Marvel Comics used to have a regular series titled "What If?" where they took important storylines in their characters' comics and figure out what would have happened if something else had happened. Watching the current struggles within the Democratic Party, I decided to do my own little "What If?" And it starts in 1996. What if Bob Dole had defeated Bill Clinton?
The Dole Presidency would be one term, but it would be significant in a couple of ways. First, assuming the world situation remained the same, he would have taken Osama Bin Laden when he was first offered and not refused him on the basis of a lack of legal grounds to hold him. Dole's anti-terrorism policy would not be as broad or as detailed as the current policy is, but it wouldn't pass up a chance to take out a known terrorist leader. Second, Dole would not have sent troops into Kosovo, which would have saved America money and prevented us from helping Islamic terrorism. Would 9/11 have still happened? Maybe, maybe not. But Dole's Presidency would have been much stronger than Clinton's real second term.
Dole's 96 victory would have had another impact: it would have knocked Bill and Hillary Clinton, and possibly even Al Gore, out of the political arena. This would have prevented Hillary from being elected junior Senator of New York State, and Bill would have been relegated to also-ran status. Gore might have stayed in for a bit longer, but probably would have dropped out and started working on his global warming presentations a bit earlier. The loss of these three individuals alone from the Democratic side of the aisle would have a monumental impact.
During the Dole Presidency, the Republican-led Congress would drift towards the center to match Dole's more moderate views. Without a Clinton impeachment to deal with, Republicans would pretty much have kept things going the way they had been, which would have accellerated their fall from power as it occurred in reality in 2006. Conservative voters would be marginalized and moderate to liberal Republicans would be taking over.
Critical mass for the GOP would occur in 2000 when it would be Bob Dole running against Bill Bradley. Bradley's progressive populism would be more of a match for Dole and Bradley would win going away. With him, the Democrats in Congress would move in Bradley's direction, leaving the Republicans in a tough spot. Even with Newt Gingrich rallying the Republicans and the conservatives, the party loses control of Congress and ends the 1994 Republican Revolution.
Bradley's first term signals a change in the way Washington, or at the very least the President, does business. The American public gets a sense that the Democrats are once again the party of the little guy, not just in rhetoric, but in deed. The infighting we're seeing now within real Democratic ranks would be mostly contained and not that big or that often. With the Republican Party in disarray, the Democrats would have a solid grip on Congress yet again.
Then, 2004 rolls around and President Bradley would face up against either a moderate Republican like John McCain or a moderate Republican running as a conservative Republican like George W. Bush. In either case, Bradley wins again, continuing his progressive populist message. After all, people would be comfortable with the idea, so why change? Bradley's success, in turn, inspires a state Senator from Illinois to throw his hat into the ring in 2008. And that man becomes President Barack Obama.
Granted, this is a combination of assumptions, guesswork, and a little political knowledge, but it's interesting to try to figure out how one election could have such an impact on an election 12 years later. What I predicted would have happened is not perfect, nor would it have come to pass. But I am open to suggestions or points that I neglected to factor into my thinking. As it stands, though, 1996 was a year that could have changed the political environment forever if one event had turned out differently than it had.