A smart Republican consultant who has worked on several presidential campaigns remarked to me recently, “There are only three ways Hillary doesn’t run — her health, Bill’s health or the bottom falls out of the Obama presidency.” We may be getting close to the third.
At the time Hillary Clinton and her hangers-on decided she was the inevitable nominee and the heavy favorite to win the White House, President Obama’s approval wasn’t dangerously close to 40 percent. We did not face the imminent collapse of Iraq, the emergence of an al-Qaeda state, the invasion of Ukraine and the collapse of U.S. credibility around the world. It was plausible that Obama’s dutiful secretary of state could become his successor. Now? Not so much.
The question now becomes whether the change in international events is determinative or at least critical to the Democrats’ nomination process. To the extent that Clinton shaped the failed policies, she is in trouble. And to the extent she just carried out dangerous policies because she was simply being a loyalist, that’s a problem, too. And the notion that 2016 won’t be about foreign policy or a referendum on the Obama presidency now seems far-fetched.
I assume Hillaryland for now is spinning a rationalization for her continued candidacy, and it will be quite some time, if ever, before any real consideration is given to reversing the enormous operation that is rolling across the Democratic landscape crushing anything and anyone in its way. Too many people have too much riding on a Clinton presidential run for her to cast it aside at this point. Besides, for a woman obsessed with making money, an early decision not to run would send her speaking fees plummeting. She might once again be “broke.”
On the GOP side, the foreign policy collapse would seem to help some and hurt others.
Those governors who have made little effort to get up to speed on foreign policy might be wise to pass on 2016. This isn’t just a matter of getting through a few debates; it is about taking on the job of commander in chief at a time of international threats that are unmatched in their variety, seriousness and complexity. It would be an act of pure recklessness to seek the job as commander in chief unless you have exceptional confidence in your ability to diagnose the international scene and craft a new foreign policy.
In particular, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has both an interest in and experience in foreign policy but who has avoided the tea party vs. establishment wars, gets a boost – if he is actually interested in running. If Texas Gov. Rick Perry – the only likely contender with military experience – can, as he told me, use the time to develop a sophisticated understanding of our foreign policy threats, he, too, could benefit.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), in making the decision to align himself with the hawks and not with the libertarian isolationists, seems to have chosen wisely. His grasp of the dangers we face and his critique of the Obama/Clinton/John Kerry policy fiasco put him in a good position to run as the anti-Obama Republican determined to stop Iran, reverse al-Qaeda’s gains, push back Russian President Putin and protect the homeland. The same is largely true of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has given a clear-headed description of the situation in Iraq, opposed the president’s approach to Iran and Russia and voted against the Budget Control Act largely because of cuts to defense. And finally, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has kept the lowest profile of the potential top-tier candidates, also gets a lift on the basis of his recent budget to increase defense spending, his preparation on foreign policy in 2012, his generally Reagan-like view of national security and his sober and serious demeanor.
What about Jeb Bush? You can make an argument that the foreign policy meltdown hurts him in the same way Clinton is harmed. It forces him into a defense of the past. If Clinton doesn’t run and the Democrats get a fresh face, the dynasty problem shifts back to him and the demand for a fresh face for the GOP increases. Conversely, Jeb Bush might appear more experienced and trustworthy to voters in a time when fiery speech-making is going to be insufficient to solve our problems. If nothing else, he is a grown-up, an internationalist and extremely well-versed on issues involving this hemisphere. He is a plausible commander in chief.
The risk for candidates such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and others whose views substantially overlap with the president’s is obvious. His position on drones, the National Security Agency, Iraq, Iran sanctions and more look far more problematic as the threats magnify. At a time the public wants more, not less, presidential assertiveness in foreign policy and sees real threats from abroad (not from NSA data mining), Paul becomes the odd man out.
The folly of early polls and prognostication comes fully to light at times like this. Who knew the world was going to spin out of control this quickly? Who thought Clinton would have so little to say and be so tone-deaf? Who imagined her greatest experience would become her greatest liability?
As world events shift dramatically, it may affect the decision of every potential participant in the race. It may be a good long time before this all shakes out. Nothing that came before the foreign policy meltdown matters as much as what happens from here on out. It is in that respect a whole new ballgame.