Column: Hillary Clinton Is Now in the Catbird Seat
Frank Bruni has a column this week in The New York Times on “the beginning of the end” of Hillary Clinton’s “inevitability.” He offers a litany of reasons why “she has serious problems as a potential 2016 presidential contender.”
I’m sure she does. Running for president is an insanely difficult proposition, and it seems to get harder every four years. And, as Bruni notes, voters are deeply angry at the political class right now, and no one is more rooted in, or emblematic of, the political establishment than the former first lady/senator/secretary of state. Still.
Presuming her health is solid, there is no one better positioned to be the next president. Here are five reasons why Clinton will have a much easier run at the White House, should she make one, in 2016 than she had in 2008:
1. Barack Obama isn’t running. Sure, his approval ratings are in the tank today, but mixed-race first-term senators with politically ridiculous names don’t become president without staggering political talent. There are very few Obamas in a political lifetime. There won’t be one in 2016.
2. Barack Obama isn’t running. Liberals will accept Clinton as an encore. They will even decide they like her. Still patting themselves on the back for having elected the first black to the presidency, they will embrace the historic task of electing the first woman. Wouldn’t they prefer Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren? Possibly. But they don’t need her. And if Clinton runs, Warren has said she won’t. Clinton has also paid additional dues since her last run: Serving as secretary of state bought her goodwill among Obama supporters, a greater independence from her husband’s complicated legacy and, Benghazi notwithstanding, a reputation for competence.
3. Barack Obama isn’t running. Soon after the 2014 election, Obama will become ancient history. The conservative crazy machine will gradually forget the tyranny of his reign and focus on ... why, Clinton, of course. If Democrats have any lingering doubts about their affection for her, they will lose them once Fox News begins its 24/7 expert analysis of the Benghazi “scandal” and treats us to hours of archival footage of Arkansas real estate. In effect, Republicans will rally wavering Democrats to Clinton’s cause.
4. Barack Obama isn’t running. Clinton is crushing potential Democratic opponents in (too early) polls, including Vice President Joe Biden. And just as there is no Obama on the Democratic side, there is none on the Republican side. The Republican field promises to be a quantum improvement from the last one. OK, let me rephrase that in a way that actually sounds positive: Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are all legitimate and interesting politicians. But navigating between the Scylla of the Republican primary season and the Charybdis of a general election will test the most gifted politician. It’s hard to be crazy in spring, sane in summer and victorious in the fall.
5. Barack Obama isn’t running. But his winning coalition doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. What part of Obama’s coalition lacks a natural affinity for Clinton? In addition to claiming support from blacks, Hispanics and college-educated women, she can make far greater inroads with non-college-educated white women than Obama ever did while surpassing him in the Appalachian stretches of the American mindscape, where resistance to Obama’s, um, policies was intense.
Can Clinton lose? Sure. U.S. political parties hardly ever hold the White House three terms in a row. But Clinton has extraordinary fundraising capacity and is taking up all the oxygen on the Democratic side, while Republicans not named Christie are still staring into a demographic abyss. (Terry McAuliffe was just elected governor of Virginia with only 36 percent of the white vote.) Clinton can be president. Obama isn’t running.
Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.