Two years is the equivalent of twenty years in political time, but there have been some recent political twists and turns that may profoundly affect the 2016 presidential election. The first and most obvious is the Chris Christie scandal. The second and more subtle development is the Congressional budget agreement and the resultant defanging of the Tea Party caucus.
The Christie scandal has had a lot of Democrats celebrating, but the celebration may be premature. Not that Christie will rise from ashes of Bridgegate - it is likely that his moment in the presidential sun is over. At the very least, his star is so tarnished that he will sink back into the pack of Republican presidential wannabes. And since he is generally reviled by the Tea Party faction, his prospects look decidedly lousy.
But the problem for Democrats is that Christie - although he had broader bipartisan appeal than most Republicans - was a flawed candidate from the start. New Jersey is rarely a stepping-stone to the presidency (Woodrow Wilson being an exception) and Christie's Jersey style does not play well all around the country, especially now that the brass-knuckle brand of Jersey politics is front and center.
What the demise of Christie does is provide and opening for a stronger, more appealing Republican moderate - enter Jeb Bush. Despite the disaster of his brother's presidency, which by now has faded (for better or for worse), from many voters' minds, Jeb Bush has a lot going for him. He was a popular governor of a huge battleground state, has moderate conservative views and is married to a Latina. Added to his appeal, he has a potentially stronger organizational network than virtually any other candidate, with the exception of Hillary Clinton.
A matchup between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush still seems to favor Clinton, but she has some vulnerabilities that may become more apparent as the election approaches. One obvious one is her age: she would be 69 in 2016, which would make her, along with Ronald Reagan, the oldest person ever elected president. But age is only part of the problem - she also suffers, as well as benefits, from familiarity with the voters. For those looking for a change, Hillary may seem like more of the same.
Clinton may also decide that it is simply not worth it to go through another grueling campaign. She slogged through an exhausting primary election in 2008, followed by four equally exhausting years as Secretary of State. If Clinton decides not to run, that leaves the Democrats with a very weak bench to choose from. Joe Biden, despite his apparently fervent hopes, does not seem to fit the bill. Among other things, Biden would be 74 in 2016. But how will the voters - or Democrats themselves - respond to the likes of Martin O'Malley, Mark Warner, Deval Patrick or Amy Klobuchar? For probably 90% of voters, the reaction would be "Who?"
One more obstacle for the Democrats might be, ironically, the weakening of the Tea Party. The recent bipartisan Congressional deal, which is admittedly vapid, does suggest that the Tea Party's influence, both in Congress and within the Republican party, is waning. If that is true and the moderate, establishment GOP regains a foothold, then the Democrat nominee in 2016 may face a tougher fight. Put simply, if the Republicans decide they want to start winning elections, then watch out. They could nominate an appealing moderate with a strong organization like Jeb Bush, and give Democrats a real challenge.