Given the way that Mitt Romney’s campaign recently managed to turn an extended overseas photo-op into an exercise in self-immolation, followed by the ongoing Chinese water torture-style debate over his unrevealed tax returns — gosh, the trip to Europe sure did a great job steering the conversation away from that, didn’t it?! — it’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that he’s proving to be something less than an ideal presidential candidate.

So it’s not surprising that some eyes are starting to turn toward 2016, wondering if the GOP can come up with anyone better then.  In fact, New Jersey governor Chris Christie may have been both premature and immodest when he signaled his own interest in running, but hardly anyone seemed shocked.

But it’s hard to see how Christie (or any of the the other Republicans whose names have been floated as possible ’16 contenders) gets around the structural problems that caused this year’s GOP nomination to become such a fiasco.  As I’ve been writing since 2004, the Republicans are caught in the irony of needing a presidential standard-bearer who obscures their party’s cruel agenda, rather than promoting it.

Reagan succeeded because he was an actor, George Bush because he was a bland-faced non-entity with a familiar name… and it’s no accident that Dubya marketed himself as a “compassionate conservative,” while John McCain’s 2008 run only found favor in the polls when his nominating convention sold him relentlessly (and unsustainably) as a “maverick.”  Even worse, the need to establish one’s conservative bona fides amid the ever-escalating rabid fervor of the GOP’s Tea Party base makes it even harder for up-and-coming Republican candidates to pull off that kind of mass deception.

Of course, the Democrats have their own problems.  In 2004, one could watch the convention speeches of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards, and be confident that in four years the party could put forward an articulate, effective spokesperson for its agenda (even if that agenda wasn’t as progressive as many of us would like).  I admit that I haven’t even looked yet at who will be addressing the convention this time around, but it sure seems like there aren’t any “rising stars” of that caliber.

And if you throw in the added challenge of finding a Democratic candidate who will live up to even a fraction of the watered-down message they ran on once they get into the White House… well, that’s so depressing that I won’t even go there.