Hillary Clinton is running for president.
That simple sentence is one that the political-media complex seems incapable of uttering though evidence is sprinkled absolutely everywhere — including in comments from Clinton herself — that she will be a candidate in 2016.
* Ready for Hillary, a super PAC designed to pave the way for her eventual bid, began as a quasi-lark by some well-meaning supporters. Today, it has all the looks of a sort of holding tank for top Hillary campaign talent, including old allies (Harold Ickes) to new ones (Obama-ites Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird). Operatives of that level — and in Ickes’s case that close to Clinton — don’t sign on to a flight of fancy.
* Serious people are endorsing her. Last month, Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (Va.) — the first elected official to back then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential candidacy — pledged his support to Clinton, calling her the “right person for the job.” Kaine’s endorsement follows public pledges of support from Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the odds-on favorite to be the next Democratic leader in the Senate, and Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), an early and ardent backer of Obama in 2008. There’s no way that Kaine decided to endorse Clinton’s candidacy unless he’s received pretty strong indications that she’s going to be a candidate.
* The attempt to positively frame Clinton’s negatives has begun. When Karl Rove, the Republican strategist and former adviser to George W. Bush, suggested that Clinton suffered a major brain injury at the end of 2012, the response from Clintonworld — up to and including Bill Clinton — was swift and designed to do one thing: make clear to anyone listening that she is in perfect health. The leak last week of a chapter on the 2012 Benghazi attacks from her new memoir to Politico’s Maggie Haberman was designed to ensure that the recounting received maximum attention — and got her side of the story out amid ongoing attacks from Republicans on the circumstances surrounding the attacks in the Libyan city. “I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans,” Clinton writes of Benghazi in “Hard Choices,” a line you can expect to hear lots more over the next two years.
* “Hard Choices” is a campaign book. Clinton’s memoir of her time as secretary of state is not the sort of tell-all, speak-truth-to-power memoir that an elected or appointed official writes when her time in office (or running for office) is over. Michiko Kakutani writes in the New York Times book review of “Hard Choices”: “This volume is very much the work of someone who is keeping all her political options open — and who would like to be known not only for mastering the art of diplomacy, but also for having the policy chops to become chooser-in-chief.” In case you missed that message, Clinton herself closes the book thusly: “The time for another hard choice will come soon enough.” Eh — see what she did there?
So, why does Clinton want to preserve the thinnest patina of the idea that she might not actually run, and why does everyone seem okay with that — even though every shred of evidence points to a bid? The first question is easier to answer than the second.
For Clinton, there’s absolutely no reason — or benefit — to formally declaring her candidacy anytime soon. She is such a heavy favorite for the Democratic nomination that nothing in the contest will move until she does. Plus, she is already universally known and, according to new Washington Post-ABC News polling, well-liked by Democratic voters. The longer Clinton can avoid looking overly political — while still accruing all the advantages of her front-runner status — the better her chances in the general election. She and her team know that well.
As for why Clinton is still covered as a potential candidate rather than a full-fledged one, the simple truth is that until she announces her intentions in some sort of public way, there is always the possibility — albeit a very, very slim one at this point — that she won’t run. And past history suggests that all-but-announced candidacies are not the same thing as fully announced ones; in 1992, then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo was widely expected to run — there was a jet waiting to take him to New Hampshire from Albany that he spurned! — as was then-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner in 2008.
Still, even with that history of sure-things-that-weren’t and the widespread belief that Clinton has not made a final call on the race, there is every indication that she is running for president at the moment. Running for the office in that she is readying a campaign team, building out policy proposals — she delivered a stem-winder touting a populist economic message last month in front of the New America Foundation — and framing her negatives in the best possible light.
Clinton’s next “hard choice” doesn’t seem all that hard.