November 12, 2013

Why would a single story in the New Republic musing about the potential presidential candidacy of freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) send ripples of speculation through the blogosphere? Several things are at play, most of which have nothing to do with Warren.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)

The problem the press has in covering a Democratic presidential race with zero competition and a GOP race with multiple candidates (many of whom are unknown to a large segment of the electorate), great uncertainty and plenty of conflict is not incidental. It is hard to come up with Hillary stories to “balance” the GOP stories ranging from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s big win to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s plagiarism to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s run for redemption.

And that brings us to the next problem for the Hillary-covering media: boredom. There are only so many stories you can write three years out about someone like Hillary who has been in the public limelight for decades. A single candidate wouldn’t be so bad if the media hadn’t covered her for eight years as first lady, then as the senator from New York and four years ago as an “inevitable” candidate who ran a rotten campaign. The press long ago chewed over everything from her relationship with her husband to her pantsuits. And to be blunt, while Hillary was once a “first,” she’s now one of many prominent women in politics; there have been plenty of female senators and even female secretaries of state before her. When you take away the groundbreaker meme, which is past its due date, and the psychoanalyzing, there is basically her record at the State Department.

This in turn raises yet another issue for the liberally inclined media. Clinton had a rather disaster-strewn turn at Foggy Bottom, with no successful policy creation or diplomatic breakthrough to show for it. She bequeathed problems to her successor that were more acute (e.g. Syria, Iran) when she left than when she arrived. She didn’t do much of anything for human rights. Now, in fairness, foreign policy is and always has been run out of the Oval Office in the Obama administration so it’s not like it was all or even mostly her “fault.” But, her most honest  defense — “I tried but Obama called the shots“– isn’t one she probably would like to deploy (or the media want to explore).

There are lots of reasons, then, for the media to want to stir interest in a candidate who so far has shown no inclination towards a presidential run. But that does raise a real issue: In the absence of viable contenders, will Democrats be stuck with a candidate they don’t really think will fulfill their left-wing aspirations and has a load of baggage, and the public (not just media-types) is tired of? The answer is probably yes. While the GOP base (as did the 2008 Democratic base) will be turning out in droves in the 2016 primaries, getting engaged and finding new voters for their candidates, Hillary will have trouble making news in an uncontested race.

Maybe there is a real story then. If Hillary is as unexciting as some in the base might believe, is there a candidate who actually is interested in a run?

In 2005, no one had Barack Obama on the list for the Democratic nomination. He had not yet  barely been elected to federal office. The possibility exists then that some not-yet senator or undeclared candidate for governor might be Hillary’s 2016 rival. The desire for a newer and more liberal face may be out there among Democrats, but as of yet there’s little evidence that Warren or anyone else will step up to the plate, no matter how hard the media try to stir the pot.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.