If you rack your memory, you can probably recall living through the years when Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in to be elected president.
In 2008, Clinton die-hards insisted she was more electable than Barack Obama. (Exit polls did not debunk this.) In 2012, with Clinton's approval rating soaring as secretary of state, some pundits asked whether Obama should step aside and let Clinton run.
“Given her strong public support, she has the ability to step above partisan politics,” wrote pollsters Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell, who — incredibly — are still paid to churn out their cardboard insights.
Up until 2015, Democrats insisted that Clinton could not only re-create the Obama coalition, but bring back voters who had deserted.
Then came 2016. Clinton, in exile (well, Chappaqua), ended the 2016 campaign with pundits across the political spectrum branding her one of the worst candidates of all time. The more people saw of her, the less they liked. Any other Democrat could have beaten Donald Trump. Bernie Would Have Won. You know the drill.
I think this is the proper context for reading the utterly blinkered rumor that Clinton, who will turn 71 next year, should celebrate by running for mayor of New York City. In the New York Daily News, this is credited to a “a well-placed source.” In a much more compelling New York Times story, it's circulating “from political circles in New York City to cocktail parties on Capitol Hill, on right-of-center Facebook pages and among left-of-center donors.” (How we got from a national debate over fake news on Facebook to “right-of-center Facebook” pages as part of the legitimate rumor mill, I just don't know.)
We don't doubt that these sources exist. The inherent problem with them, as Ben Terris wrote for The Post in 2015, is that over 40 years in politics, the Clintons have collected so many confidants that any decent reporter's Rolodex features someone who can speak for what Hillary might be up to. More people wanted her to be president than Donald Trump; it stands to reason that some of them want her to win another election. As the Times reports, a former Mike Bloomberg aide who wants to defeat Mayor Bill De Blasio has included her name in polls and found that she's popular in New York City. (She won it by a landslide in November.)
The bigger problem is that the return of Clinton fan fiction, so soon, seems impossibly cruel. I'd bet that no one has been told as many times that she should be president, and has not become president, as Hillary Clinton. Few, if any, have tried for the job and learned, in the media, that they never should have tried, because — oops — they were terrible at running for it.
Let me demonstrate with a line from the (again, very good!) Times story. In it, we learn that “one of Mrs. Clinton’s best periods as a 2016 presidential candidate came before the New York primary.” The zombified candidate who managed to lose Wisconsin was nowhere to be found. “She raced between bubble tea shops in Flushing, Queens, struggled to swipe a MetroCard and addressed supporters in the West Village.”
You probably remember the time when Clinton struggled to use a MetroCard. How was that covered at the time? From the New York Post:
“Hillary Clinton can’t get her MetroCard to work on NYC subway. I’m serious. OMG this is my life every day,” tweeted Micah Grimes.
Russel Horvath was apparently not impressed by her foray into mass transit.
“Unfortunately, she’ll take it directly to Goldman Sachs,” he wrote, sarcastically.
“Does Hillary even know what the subway is,” Rachelle tweeted.
From the Times:
It would take Mrs. Clinton five swipes before the desired beep-click of success finally came. And with each swipe, she, like others before her, demonstrated the potential perils that await politicians in the subway.
From Saturday Night Live:
Some coverage did give Clinton credit. Plenty of New Yorkers struggle with MetroCards; Bernie Sanders had made a minor gaffe, assuming that the subway still used tokens. My point, however, is that what was at the time a story of an aloof Clinton struggling with mass transit has already been retconned into a story of how fun her journey to victory in New York was.
There are plenty of hot takes available on the badness of a Clinton-for-Mayor idea. It's a rehash of the Bill-Clinton-for-Mayor idea that took up tabloid space for years; it evokes the Democrats' problem with elevating young talent in places where it can shine; it kick-starts the boring, endless debate over the 2016 Democratic primary; it's a make-work program for consultants, right and left, who have lost their Clinton cash cow and don't know what to do anymore.
But the most basic problem is how it erases recent history. The theory of Hillary Clinton, candidate, entranced Democrats and media for a generation. She could do no wrong, until she began running for president, and then she could do no right. If you are not a member of the media, this seems deeply strange and phony. If it looks like the media's going to lionize Clinton in defeat only so it can piñata her as a candidate, it seems not just strange, not just phony, but like the behavior of people who are more interested in entertainment than in the politics of peoples' lives.