June 12, 2014

The way I see it, Hillary Clinton will face three ongoing challenges that could make or break her campaign for the presidency. None of these challenges will be answered in a single speech or interview; the questions will follow her from the day she announces right through to Election Day 2016. These problems will be managed, not solved. Voters will be watching her campaign closely — and the future of the United States could depend on how she confronts these hurdles.

1. Will Clinton run as a symbol, or will she make a credible case that she is willing and able to be effective in office and will work to reform government? Part of the problem with the Obama administration is that from the top down, too many appointees believe their contribution is the statement made just by them holding their office. As our first African American president, Barack Obama’s place in history is established. But that accomplishment and its powerful symbolism haven’t made him effective at home or abroad. Many liberals believed that his election was a conclusion, not a beginning. And we see the results.

I’ve said before that, for the president and many in his administration, it’s all about having the job, not doing the job. Although history will be made if Clinton becomes our first female president, her presidency can’t end there. Under Obama, we have learned that government won’t manage itself. The president must be engaged. He – or she – must cajole, chastise, criticize, harangue, sweet-talk and, above all, lead. Is Clinton up to that task? Or will she follow the Obama path and view her very election as all that is needed for the United States to get back on track? The voters want government to work. Nobody wants another bored icon as president.

2. When will Clinton break from Obama? Let’s face it: There won’t be a demand for a third Obama term that will propel the next Democratic nominee to the presidency. How will Clinton distinguish her goals for the nation from those of Obama? A campaign committed to more of the same is probably a loser. At some point, Clinton will have to begin the delicate act of saying how she will be different and better than the current president. With few exceptions, there is a well-established record of her near-unanimous support for everything Obama has said and done since he was elected. So how does she gracefully pivot in a way that doesn’t look forced, insincere, dishonest and disloyal? Even with generous help from the mainstream media, this won’t be easy. It is a safe bet to say that voters won’t be clamoring for more of Obama’s economy or foreign policy. Given her role in fashioning the latter and her record of support for the former, it will be difficult for Clinton to offer an authentic, fresh approach to the nation’s challenges.

3. Will Clinton’s performance on the stump and on the campaign trail meet expectations? Many of the usual suspects in the media will fawn over Clinton, praising the talent, wisdom and wit they will hear in her every utterance. But voters will observe and make a judgment for themselves. I think she is only a mediocre performer. If she isn’t in front of an adoring crowd, she can be boring, and on live TV her performances are uneven. The recent Diane Sawyer interview establishes that she is far from invincible and at times isn’t particularly nimble. Clinton is a little better than Al Gore or John Kerry, but nowhere near as talented as her husband or Obama. Clinton’s speeches and appearances will inevitably be compared with those of Bill Clinton and Obama, and the comparisons won’t be flattering. She will need to raise her game before there is too much grumbling in the ranks.

A Clinton nomination may be inevitable for lack of an opponent, not because she will overwhelm any formidable competition. And a blowout in the Democratic primaries may not give her the practice and fine-tuning that she will need to perform her best in the general election.

Clinton might win if she faces a weak Republican, but if the Republicans nominate a fresh, authentic, reassuring conservative, Clinton will have a hard time in 2016.

 

Follow Ed on Twitter: @EdRogersDC

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.