The value of competition

A big thanks to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for ushering in the 2016 presidential race by officially announcing his candidacy at Liberty University today . We've had plenty of time to speculate about who's running and who's not, and soon enough we'll be able to get down to the business of who would make a better president.

On the Republican side, anyway, it looks like voters will have a tremendous array of choices. Mr. Cruz, by launching his campaign at a university founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, is signaling his intention to court religious conservatives, in addition to those tea party faithful attracted to his efforts to shut down the government over Obamacare. There will probably be others who play on that turf — former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee, for example. There will likely be establishment conservatives like Jeb Bush; up-and-comers like Sen. Marco Rubio; an array of governors, perhaps including Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal; and some outsiders like retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson. The debates, if the party can find a stage big enough, seem destined to produce a healthy contest of ideas about where the Republican Party should position itself in the years ahead.


But on the Democratic side? There's not much action beyond waiting to see when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually announces what appears to be an inevitable candidacy. That lack of competition isn't good for her, for the party or for the country.

To be clear, we have a great deal of respect for Ms. Clinton. She has a depth of domestic and foreign policy experience that is unmatched by any of the potential candidates in either party. She is tough, smart and disciplined, and we have little doubt that she will mount an extremely effective campaign. She is also, thus far, the only woman among the major figures exploring a run in either party, and all things being equal, it would be tremendously positive for the nation to have a woman as president.


The issue is not that she would be a bad choice. It's that there should be a choice. The reason is not just a question of whether she'll get trapped in some new Clintonian scandal, real or trumped-up, though that is no small concern. Just as the Republicans need to figure out how to navigate the post-Obama era, so too do the Democrats, and it's far from obvious that Ms. Clinton necessarily has the right answer.

Strumming his way into the void is former Gov. Martin O'Malley, who was in Iowa last weekend for some campaign events, a little impromptu guitar playing and a sit-down with the influential Des Moines Register. He hasn't officially entered the race either, but he appears to be more serious about running than just about any other Democrat not named Clinton. Attempting to brand himself as a technocrat-cum-progressive firebrand, Mr. O'Malley spent the weekend blasting Republicans' sudden interest in income inequality and demanding tougher regulations on Wall Street.

For those of us who remember him from his days of maniacal obsession with data-driven pothole-filling, it may be a bit difficult to picture him as leader of the free world, but Mr. O'Malley certainly deserves better than he got from The Boston Globe yesterday . In an editorial urging Sen. Elizabeth Warren to reverse her repeated assurances that she is not running for president in 2016, the paper dismissed Mr. O'Malley, along with former Va. Sen. Jim Webb, as not "top-tier opponents." With all due respect to Ms. Warren (and to our fellow editorialists up in Boston), we would point out that Mr. O'Malley was a big city mayor for seven years and a governor for eight. His record of success in both arenas should earn him a place in the conversation at least as much as Ms. Warren's two years in the Senate do.

That said, we agree: Ms. Warren should run. So should any number of other candidates. The Democratic Party is not ideologically monolithic, and primary voters need to hear a debate about issues like free trade, tax reform, energy policy and international engagement. With the House and Senate now in Republican hands — and at least the House likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future — Democrats need to consider how they could govern effectively if they retain the White House in 2016.

President Obama was not weakened by the protracted primary fight with Ms. Clinton in 2008. Quite the contrary. He sharpened his message and emerged as an even stronger candidate in the general election who was then able to take office with a strong mandate. Republicans have reason to hope the same will happen for their eventual nominee in 2016; Democrats should demand it too.