The 2016 Campaign Started Long Ago

If you wait until 2016, you'll miss it.
Breaking a sweat yet?  Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

I had thought we were over these for this cycle, but the normally sensible Paul Waldman has a doozy today on an Alex Seitz-Wald report that early coverage of the presidential election is up from equivalent points in the 2008 and 2000 campaigns. Waldman:

When Rand Paul holds a fundraiser or Ted Cruz gives a speech in Iowa, is it news? Well, it can be. Those events are, in fact, early preparations for a presidential campaign that will accelerate in coming months. But they aren't so vital, so important, so urgent that they absolutely demand coverage. . . . these early campaign preparations exist in the realm where reporters can choose to treat them as news, but are under no obligation to do so.

I'm sorry, but this is wrong. The presidential nomination contest doesn't start when the voters get involved in January or February 2016. It began roughly in November 2012; important events are going on right now. Indeed, by the end of 2014, it's likely that one candidate or more will have been effectively knocked out of the race. It's even possible that one of the nominations will be locked up.

Take just one example from today's news: Republican candidates are apparently vying for the support of billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who spent around $100 million in the last cycle. As Ed Kilgore notes, this could be a make or break situation for at least one candidate -- former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. If the Huck loses out on this, he might go back to his television or radio show, at which point political reporters will treat him as someone who simply decided not to run in 2016. But that won't be accurate. Huckabee will have run, however briefly, and fallen short. So if we care about the nomination fight and who wins it (and how they won it, including who backed the winner) then the time to be watching is right now.

Caucuses and primaries often ratify in public results that were rendered quietly over several years prior to voters getting involved. Right now, Hillary Clinton may be wrapping up the nomination -- just as Al Gore and George W. Bush wrapped up their own long before 2000, and Mitt Romney more or less did before 2012. If reporters wait until Iowa to cover the presidential campaign, they may find themselves covering ancient history, not news.

Waldman's headline asks, "If a Candidate Goes to Iowa and No Reporter Pays Attention, Has the Presidential Campaign Begun?" The answer is simple: Yes, it has begun. If reporters don't pay attention now, then only party insiders will know how the nomination was won.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.