I’m not convinced Hillary Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee for president in 2016, much less guaranteed a win in the general election.
Don’t get me wrong. She’s a formidable candidate with a machine of donors, loyalists and media members ready to push her over the top and denigrate anyone in her way. If I were forced to predict the Democrats’ nominee, she’d be my pick.
But haven’t we seen this play before? Back in 2008, Hillary lost in spite of the media’s coronation-style coverage. You might argue she ran into a once-in-a-generation politician in Barack Obama, but that overlooks the history of Democratic Party presidential politics.
Hillary Clinton does not fit the mold of a successful Democratic presidential candidate. Such candidates either inherit the office as vice presidents or run as young, charismatic candidates with limited records.
Since the end of World War II, there have been six Democrats elected president. Two were vice presidents who ascended to the office on the death of presidents. Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson each won one election, and then left the White House deeply unpopular.
But what about the other four? John F. Kennedy (age 43 when elected), Jimmy Carter (age 52), Bill Clinton (age 46), and Barack Obama (age 47) were each at least 16 years younger than Clinton will be on election day (age 69). Each had fairly low name recognition (Kennedy was probably the best known of the bunch, but he wasn’t universally recognized like Hillary), a limited record on national issues (Kennedy excluded, though he had a small record compared to his opponents) and a lot of charisma.
This makes sense. The Democrats are a center-left party in a center-right country. As President Obama found out, persuading the public to embrace left-wing priorities is a tough sell. It takes a lot of charisma, a lot of luck and a very personable messenger to get much done. Even then, governing from the left, as Obama did in 2009, can turn off the independents Democrats desperately need in order to win nationwide.
Hillary Clinton is a lot of things, but I don’t know that many would list her as a charismatic voice like any of the aforementioned first-term presidents. Fair or not, she had close to 50 percent of the public viewing her unfavorably last time she ran for president. Her favorability ratings improved while she was perceived to be a non-partisan voice at the State Department, but that view of her has already started to change since she stepped down.
The other problem with her candidacy concerns her record. Name one policy success she’s had in office even though she served eight years in the Senate and then four at the State Department.
Her tenure at the State Department is devoid of success. The Arab Spring has turned into a nightmare, the “reset” with Russia has been put on “pause” and China continues to manipulate trade markets. Her supporters will argue the tragedy in Benghazi is very small, but can you name anything else she was involved with? She helped Google evacuate from China. She campaigned for President Obama in 2012. And she visited Togo. That’s not exactly a superstar record.
The first thing that comes to mind regarding her Senate record is her vote for the Iraq War. There is a lot of little stuff, but it’s not much different from the work of other decent two-term senators. Iraq is her senate legacy.
And that leaves her time as First Lady. I’m not sure how much credit she can claim for her husband’s successes while simultaneously disavowing the embarrassing aspects of his administration and gender roles in general. I’m positive Fox News has an archive of footage ready to re-acquaint Americans with Hillarycare, the Marc Rich pardon, Waco and hundreds of other questionable actions taken by the Clinton administration.
Moreover, I’m not convinced the Democratic Party is really willing to embrace the policy successes of the Bill Clinton years. Sure, they like the headlines about the economy, but I’ve yet to meet an Obama-era Democrat who thinks “the era of big government is over,” really supports the welfare reform act or wants to balance the budget.
In other words, Hillary’s the best candidate the Democrats have, but I don’t think she’s inevitable or invincible. She just doesn’t have the right resume.