In this week’s politics chat, we peer into the future. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): I’m sure everyone is excited for tonight’s vice presidential debate! But as world-changing as it is likely to be, we’re going to approach it in a somewhat askew way in this chat. Let’s use tonight’s debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine to talk about each party’s bench, i.e., which Republicans are best positioned to carry on the torch if Donald Trump loses in November? Which Democrats can get their party back into the White House in 2020 if Hillary Clinton loses? (BTW, I kinda feel sick to my stomach even talking about 2020.)
Let’s start here, though: Are Pence and Kaine automatically major players in the aftermath of a 2016 loss?
harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): When was the last time a losing VP nominee went on to win a presidential nomination? The answer is 1996, when Bob Dole won after losing as Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976. Of course, Dole also ran for president a number of times unsuccessfully in-between 1976 and 1996. Remember Dan Quayle got crushed when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, after losing in 1992.
clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): I don’t think Kaine or Pence will be major players, is my short answer. Kaine, because he’s too old and not flashy enough (exactly why he was chosen as VP), and Pence because, well, if Trump loses, Pence will be associated with a pretty long losing streak by Republicans. Also, he wasn’t that well liked as governor; his approval rating was at 40 percent in May and even Republican support for his re-election was tepid.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): My answer is that yes, they’ll automatically be big players, unless they don’t want to be.
natesilver: Lack of alternatives?
harry: The Democrats clearly lack a strong bench. This is in large part because Democrats have done horribly in recent midterm elections so there are few major statewide Democratic officials. But Republicans don’t have that problem.
micah: I’m with Clare on this.
clare.malone: No no! I think everyone is going to want to wash the stink of 2016 off their pantsuits once this is done with.
natesilver: The question wasn’t whether 2016 would be an advantage to them. It was whether they’d be major players.
clare.malone: I don’t see them being major players. Let’s take Pence, for example: What ring-kissing sway does he hold after this election? I mean, he’s a guy who was chosen from a pretty substantially narrowed field of candidates — people who would hold their nose and put up with Trump. I just don’t think he has a lot of national appeal post-election. And I haven’t seen much to suggest that he’s a Dick-Cheneyesque inside player.
harry: What is a “major player”?
natesilver: “Major player” isn’t my term, Harry. But I’d say it’s someone who is (i) reasonably likely to run in 2020 or 2024 and (ii) would have a credible chance of winning if they did.
micah: Seems pretty clear to me that if Trump loses Pence will have a really hard time wielding any national influence. Kaine has a better chance.
natesilver: Yeah, but a lot of the Republican candidates ran this year and embarrassed themselves. Has Pence been any more embarrassing than the rest of them?
micah: Not more embarrassing, but more tied to Trump.
harry: And I can name of a ton of Republicans who didn’t run this year, Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner, etc.
clare.malone: Pence is a poor man’s Ted Cruz. Literally, poor — Cruz has a ton of powerful donors.
harry: There’s only so much oxygen in that room.
natesilver: I think Pence could say, “I took one for the team, tried the best I could to control Donald and it could have been a lot worse.” (This argument works much better if the GOP retains the Senate.) He’s basically been competent.
harry: Or forgettable.
clare.malone: But I think he’s more an affable second-stringer than someone who can gin up a lot of support.
Yeah, I’m with Harry.
micah: OK, let’s approach this from the opposite angle: Who’s vying with Pence to lead the queue in 2020? (If you’re keeping score at home, Nate lost the first part of this debate.)
natesilver: Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and possibly also Donald Trump Sr.
clare.malone: I would say lol, but…
natesilver: And Paul Ryan?
micah: No Tiffany?
natesilver: She and Barron are too young.
clare.malone: Don’t you think they’re going to run for some state office first? (The family Trump, that is.)
clare.malone: Poor Tiffany — can I go off track for a moment and say that what I took from that Times profile of her is that Marla Maples seems like a really great mom?
