“What happened in 2008 was that Hillary’s candidacy got out in front of any rationale for it, and the danger is that that’s happening again,” [David] Axelrod, who was a top adviser to Barack Obama’s come-from-behind win over Clinton in 2008, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“You hear Ready for Hillary; it’s like, ‘Ready for what?’ “
Axelrod said Clinton could be using the time before she announces her candidacy to decide the answer to that question.

He, of all people, should know how deadly the “I am Hillary so vote for me” mindset can be. In 2008, she ran on being Hillary Clinton, inevitability and potentially becoming the first woman president. It did not work out.

Ironically, the answer to that question should be: Ready to step away from President Obama. That is why her self-inflicted decline in polling and the excitement over a non-candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), complicate things for Clinton. She can awkwardly lurch left (as she did when lecturing us that corporations don’t create jobs) and then hope to scramble back to the center for the general election. Unfortunately, with 24/7 coverage and social media, burying past positions and statements is not as easy as it used to be. Combine that with Clinton’s lack of political dexterity, her reputation (already) as an unprincipled opportunist and that tried and true formula to “go left in the primary and right in the general” becomes less attractive.

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It is always amusing in these situations when a campaign has to think up what rationale explains why the candidate wants to run for president. Shouldn’t the candidate already have one? It seems the definition of insincerity to ponder what to tell the voters. The real reason of course is that Clinton has always wanted to be president. That is not an acceptable answer of course. Candidates are expected to say what they can do for us, not how we can help fulfill their personal ambitions by running. Other people do have rationales. Some want to drive their party and the country far to the left, others to the right and one into the libertarian promised land.

Saying Clinton wants to cement the gains of the current, unpopular president would not be smart. She can’t very well tell Democrats in a primary that she will be like President Obama but tougher on national security (since her positions are identical and that stance risks alienating the base). Defender of the welfare state? Doesn’t really work. Innovative reformer? That would work if she had actual ideas and was willing to cast aside some liberal nostrums, but no such luck. If the rationale is purely negative (keep those meanie Republicans away from the White House), backward looking (to the 1990s or 1960s) or defensive (Don’t let them take away your Social Security), I don’t see much appeal beyond the people already in her base.

Axelrod’s candor is refreshing, if not a little surprising. (Maybe he wants to run the Warren for president campaign.) He deserves an answer: Why does she want to be president? That not even he knows tells you about the extent of the Democratic Party’s intellectual vacuity.

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