Forget 2016. Who’s Looking Good in 2040?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Aug. 23 2013 5:01 PM

Forget 2016. Who’s Looking Good in 2040?

People say it’s silly to speculate about the next presidential race. They’re right—let’s talk about who’ll win the next seven elections. 

U.S. President Barack Obama jokes with his daughter Malia at DNC 2012.
Malia Obama's gonna make Papa proud in 2040.

Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

As “birther” dramas go—and keeping in mind that we have a limited sample to study—Sen. Ted Cruz’s current crisis is going rather well. It’s true, sure, that the arguments once used by dentist-attorneys and wealthy idiots to argue that Barack Obama couldn’t be president—foreign father! hereditary foreign citizenship!—actually apply to Cruz.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

Yet look at the Texas senator’s response to the story. The only reason anyone cares about his “natural-born” citizenship status is that Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution requires this from a president. Cruz could say that the birth certificate story doesn’t matter, because it’s August 2013 and he’s not considering a 2016 presidential run. Instead, he’s releasing his Canadian documents and renouncing his dual citizenship while joking about the whole mess. Any question of whether he imagines himself giving an inaugural address someday has been put to rest.

Face it—we’re discussing the 2016 election. We could complain about how this national addiction gets harder and harder to put off every cycle, or we could think ahead. Who’s got the edge in the next few decades of presidential elections? To assess, I’ve relied on data from the United States Census Bureau, Pew, the EPA, the CBO, and the 2012 exit polls. More importantly, I’ve tapped into the Tesseract of election handicapping wisdom that informs most 2016 speculation—a ball of energy created in the mysterious sub-basement of the Gallup offices, guarded by robotic avatars of Stu Rothenberg and Larry Sabato. Thanks also to James Powell, whose Welles-ian future history 2084 filled in some of the terrifying gaps in my knowledge of climate change doomsaying.

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2016: This one’s easy. Hillary Clinton runs and manages not to blow the nomination to some Democratic upstart. (She’s exponentially stronger than she was at this point in the 2008 cycle.) Republicans, who have proved unable to strategize rationally against the Clintons since at least 1992, get overconfident about their chances. Their conservative faction, convinced that the 2008 and 2012 elections were lost when they nominated two “moderate” and “establishment” picks, elevate Ted Cruz. The “birther” story is a help, not a hindrance; conservatives see it as a chance to portray Democrats as the Real Racists. (Recall how far Herman Cain got with this in 2011.)

Cruz wins the Iowa caucuses, squeezes Sen. Rand Paul into a disappointing New Hampshire finish, and undercuts Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida. This allows him to defeat New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in a series of Midwestern primary showdowns, and to lock up the nomination in April. It’s not much of a prize, though, as unemployment continues to fall and third-party groups pour hundreds of millions of dollars into ineffective anti-Clinton ads. A nation insufficiently outraged by the handling of the 2012 Benghazi attacks elects the Clinton ticket—an uptick from 39 percent to 42 percent of the white vote brings the Democrats to 355 electoral votes, adding Missouri, Arizona, and one Nebraska electoral vote to the 2012 Obama map.

2020: The Clinton Restoration ends in disaster. By the start of 2019, China’s building boom has finally—later than predicted!—stalled out, with official economic growth cut in half. A worldwide recession ensues; the country most dependent on Chinese prosperity, after China itself, bears the worst of it. Chris Christie returns from exile, reshaped by gastric bypass surgery, years of macrobiotic diets, and the muscle-confusion workout developed by Paul Ryan after he left politics. Christie then mollifies conservatives by picking South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott as a running mate. It’s tight—292 electoral votes—but the governor’s able to snatch back a commanding lead with white voters and cut into the black vote.

2024: The Christie regime never had a chance. In 2021 a rump of Senate Democrats attempt to halt the repeal of Obamacare—yes, we are still arguing about that—mustering all 43 of their votes in filibuster after filibuster. They succeed. That’s the cue for Majority Leader Ted Cruz to take the floor and deliver a passionate speech about the unconstitutionality of the filibuster—an “affront to the men who broke ground on this shining city on a hill,” or something like that. He proceeds to recite the Constitution and its amendments from memory, end the filibuster, and then begin two years of trench warfare during which the China-driven crisis hardly alleviates. Democrats easily win the Senate in the 2022 midterms; two years later, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and new Texas Sen. Julian Castro breeze into power.

2028: A long period of muddling through continues. Unemployment ticks down, slowly, while energy costs tick up a bit more quickly. A series of interventions in Southeast Asia, the old-new hotbed of Islamic terrorism, drains resources as the administration tries to cut back on defense spending. It does so in order to cut against the pain of entitlement cuts, which Booker approaches gingerly, angering the left wing of the party. By 2027 the far left has formed a third party; by 2028 it’s positioned to throw the election to Gov. George P. Bush of Texas, the Republican who can cut back into the Hispanic vote, which now makes up 19 percent of the electorate.

2032: Years later, at a landmark conference held at Gazprom-Alibaba University in Cambridge, Mass., political scientists will agree on the date Bush was re-elected. That was Sept. 3, 2029, when Hurricane Doris made landfall in New York and New Jersey. The combination was toxic: seawalls unfinished after years of money being siphoned by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mandatory preschool program, sea levels driven 18 inches higher by thawing Arctic ice. Mid-Atlantic population centers from New York City on down are rendered partially uninhabitable, airports and rail lines unusable. The census of 2030, accordingly, finds the population moved south and west, the urban Democrats’ strongholds wiped out, substantial refugee camps forming along the border of a welcoming Canada. That shift, added to a rally-round-the-flag effect after President Bush’s tear-jerking crisis response, stymies a comeback attempt by former President Booker.

2036: Election postponed; brief intergalactic conflict with creatures from the Crab Nebula, who are eventually defeated by simple bacteria. Everyone’s a bit ashamed of how long it took to think of that.

2037: The second Bush term leaves an acrid taste, worsened by the droughts in the Southwest. Swathes of the region, starting with Phoenix, are abandoned quickly; the population floods back north, repopulating a now-temperate Midwest. That sets the table for Illinois Gov. Malia Obama in 2040, and for an election fought over an essential, divisive, question: Should the United States stand with its brothers north of the border and seize the fertile farmlands and gas fields of Canada? Obama wins, and the war that follows finally restores some national pride.