In case you missed it - and most did - Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush mixed it up in a spirited debate at The Citadel last month.
Not really, of course.
The debate was part of a "virtual campaign" for president that presumed the election was only a few months rather than two years away. Still, Dr. Donald Fowler, the political science professor who created the classroom scenario, thinks it may well prove prescient.
Fowler divided his cadet class into two 10-member teams. The course was "Strategy and Tactics in Campaigns." The "virtual campaign" that grew out of the course was a campus first.
Here was Fowler's mock scenario:
The nominating conventions are over. Hillary has been virtually unopposed while Jeb has battled through the primaries and caucuses. Bush's running mate is Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin; Clinton's is Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. According to several national polls, the race is tied.
The "Hillary" and "Jeb" campaign teams had all the trappings: A chairman, field organizer, political director, media handler, scheduler, advance man and researcher. Fowler enlisted an "unpaid consultant" with real political ties for each team - Chris Drummond for the Republicans, Lachlan McIntosh for the Democrats.
Voting trends, swing states and hot issues were studied.
It all ended in an afternoon debate that was open to the public.
For two hours the professor posed tough questions on hot topics both at home and abroad. Not surprising, the candidates and their teams mounted their most active attacks on the candidates' records. And, of course, the candidates' White House family ties didn't go unnoticed.
But was the Clinton-Bush "virtual campaign" just a great political science exercise, or is it really the most plausible probability for 2016?
Fowler didn't hesitate when he fielded that question during a later classroom session that included visitors. "Jeb Bush," he said, "is as inevitable as Hillary Clinton."
He expanded on that point in a later interview, conditioning the Jeb Bush inevitability on the GOP choosing their strongest candidate.
Bush, he said, is "the candidate who in my judgment would be the most acceptable and advantageous to the Republican Party if somehow they had to have the convention tomorrow. He just fits everything I think people thought Chris Christie was and turned out not to be. But I have learned that politics is the providence of the uncertain."
Few know the volatility of politics better than Fowler, who has extensive expertise both in and out of the classroom. He's been a highly visible Democrat who previously chaired the Democratic National Committee. The University of South Carolina recently honored him for his 50 years in the classroom (six years at The Citadel). That milestone prompted the GOP-dominated Legislature to pass a laudatory resolution that noted many of Fowler's fans are Republican officer holders who are former students.
Fowler believes it's more of an historical accident than predestination that the two members of past presidential families have come along at the same time. He speculates that if they started campaigning now they would be very close in the polls and there would be less difference between them than between Bush and most other Republicans prospects. The candidates who are considered more extreme are almost never elected, Fowler notes, citing Republican Goldwater and Democrat McGovern as examples.
He recognizes that both Hillary and Jeb would have to deal with the fact that some just don't want another Clinton or Bush in the White House. "It hangs over both of them," he notes, which means the issue would be neutralized if they both wind up the nominees.
You wouldn't have known it from the debate, but about three-fourths of the cadets in Fowler's class wanted to be on the Republican team. The teams did have to be evened and Fowler said those who were enlisted to portray Democrats were good sports.
"I tried," he said, "not to favor one side or the other but to give each team confidence by providing them with a doable candidate and set of issues."
It worked. In fact, the Democratic team member who gave the debate's most vigorous performance later disclosed that he is a staunch Republican.
Look for a second "virtual campaign" at The Citadel next year when the political picture will be far clearer.
Fowler, for example, isn't ready to discount a magic wand that would make New Jersey Gov. Christie a serious contender again. Neither is he ready to count Florida Sen. Marco Rubio out.
But odds are no one will be more surprised if The Citadel's 2015 "virtual campaign" debate doesn't once again feature Hillary vs. Jeb.
Barbara S. Williams is editor emeritus of The Post and Courier.
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