David Axelrod, the chief strategist who guided President Obama into the White House, offered a blunt assessment Thursday of Hillary Rodham Clinton's likely 2016 presidential campaign, saying she needs to "get out of the cocoon of inevitability."
Axelrod, appearing on a political panel in Washington sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, said Clinton needs to develop a strategy and message for her candidacy rather than rely on tactics and the Democratic Party's demographic advantages in presidential elections.
"Tactics have to follow strategy," Axelrod said. "I think the danger for Secretary Clinton is that, as was the case in 2007, her candidacy is out in front of the rationale for it."
Axelrod said Clinton became "a very effective candidate" late in the 2008 primary cycle. "She was much more visceral, she was closer to the ground, she was talking about people and their lives," he said. In 2016, Axelrod said, "she has to throw caution to the wind and essentially get out of the cocoon of inevitability and really compete for it."
Some Democrats believe that after Obama built a powerful coalition of black, Latino, women and young voters in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, demographics are destiny and ensure the party will keep hold of the White House for years to come. But Axelrod said Clinton would be foolish to believe this.
"That should not give her solace that the job is done," Axelrod said. "I think the candidate who's going to win in 2016 is the candidate who aggressively and in a forward-thinking way deals with this fundamental issue of the stagnancy of wages, the problems of the middle class, the lack of economic mobility that are central to who we are as a country."
Axelrod noted that running away from Obama and his record did not work for Democratic senators in 2014 and cautioned Clinton against repeating that strategy. Instead, he said, Clinton should develop a message that builds on his legacy, especially on economic issues, without simply running for a repeat term.
"People seek the remedy and not the replica," Axelrod said. "I think that in 2016, people will want someone who is a little less nuanced, someone who projects more of a sense of black and white certainty.... I actually think that is an environment that favors Hillary Clinton more than the 2008 environment because she tends to be someone that speaks in simple, declarative sentences and with great certainty."