Paul Ryan — 2020 for sure. Front-runner status.
harry: Well, Ryan is interesting. You’d think he’d have been in a great position in 2016, and he didn’t run. I think that speaks to the difficulty of turning an unsuccessful VP bid into a successful presidential campaign.
natesilver: Donald Trump Jr. vs Bill de Blasio?
clare.malone: Ivanka vs. de Blasio. She’s the one New Yorkers would like!
micah: Paul Ryan has a good deal of Trump stink on him, doesn’t he?
natesilver: The whole fucking party either has Trump stink on them, or is probably too moderate to be nominated in the next 4-8 years
micah: Chris Christie is both!
natesilver: Nikki Haley came out looking OK, I guess.
clare.malone: Does Marco Rubio ever come back? What say you, Nate?
micah: Oh god … here we go …
clare.malone: (Most definitely did this on purpose.)
natesilver: He’s actually surging in South Carolina right now, if you look carefully. I think he can still win the nomination.
micah: Who’s more likely to make a comeback, Cruz or Rubio?
natesilver: A comeback or a successful comeback?
clare.malone: Hmmm. Rubio.
natesilver: Let’s take them one at a time.
micah: OK, let’s take Rubio…
harry: What I think we’ll see, in all seriousness, is a Republican Party that realizes it cannot sit on the sidelines. The party will move to coronate a nominee rather quickly. If that happens, Rubio is in a better position for a comeback than Cruz.
micah: What Republican Party?
natesilver: Rubio’s numbers are holding up pretty well in that U.S. Senate race in Florida, albeit against a weak opponent. And he’s a guy with some political talent, who was sort of harmed this year by mismanaging
micah: What makes you say he has political talent?
clare.malone: He’s relatively telegenic and knows how to spin a good personal yarn. Make no mistake about that.
micah: IDK, I don’t think he has the “it” factor other politicians do … and he’s really in a mold of pol where you need that.
natesilver: But Cruz has the “it” factor? Did you mean to say ick factor?
micah: No, but Cruz has a base.
harry: Cruz performed marginally better than Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.
micah: If you don’t have a base, you’d better be able to light up a room.
clare.malone: So what the Republicans need to do is genetically engineer a likable Ted Cruz?
natesilver: Cruz didn’t have enough of a base to come all that close to Trump, even with a good team around him and a lot of things that broke in his favor.
clare.malone: What about someone like Ben Sasse? Wild card? He’s really interesting — definitely as smart as Cruz, a bit of an independent streak.
micah: I’d buy Sasse stock.
harry: That’s where I’m looking. I think it’s probably best to put this year in the past and go with someone new, and Republicans have plenty of shiny objects like Sasse.
clare.malone: He’s got outsider credibility, too.
natesilver: My worry with Sasse is that, after a Trump loss, the GOP will be in too much chaos for someone without a national brand name to build themselves up.
clare.malone: That’s a fair point, Nate.
natesilver: His name recognition nationally is like, what, 15 percent.
clare.malone: Yeah, it’s not great: 69 percent of Republicans had never heard of Sasse in June.
micah: Susana Martinez?
harry: Too moderate, in my opinion.
micah: Actually, if I were betting, I’d bet on Haley.
natesilver: I’d probably still bet on Ryan.
harry: I went to YouGov, by the way, to find out something about Sasse. I didn’t find a poll, but I did find these comments:
Suggests that any outsider who was deemed as unfriendly to Trump may have some problems.
clare.malone: Yeah, that’s going to be a problem — that’s why Cruz rolled down the hill from his moral high ground; he realized people wanted to see a “team player” if he ever ran for high office again.
harry: The question, as yet unknown, is whether the Republican Party of 2020 will be a pro-Trump or anti-Trump party. How will his candidacy be viewed? I don’t know the answer.
clare.malone: It’s going to be pro-Trump sentiment, I think. Not on demeanor, perhaps, but there’s a hunger at the base for anti-establishment, anti-immigration policies. These are real things. Add to the immigration stew the threat of the Islamic State, and you’ve got some juice to keep people coming out for these things on the ballot.
