a massive waste of time.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay now, of course, I am – I’m obliged to ask when, when do you start doing your speculating?
MARK LEIBOVICH: You know what, Bob, with all due respect, I don’t answer hypothetical questions.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS]
Mark, as always, thank you very much.
MARK LEIBOVICH: Thank you, Bob. I appreciate it.
BOB GARFIELD: Mark Leibovich is the national political correspondent for the New York TimesMagazine and author of, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral - plus plenty of valet parking! - in America's Gilded Capital.