The conventional wisdom is now at full throttle. Some underlying assumptions: Hillary Clinton is the one to beat for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination…if it isn’t a slam-dunk, it may already a dunk…only she has the political and financial resources….her legion of supporters and record as Secretary of State put her at a huge advantage…the Clinton machine is formidable and daunting to challengers.
An impressive set of beliefs, but is it one you can bet the house only? No.
The conventional wisdom in politics is sometimes as accurate (or less) than the list of psychic predictions run on this website each year. The big difference is that psychics tout their correct predictions and critics mockingly point to the many they made that didn’t materialize. In the media, predictions that proved false are just quietly swept under the rug in the hopes no one will notice what was said before (and most don’t), and new, smug predictions are made, always stated and written with such certainty. If you don’t believe me, just watch the Sunday morning round tables on the news talk shows.
The Atlantic’s James Barnes argues that while Ms. Clinton may have an impressive resume and legendary energy, she hasn’t done much to help her cause recently.
For all her popularity among party power brokers, the sense of invincibility that currently surrounds Clinton reflects a kind of suspension of disbelief by Democrats that a more detached reckoning should dispel.
The bottom line is that no one except perhaps popular incumbent Presidents are shoo-ins anymore for any party nomination this yearly in the loooooooooooooong Presidential primary and general election campaigns.
That faith in Clinton’s prospective candidacy was evident earlier this month when YouGov, the non-partisan Internet polling company, asked 100 Democratic operatives and activists as part of a year-in-review survey to weigh in on whether the party’s potential 2016 contenders, “regardless of who might be the frontrunners right now” had mostly helped or hurt their chances for a successful White House run. (I helped conduct the survey.)
Not surprisingly, a whopping 78 percent of the Democratic insiders said that Clinton had mostly helped her chances. The runner-up to Clinton in this assessment was Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren: 42 percent of the insiders said she had mostly helped herself. Only 30 percent said that Vice President Joe Biden had improved his odds of stepping up to the top job, while 61 percent said that his efforts to date had neither helped nor hurt his chances, or did “some of both.”
But if you look closely at the kind of year Clinton had in 2013, isn’t it more reasonable to say that although she remains the frontrunner to lead the Democrats in 2016, she hasn’t done much lately to advance her cause? Indeed, a few potential vulnerabilities have come into sharper focus that should cause Democrats to ease up on their embrace of Hillary.
Hailed as a tireless diplomat who helped restore the U.S. image in foreign capitals when she stepped down as secretary of state, Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom now looks less glowing.
He also adds some other nuances to the prevailing political pundit culture’s viewpoint:
Domestically, Clinton now has to contend with the fallout from shaky implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the central tenant of which—the federal mandate that individuals must purchase health insurance—she championed in her 2008 presidential run….
….And at same time, Clinton may wear out her welcome in the White House if her prospective candidacy starts to overshadow the incumbent. “The president has little political capital left,” observed one Democratic operative in the YouGov survey. “More people [now] discuss Hillary Clinton’s possible campaign than President Obama.” That kind of chatter won’t win Clinton a lot of fans in the West Wing.
At the end of the year, Barbara Walters, the doyenne of celebrity journalism, ranked Clinton at the top of her list of the “10 Most Fascinating People of 2013,” beating out the likes of Pope Francis, Edward Snowden, and the cast of Duck Dynasty. In an accompanying television interview, Walters naturally asked Clinton about 2016. “It’s such a difficult decision,” Hillary demurred. “And it’s one that I’m not going to rush into.”
Maybe some Democrats should consider that advice before they rush headlong to coronate another Clinton.
Politics has a way of surprising us. At this time eight years ago, very few Democratic pols thought Clinton could be denied the party’s 2008 presidential nomination and even fewer thought that a freshman senator from Illinois would be the cause of her undoing.
Indeed, there’s no learning curve on the conventional wisdom in our political culture. Once a narrative or an assumption takes hold, it’s hard to break it. Until it’s proven false. Then it’s swept under the rug.
But you can see Hillary Clinton is on the move and on the minds of a lot of folks.
She’s planning a California swing in April. The Washington Post’s Republican columnist Jennifer Rubin is on the attack, writing about “The Clinton Delusion” on the part of the media. Clinton’s foes have filed and FEC complaint:
In what election law experts say is a long-shot argument, the hybrid PAC, titled the ‘Stop Hillary PAC,’ claims that Clinton and her political team have essentially authorized a campaign by renting her official resources to a super PAC.
The Wednesday complaint singled out Clinton and the super PAC Ready for Hillary — a group that is urging Clinton to run for president but is forbidden by law from coordinating with Clinton or her staff.
At issue, according to Stop Hillary lawyer Dan Backer, is whether Clinton is tacitly supporting a committee that’s aiming to “draft” her for president.
“Ready for Hillary is in the business of trying to get Hillary Clinton to run for office — essentially to draft her for office. And that’s their right to do so, provided the object of their draft — Hillary — isn’t behind it or helping them, because then it stops being a draft committee and becomes an authorized campaign committee,” he said in a statement, going on to suggest that she and the committee are in violation of campaign finance law.
Meanwhile, a liberal Super PAC is raising money for her possible presidential run.
Still, just a month ago many pundits were discussing what would happen in a likely Clinton race against Chris Christie. Suddenly — and with each passing day — Christie getting the GOP nomination seems less and less likely. Money, organization, visibility and a record may matter but circumstances could change very quickly.
Yes, it’s not impossible that someone could beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination or for a Republican to win the White House in 2016.
Any declarations of certainty at this point are as reliable as the psychic predictions.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.