It didn't take long for the potential 2016 presidential contenders to retreat to separate corners last week after President Obama announced his executive action providing legal status to some 5 million undocumented immigrants.
As quickly as Hillary Clinton tweeted her support for Obama's explosive decision, a procession of possible 2016 Republican candidates condemned it. In the process, both sides underscored the likelihood that the next presidential election will function as a sort of sudden-death overtime for the confrontations already escalating between Obama and congressional Republicans, not only on immigration, but also climate, health care, and foreign policy.
The public's assessment of a retiring president always shadows the race to replace him: In exit polls, attitudes about the overall job performance of Ronald Reagan in 1988, Bill Clinton in 2000, and George W. Bush in 2008 powerfully predicted whether voters supported his party's choice to succeed him.
But in those elections, the party nominees actually spent relatively little time debating whether to maintain the outgoing president's specific policy agenda. In 1988, Democrat Michael Dukakis largely avoided Reagan. In 2000, Bush handled Clinton mostly through his oblique promise to restore "honor and dignity to the White House" (though as president Bush later revoked Clinton initiatives in such areas as stem-cell research and climate). In 2008, Obama criticized the outgoing Bush's direction more directly, particularly on national security, but still primarily looked forward.