There's a purposely provocative piece in Politico magazine this week that aims to make the case that Hillary Clinton is going to run for president for a third time in 2020. Citing the scaling back of the Clinton Global Initiative and her plans to write a seventh book as evidence, Matt Latimer concludes: “Yes, barring some calamity, Clinton is running. And this brave columnist will go one step further. Not only will Clinton run again, she has an excellent shot at getting the Democratic Party nomination again.”
Wrong. And not just wrong on Clinton running again. But wrong on the fact that if she runs she could or would have the inside track on the Democratic nomination.
Let's take it piece by piece.
First, the idea that Clinton is angling to run again.
Ask yourself a simple question: Why?
Clinton has now lost twice in runs for the White House. And they were defeats of the devastating variety.
In 2008, Clinton was not only seen as the clear favorite but, up until December 2007, it looked like she would cruise to the nomination as then-Sen. Barack Obama struggled to energize his supporters. Fast forward a few months and it was clear that Clinton was going to lose on delegates alone, but she chose to slug it out all the way until June before bowing to the inevitable.
Then came 2016 when Clinton, again, was seen as the clear favorite for not only the Democratic nomination but also the White House. The Democratic field was significantly less talented than eight years prior, but Clinton was unable to put them away, and Bernie Sanders pushed the nomination all the way to the bitter end. In the general election, Clinton was regarded as a massive favorite against Donald Trump who did, literally, the opposite of what every seasoned campaign aide told him to do for the duration of the campaign. He was engulfed by a scandal regarding sexist comments caught by an “Access Hollywood” mic. She drastically outspent him everywhere. Polling showed she would win easily. And she lost.
One loss like that would be more than enough for most politicians. Two is approaching Greek tragedy levels.
Then there is the fact that Clinton will be 70 this October. She has two young grandchildren. A daughter and son-in-law. A husband. Why commit to spending — at least — two years more away from your family on an activity that has brought you nothing but heartache for the past decade?
The only possible answer is that Clinton is deeply committed to public service. That she promised not to fade away in her concession speech in November 2016.
I'd argue there are lots of ways that someone as high-profile as Clinton could remain relevant — to the country and her party — without running again. National spokeswoman. Fundraiser. Policy maven. Key endorser.
Which brings me to the second point: If Clinton showed signs that she truly is interested in running, Democrats should make very clear that they aren't interested.
Clinton ran two national campaigns. In each, she looked on paper to be a sure thing. In each, she didn't win. Why? Because there was something about her that people didn't like or trust. Her email problems in this past campaign exacerbated that problem, to be sure, but there was always an undercurrent of distrust surrounding her.
It's possible that as the Trump presidency continues, there will be buyer's remorse that benefits Clinton. I wouldn't be surprised if there is polling some time in the next few months that shows Clinton's popularity surging even as Trump's continues to sink.
But what we know about politics is that the perceptions people have of politicians rarely change all that much. Mitt Romney, had he run again in 2016, would have been saddled with the “out of touch rich guy” label he had to wear in 2012. John F. Kerry, if he had run again in 2008, would be the Swiss-cheese ordering, windsurfing Boston Brahmin.
So, too, with Clinton. The second she started to show interest in running for president again, people would remember all of the things they didn't like about her. The same trust and likability issues would dog her. She would be forced to grapple with perception issues beyond her control to fix. And, as the last two campaigns have proven, Clinton simply lacks the candidate skills — and they are significant — to have any chance of fundamentally altering the narrative about her. Had she been able to do so, she would have already done it in time for the 2016 race!
Then there is the matter of Trump. While it is, of course, possible that Trump doesn't make it to the point where he stands for a second term, that seems less than likely at the moment. (Trump has already established a 2020 reelection committee and is raising money into it.) And Trump beat Clinton with a simple message: She is the status quo you hate; I am radical change. She's a politician; I'm not. She is of Washington; I hate Washington.
The best way for Democrats to beat Trump, to my mind, is to not allow him to claim the outsider mantle again. Nominating Clinton would do just that. Sure, Trump will have spent four years in Washington by 2020. But Clinton, in the eyes of lots and lots of voters, will never be able to shake the image of being a traditional Washington politician. It's exactly the sort of race Trump wants to run — against Washington but needing four more years to truly overhaul it.
The simple fact is that the public has had two chances to elect Hillary Clinton president. Neither time has it done so. You can argue forever about her relative qualifications and how she has worked her entire life to hold that one job. But this is a democracy where the electoral college vote decides who the president is. And twice, the public has chosen someone other than Clinton. That's just the reality.
Clinton should not — and I believe will not — run again in 2020. But Democrats would be foolish to, again, place all their bets on Clinton. That time has passed.