More than two years before the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary, media chatter about a Hillary Clinton run is ramping up. Most commentators have zoomed past “Will she run?” to “Is she inevitable nominee?” (Unless health issues or some other unexpected development occurs, Clinton is not about to say, “On second thought, I want the quiet life.”)
Some of the speculation (mostly from conservatives or from skeptical media figures) suggesting she is overrated as the Democratic run-away favorite is faulty from our perspective. Let’s look at the top seven questionable assertions:
1. She’s too old. That was a media story line and whispered attack on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Expect a lot of “69 is the new 49″ stories as the media and women’s groups rally to her side. It will be deemed “sexist” to talk about her age (and nearly anything else).
2. She fell apart in 2008, so she’ll falter again. It is possible, but I see no Barack Obama II on the horizon, no iconic figure with historic symbolism to topple her. Had Obama not run in 2008, is there any doubt Clinton would have been the nominee?
3. She’s got no agenda. Well, it would be quaint if this were disqualifying, but “hope and change” wasn’t exactly an agenda either. Democrats are big on identity politics and nostalgia (FDR, Bill Clinton) and that surely will be enough to get her through a Democratic campaign.
4. She’ll have to run as the candidate for the third Obama term and that’s a problem. Well, Obama actually remains awfully popular with Democrats, so that’s not necessarily a primary problem for her. Where expedient, she can make the case that she had nothing to do with domestic policy and has ideas of her own.
5. She has a rotten record as secretary of state. That’s accurate (e.g. Benghazi, Libya; Russia reset; Arab Spring), but the political press is notoriously under-informed on foreign policy and she will, when convenient, distance herself from policies that were not of her making.
6. She’s too conservative for the 2016 Democratic Party. Yes, she will have to deal with her support for the Iraq war (as she did in 2008), for intervention in Libya and for stronger measures in Syria. She may also get guff for declaring her support for gay marriage very late in the debate. But she’ll have the statute-of-limitations argument (the Iraq vote will be more than a decade in the rear-view mirror) and the relevance argument (she now supports gay marriage, she was in office when we pulled up stakes in Iraq, etc.).
7. The country is tired of the Clintons. Actually, like George W. Bush’s presidency, the Clinton presidency benefits in comparison to the Obama era. Bill Clinton remains a rock star with Democrats.
Now when it comes to the general election, I think these issues become more problematic, provided the Republicans come up with a strong ticket. (Current polling showing her beating potential opponents is laughably irrelevant and largely a function of name identification). A Christie-Rubio or Ryan-Ayotte or Walker-Martinez or any number of combinations would be formidable.
If nothing else, the prospect of a Clinton nomination (with the glowing press coverage, unlimited funds and “historic” trappings of the first female presidential nominee) should cause Republicans to choose wisely in their own primary. She’s beatable, but only with a quality ticket that can appeal to a broad cross-section of American voters.