For the innumerable faults of the mainstream media there is one thing that they can do better than anyone; set and parrot the conventional wisdom. The idea that “Hillary Clinton is a done deal for 2016” is one that they have latched onto with glee. It makes sense really. At a certain level there is some guilt amongst them for having so openly cheered on Obama during the 2008 primaries (giving Hillary a small sampling of the bias that Republicans always have to contend with), and the other part is history. They helped elect the first African-American President, now it’s time to elect the first liberal woman President. I say liberal woman President because if anyone believes that the media would so openly root for Susana Martinez or Nikki Haley, I have a ski resort in Orlando to sell you. So as is their wont, the media is in full Hillary 2016 mode; she’s inevitable, she’s wildly popular, she’d win in a landslide, Republicans would stand no chance, and the Democratic nomination is nothing but a coronation. If any of this sounds familiar that’s because we heard the same song-and-dance back in 2005 as Clinton pondered running in 2008. She was all those things back then too.
Now, I’m not saying that Hillary, if she decides to run (which is a big if in my opinion, more on that later) won’t be the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination. She certainly will be, but therein lies one of her problems. Democrats simply don’t like to pick their front-runners. Since 1972 when the modern primary system came into effect, there have been 8 Democratic primaries where the incumbent President has not run. In those 8 contests only twice has the Democratic front-runner went on to win; 1984 with Walter Mondale, and in 2000 with Al Gore. Both cases involved a Vice President, and Fritz Mondale nearly lost in 1984 to Gary Hart.
But, you say, Hillary is so popular with the country, the Democrats would be crazy to not nominate her. If Clinton’s popularity was based on actual accomplishment, then yes we should be worried. But it isn’t. Clinton’s popularity right now is based on a carefully crafted narrative; that of the well accomplished, wildly successfully, moderate Secretary of State. It’s all a fantasy. Look at the world we live in; a hyper-aggressive North Korea, Syria in a bloody civil war, Egypt in turmoil, the Palestinians even more useless than usual, the Eurozone collapsing, frost between the US and Israel, China on the ascent, and Iranian centrifuges still working. Is Hillary Clinton responsible for all of this? No, but they all happened or started happening while she was nominally the top US official besides the President in charge of foreign policy. Candidate Clinton would have to answer for every single one of those things. Not to mention the worst one of all, when a mob of savages murdered four Americans, including our Ambassador in Benghazi. The best Hillary Clinton could come up with at the Senate hearing on it was “what difference does it make?” The perception of Clinton is far stronger than the reality of Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom.
The other problem for Clinton is the one that plagued her in 2008; the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Liberals rejected Clinton for two main reasons; one of them was her vote to authorize the War in Iraq. The second one is far more dangerous long term for Clinton. The second reason liberals rejected her was because they were tired of running a Bill Clinton “Third Way” or triangulation campaign. They wanted to win as liberals. This was fundamentally at odds with the Clinton strategy. Clinton felt that even in the primaries, she had to at least talk like a moderate so as not to scare off independents for the fall campaign. That was unacceptable to the left-wing of the Party and they cast their eyes about looking for a liberal alternative. They found one, and he is now President of the United States.
President Obama’s two victories have also taught the left a seductive lesson, one that is very hard to forget; that a liberal, running as a liberal, can win a general election without having to moderate or move to the center. Looking to the Obama example in 2008 and 2012, liberals in the Democratic Party will want their 2016 nominee to be a person of the left. Much like right-wing Republicans who think that we can just reprint the 1980 party platform every cycle and win, the left in the Democratic Party will do the same thing. This type of analysis of course ignores a ton of the factors that go into the election of a President, but it is the lesson those people learn because it is the lesson they want to learn.
This will hurt Clinton because the rest of the would-be Democratic field has already moved left or was always on the left. Andrew Cuomo in New York veered hard left earlier this year with vast new gun control legislation. Elizabeth Warren thinks that banks and Wall Street are the root of all evil. John Hickenlooper in Colorado signed new gun restrictions and is Governor of the state that legalized marijuana. Even Joe Biden has been making noise to please the left. And perhaps the most dangerous one of them all, Martin O’Malley of Maryland has compiled a long list of left-wing accomplishments; raised taxes, abolished the death penalty, and legalized gay marriage to name a few. In short, if the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is still suspicious of Hillary Clinton and the Clintonite Third-Way, there are definitely alternatives out there. And some of those people, particularly O’Malley, will not step aside for Clinton. The aura of invincibility is something that, once gone, is impossible to get back. And Hillary lost it when she lost the nomination in 2008.
Finally, there is no guarantee that Hillary will run anyways. This is usually dismissed as wishful thinking, but I don’t think so. Clinton suffered a relatively serious health scare recently; God willing it’ll be the last, but you just don’t know with that kind of stuff, particularly at her age. Clinton will be 69 years old in 2016 and she knows how physically taxing not only campaigning but actually governing the country is. All she has to do is remember what her husband looked like in 1992 and what he looked like in 2000; the Presidency ages the person who holds the office. Perhaps Clinton will feel that she physically cannot do the job to the best of her ability? Also, there is the legacy argument; as has been stated before she is currently very popular with broad sections of the public. This will not last in the intensity of a presidential campaign. Both her Democratic opponents and whoever we Republicans nominate will comb through her long record, find something, and bludgeon her with it. This vote in the Senate or that comment to the Prime Minister of such-and-such. Why would Clinton want to risk her popularity and star power on one last shot at the brass ring? Why not simply stay the beloved elder stateswoman?
At this point, I have no idea how 2016 is going to play out, and those who say that they are certain are fools and delusional. Four years is an eternity in politics. Old faces will fade away, new ones will come to the forefront, issues that we never thought would be important suddenly are, or the electorate will suddenly want someone with a certain type of experience, who knows? That’s the point; those who already have Hillary Clinton writing her convention acceptance speech and measuring the drapes for the Oval Office are looking at 2016 from the viewpoint of 2013. And that is nothing but folly.