Any other Republicans worth mentioning before we move to the Democrats? Rick Perry?
clare.malone: “Dancing With the Stars” was a very strong career move.
natesilver: I think we haven’t spent enough time on Ryan! I mean, Ryan has kind of a shitty job right now. Whether Trump wins or loses, it’s not going to be easy to lead that party from the House. So he might be ready to go White House or bust by 2020.
harry: So mark it down: Nate Silver says Paul Ryan will be president in 2021.
micah: But won’t the intervening years saddle Ryan with a ton of baggage? He’ll have to anger someone.
clare.malone: He might draw the ire of the Freedom Caucus, for starters.
natesilver: Republicans can unite around him in their hatred of Clinton.
micah: That’s true — a President Clinton will be a unifying force.
natesilver: That’s the one sure thing.
clare.malone: We’ve forgotten about the obstinate factions in our Congress momentarily, but they are very real! And ideological, which sometimes makes for an unwillingness to rally round the campfire.
natesilver: I also think, by the way, that Trumpism will be more discredited than not if Trump loses. It’s really hard on a party to lose three presidential elections in a row.
micah: OK, the Democrats …
clare.malone: Kirsten Gillibrand
micah: Elizabeth Warren
clare.malone: Too old. Next.
natesilver: I think we need to pause for breath here, though, and recognize that it’ll be total armageddon on the Democratic side if Clinton loses. Total. Chaos. “Lord of the Flies” shit.
clare.malone: Heard it here first, folks.
micah: Yeah, holding the White House has kinda covered up the fact that Democrats control very little in the states. If Trump wins, they’ll be shut out almost everywhere!
harry: If the Democrats cannot beat Donald John Trump, they’ll have all sorts of problems.
natesilver: Here’s my dark-horse candidate. You ready?
clare.malone: CLAY AIKEN??
natesilver: It’s someone from the Midwest who does NOT currently hold elected office. Any guesses?
clare.malone: Dan Gilbert.
harry: Michelle Obama.
micah: Make the case.
natesilver: He’s like Bernie Sanders, but younger and from a swing state, and with better relations with his colleagues and the Democratic establishment. And he’s probably going to win that U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin.
harry: FYI, Russ Feingold will be 67 years old in four years. He’s not that much younger than Sanders.
natesilver: Sanders will be 79 four years from now. Warren will be 71.
clare.malone: Guys, this is the Democrats’ problem — they cannot think young! Why is no one grooming talent??
harry: So why is Warren old when Feingold is young?
clare.malone: They’re both old.
natesilver: I mean, Warren is a possibility, too, obviously. It’s never quite been clear how interested she is in the job, though.
clare.malone: I find her not all that talented on the stump. She’s better in the righteous anger mode in the Senate. Or on Twitter.
natesilver: Her convention speech was kind of a dud. But she’d raise a ton of money and build up a very good organization. And she’s good at needling Trump.
harry: How about Chris Murphy? Cory Booker? Kamala Harris?
natesilver: Too establishment, probably.
clare.malone: Julian Castro?
natesilver: I don’t know, I guess I have the strong intuition that the left will feel like it’s their turn in 2020 if Clinton blows the race, and will probably get their way.
micah: Al Franken.
micah: Tim Kaine?
clare.malone: Again, it’s crazy that these people are all of a particular generation.
This feels very tired — the same old names. Interesting that there’s no one younger on the left that we’re thinking of as a Bernie replacement.
harry: Who would that be? Tammy Baldwin?
clare.malone: Dunno that it exists, Harry. Guess that’s what I’m saying — it’s interesting! All the young Democrats are so establishment, straight edge.
micah: How often does someone just come out of nowhere? Has anyone ever gone from total obscurity to the nomination in four years?
harry: Barack Obama, sorta.
natesilver: I feel like if Clinton loses in 2020, it’s either going to be a well-known left-y politician or someone who does come out of nowhere, and that the in-between is kind of a bad space to occupy.
clare.malone: Sherrod Brown.
natesilver: Are there any Democratic Senate candidates who have really overperformed this year? Maybe Jason Kander in Missouri?
Brown is a very plausible nominee, BTW.
clare.malone: Kander is certainly interesting — doing well in a red state, military background, young.
harry: Brown, who will be 67 in 2020.
micah: Did you all see Philip Bump’s VP debate quiz?
clare.malone: The Times has one, too.
micah: Bump’s is waaaay better.
Final thoughts? Who’s gonna win tonight?
clare.malone: Americans might win by hearing some actual policy stances?
harry: The people watching the AL wild card game.
Fully expect this to break out tonight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uq734_nZ7Eo
natesilver: 34 more days, Micah. 34 more days.