What Hillary wants

December 10, 2012

Never has so much been written (and spoken) about a politician so unknowable.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a lengthy piece about soon-to-be-former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and whether she might run for president. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is regarded as a likely 2016 candidate in his own right, said Sunday that Clinton would be a "great president" if she decides to run. Democratic strategist James Carville took the praise a step further, insisting that "90 percent" of people in his party want Clinton to be a candidate in 2016.


Lost somewhat in all of the hype around Clinton is a very simple question: What does she want? 

The answer is virtually impossible to glean since a) Clinton is a decidedly private and cautious person, particularly as it relates to her future plans, b) those who actually know what she may be thinking don't talk publicly about it, and c) Clinton seems to be genuinely undecided about what's next.

Here's how Jodi Kantor described Clinton's mindset in the Times story:

"Right now, aides and friends say, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s plan looks like this: exit the State Department shortly after Inauguration Day and then seclude herself to rest and reflect on what she wants to do for the next few years. Those who have invited her for 2013 engagements have been told not to even ask again until April or May."

Publicly, Clinton has been resolute if not Sherman-esque about her lack of plans to seek the presidency again. In 2011, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked her if she would like to be president; Clinton responded "no." She added: "I had a wonderful experience running, and I am very proud of the support I had and very grateful for the opportunity, but I'm going to be, you know, moving on." (Wordsmiths -- and the Fix -- will note that denying that you would like to be president in 2011 is not close to the same thing as saying you won't run for president in 2016.)

Privately, there seems little question that Clinton has yet to turn her mind to whether she wants to run again and/but those around her -- up to and including her husband -- want badly for her to make the race. (Bill Clinton cannot -- and will not -- ever get enough of politics. God love him.)

But again, what those around her want is not the same thing as what Clinton wants. And, in truth, no one -- or damn close -- really knows what she is thinking about a second bid for president in four years time. Clinton has lived so long -- and at times so painfully -- in the public eye that she is a closed book for almost everyone. She has a first-class political poker face.

Here's what we do know. Clinton would enter the 2016 race as the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination -- buoyed by stratospheric poll numbers and the hard-won wisdom of her unsuccessful 2008 bid. She likely wouldn't clear the field, but it's hard to imagine a candidate like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, perhaps the frontrunner if Clinton doesn't run, staying in to challenge her.

To be clear: A 2016 bid for Clinton is far from a sure thing; her numbers would drop the moment she re-entered the political sphere, and she would be subject to many of the same critiques she faced in 2008. But if she retains any desire to be president, it would be very difficult to pass up a race that looks tailor-made for her.

Does she have that desire lurking somewhere in her? We probably won't find out for another year (or so). In the meantime, we'll write -- and wait.

Corker urges GOP to give up on tax cuts for wealthy: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) became the first Republican senator to publicly suggest letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire, saying Sunday that Republicans should agree to the president's deal and then focus on entitlement reform.

"A lot of people are putting forth a theory, and I actually think it has merit, where you go ahead give the president the 2 percent increase that he is talking about — the rate increase on the top 2 percent — and all of a sudden the shift goes back to entitlements," Corker said on "Fox News Sunday," adding that shifting to focus on entitlements is "the best route for us to take."

Elsewhere, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he would accept such a deal.

Previously, a few House members led by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) have also suggested the party give Obama the tax deal he wants and fight over those tax cuts later.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), notably, has not embraced that idea, and voting for such a deal would violate the anti-tax pledges signed by almost every Republican in Congress.

Fixbits:

Obama met with Boehner on Sunday to talk fiscal cliff.

Newt Gingrich says Republicans are incapable of beating Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Charlie Crist is officially a Democrat.

Cory Booker says he will likely decide in the next two weeks whether to challenge Gov. Chris Christie (R) in 2013.

A look at some of the possible retirees in the Senate's Class of 2014.

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) beat Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) in the final undecided House election of 2012 on Saturday, 61 percent to 39 percent.

Must-reads:

"Taxby's Troubles" -- Robert Costa, National Review

"Obama’s second-term agenda will be shadowed by budget woes" -- Peter Wallsten and Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

"Clinton’s Countless Choices Hinge on One: 2016" -- Jodi Kantor, New York Times

"113th Congress: This Time, It’s Out With the New" -- Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

"Time running out on ‘fiscal cliff’ deal" -- Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane, Washington Post

"Rice under fire from left as Kerry's name won't go away" -- Domenico Montanaro, NBC News

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Sean Sullivan · December 9, 2012