At some point during Hillary Clinton’s book rollout — perhaps it’s already happened — some Democratic activists will look at one another and ask: Really? That’s who we want to just hand the nomination to?
In the media blitz Democrats may be reminded of some old faults and some new problems that would plague her candidacy. She doesn’t handle intense scrutiny very well. (Her first interview necessitated immediate damage control on her plea of poverty.) She too often plays the victim (broke, was she?). And her “accomplishments” on further scrutiny turn out to be slight. Her refusal to recognize her own failures suggests either arrogance or cluelessness, as we saw in her unconvincing Benghazi defense. There is a reason why her popularity goes up when she is not running for something. With no declared opponent, no negative ad and no real new information about her favorability has dropped five points in 4 months — and that is before her rotten interview performance has percolated fully. Imagine a few more of those interviews, an informed and capable opponent and a series of ads featuring nothing but Hillary’s own words. You can see how beatable she might be.
At this stage she is “inevitable” because the Democrats have decided she is, and no one substantial wants to challenge her. But imagine that her book tour highlights her weaknesses while suggesting her strengths (experience, familiarity) aren’t that significant. Consider that her polling likely will continue to go down, even with no rival. Wouldn’t someone, somewhere in the Democratic universe of potential candidates, get the idea that she could be beaten if someone fresher and minimally competent showed up? Once the aura of invincibility fades and her weaknesses are evident, running against Clinton no longer would seem crazy, as it has until now, or an illegitimate attempt to take the nomination she “deserves.” Then what?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he won’t run against his old ally, but he certainly would have pizzazz and generate interest. With no need to defend Obama or Clinton, he’d have breathing room to offer his own agenda and explain how a liberal administration can also be an effective one. Cuomo is not the only one who could conceivably step into that role. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick could, as could some ex-senators, such as Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Governors may emerge after the November election. Once one quality candidate comes forward, others may follow.
That’s one version, at any rate, of how the Democratic race may pan out. But it’s also quite possible Hillary Clinton winds up with the nomination by default. Despite a rocky book tour, no viable challenger may emerge. And so, baggage and all, Hillary Clinton will be handed the nomination.
This latter scenario is what a legion of Republican activists, operators, campaign aides-in-waiting and potential candidates are convinced — and to a large extent are hoping — will occur. The book and the tour, if anything, have convinced Republicans that Clinton is eminently beatable. They have the research and the arguments against her all ready to go. They’ve grown comfortable with the idea of tying her to Obama and watching her walk a tightrope between defending him and distancing herself from the Obama train wreck. They see her record as a 10-ton weight she’ll have to haul around the country. They may be underappreciating her assets, but the GOP is preparing — almost joyfully so — to run against her.
But what if someone shows up who doesn’t have the baggage, doesn’t need to defend Obama and isn’t familiar to the point of boring the Democratic electorate? Gulp. That might get dicey.
The irony then is that Republicans now want as much Clinton exposure as possible without dissuading her from running. Democrats would like the book tour to be over already, preserving their image of an invincible Hillary Clinton who is the only realistic nominee. Both sides get thrown for a loop if Clinton backs out or others enter the race. Both better count on Clinton’s (and her husband’s) insatiable desire for power and unrealistic assessment of her record. Otherwise, thing might get really interesting and — gasp! — unpredictable.