Several days before the presidential election, I became overwhelmed by the negativity, from both sides, associated with the campaign and openly wished for it to simply be over. Now, a week after the election, it appears that I am going through some type of withdrawal. Thus, in order to satiate my need for a presidential campaign fix, I feel compelled to engage in what seems to be every Democrat’s favorite post-election past-time: speculating on whether Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is never too early for such conjecture, particularly when it involves the Clintons. The Obamas may officially be the first family of the United States, but the Clintons are inarguably the first family of the Democratic party. What Hillary chooses to do in regards to a potential presidential campaign will directly affect the composition of the Democratic field as others considering a candidacy will not likely be as enthusiastic as to their chances with her in the running as they would be if she were not.
Hillary Clinton is certainly qualified for the position, even her most vitriolic of opponents cannot posit that she is not. There will be no “ready for prime time” doubts associated with her candidacy as there was when Obama chose to run in 2008. Indeed, she would arguably be one of the most qualified candidates in recent memory. Currently a highly regarded Secretary of State, lauded by those on both sides of the aisle, her work as one of the primary shapers of America’s foreign policy over the past four years has been exemplary. Combined with her experience as Senator from New York and her time in the White House as first lady, Clinton has been near the top of the political pyramid for two decades. While this resume does not guarantee a successful run given the public’s inability to decide on what qualifications a president should possess, it poses no threat to her chances.
Clinton’s twenty years in the spotlight gives her an enviable level of name recognition that many other Democrats considering a presidential run don’t have. In a recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of a hypothetical 2016 Iowa caucus, Clinton dominated, taking 58% of the vote. Only Joe Biden, at 17%, managed to also register in double digits while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and newly elected Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren registered 6% and 3% of the vote respectively. Others who were part of the poll included Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Virginia Senator Mark Warner, none of whom broke 1%. Only the top three candidates, Clinton, Biden and Cuomo, were known to a majority of Iowans that participated, indicating that much is left to be done by the others to raise their profile. It is hard to imagine that any of these candidates, with the possible exception of Biden, will be able to establish the gravitas and bona fides over the next four years that are already possessed by Hillary Clinton.
With the successful re-election campaign of Barack Obama complete she will have the support of a grateful two-term president to count upon. Once bitter rivals who competed fiercely for the Democratic nomination in 2008, Clinton became almost immediately thereafter a loyal and valued member of Team Obama, taking on the role of Secretary of State with relish and evidencing no bitterness toward her former primary foe. The support that she and in particular her husband, former President Bill Clinton, provided Obama during the bruising re-election campaign proved invaluable. Perhaps of even greater import to ensuring the support of Obama and the Democratic establishment for a 2016 run was the selflessness she showed in taking full responsibility for the attack on our embassy in Benghazhi, Libya, which had resulted in the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Amidst a confusing cacophony of conflicting reports, some claiming the assault evolved out of a spontaneous demonstration protesting the anti-Islamic film “The Innocence of Muslims”, while others refuted the protest claim and laid the blame on a pre-meditated and coordinated attack by terrorist elements, Clinton stepped forward and took responsibility for whatever security shortcomings occurred. This act eliminated the controversy as a potential campaign issue that could have been employed by the Romney camp as ammunition against President Obama. This sacrifice was duly noted and appreciated, giving her even more favors to call in if she should need them during a future presidential run.
Hillary’s resources are neither limited to her own prodigious abilities and experience, nor to President Obama and the Democratic power brokers. One of her most valuable resources is her husband, the former President Clinton, considered by many to be the most talented politician the Democratic party has had in generations. He brings a wealth of experience, political knowledge, connections and favors owed to the table. His value as a campaign surrogate was demonstrated repeatedly over the past several years as he worked tirelessly to help Barack Obama get re-elected. If Hillary decides to run, her husband’s efforts on her behalf will represent a tremendous asset in her quest to become the first female president.
History may be on her side as well Most projections of our economy in four years show a far brighter scenario than exists today. The Office of Management and Budget as well as the Congressional Budget Office both project 4% real GDP growth by 2016, double that of current levels. In previous campaigns a stronger economy has almost always helped the incumbent party as the recovery can be credited to the policies enacted by those in office. If these projections are accurate, Hillary could ride a wave of economic reinvigoration right into the White House.
Still, a decision by Secretary Clinton to run does not represent a guarantee of success in that endeavor. She was, after all, the favorite in 2008, and yet failed to secure her party’s nomination. There are a number of obstacles that could present difficulties to a Clinton presidential run. Ironically, many of these potential impediments are represented by the same factors that could be viewed as positives to a presidential effort. Her brand, while indisputably familiar to most, is not viewed positively by all; she has, during her years as a Washington D.C. power broker, incurred the enmity of opponents and the dislike on the part of many within the Republican base. Possessing a high profile brand can cut both ways, particularly in politics.
Her time as Secretary of State, while highly successful, has not been without its controversies, most notably the recent Benghazi embassy attack. Although the picture remains muddled, what is clear is that security lapses occurred, due in part to a significant underestimation of the potential dangers posed to U.S. personnel stationed in Libya by various elements, including terrorist groups potentially linked, at least tenuously, to Al Qaeda. Americans died, including our ambassador, an event marking only the sixth time such a state officer had been killed in the line of duty by enemies of our country, the first since 1979. This was neither an event lacking in importance, nor one that failed to raise questions as to our preparedness to deal with similar occurrences. As Secretary of State, it was her agency that was directly responsible for the coordination of whatever necessary security measures were required and clearly that coordination was flawed. Although her willingness to step forward and accept responsibility did much to add to her stature within the party and perhaps within the general public as well, her political opponents, particularly within the Republican party, will not hesitate to use Benghazi against her. The situation remains fluid and with the abrupt resignation of CIA Director David Patraeus, there is now a vacuum at the top of our nation’s foreign policy leadership that may result in a longer stay as Secretary of State than previously anticipated. This could provide her with an opportunity to limit the damage Benghazi inflicted damage, but a longer stay will also curtail her ability to begin raising money and building a national campaign organization.
Her most valuable and most visible resource, other than President Obama himself, remains her husband, who is not lacking in baggage or detractors. A man of immense talents and charm, he could just as easily damage her campaign as provide it with irreplaceable assistance. Bill Clinton is a wildcard, one that is as potentially unpredictable as such as sobriquet would seem to indicate.
Finally, there remains the conundrum of the seemingly endless, at time stagnant, economic recovery. Projections of economic health are great, those projections evolving into reality, better. There are no guarantees. China has seen its economic growth dip precipitously over the past several years; few are predicting a definitive end to that trend. Europe’s sovereign debt crisis is quite simply an unmitigated disaster, one that threatens to render a number of countries insolvent and could lead to the dissolution of the EU itself. Domestically, the threat of a failure to reach a deal on the tax hikes and spending cuts that have been dubbed euphemistically as the “Fiscal Cliff” could deal a death blow to our fragile economic recovery without any contributions from external catastrophes needed. The Democrats will own the economy now regardless of which direction it goes, up or down. A significant downturn, even a return to a recessionary period, is not outside the realm of possibility and will doom the candidacy of anyone looking to succeed Obama in the Oval Office from within his party, Hillary Clinton included. Hillary should run and in my opinion will her protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. That resolution, however, will represent only the first of many steps on the long, rocky road to the White House.