The start of the 2016 presidential primary season is at least 16 months away, which means that it’s almost too late for Democrats to think about running for President. At least, that’s what Politico’s Alexander Burns suggests — tongue in cheek, no doubt — in his look at potential Democratic contenders whose names don’t sound like, er, Dillary Dinton. A few Democrats haven’t gotten the memo (from 2006?) that 2016 will be a coronation of Hillary Clinton, and are starting to take the first tenuous steps to making the primary a challenge:
But with the next Iowa caucuses a mere 29 or so months away, other, lesser-known Democrats have begun to take tentative steps to raise their national profiles. Last week, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley ventured outside his home state to stump for Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s Senate campaign in New Jersey. This Friday, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a well-liked and quick-witted Democrat* in her second term, will speak at the North Iowa Democrats’ 10th Annual Wing Ding Dinner. The AP reported this week that New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has just inked a book deal to write “a memoir and a call to action for women.”
And on Sept. 15, both Vice President Joe Biden — no stranger to the voters, or to the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Circuit — and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will both speak at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry, a traditional stop on the road to a presidential primary campaign.
For any non-Clinton Democrat, exploring the 2016 election is something of an exercise in perceived futility, at least for the moment. She looms larger over the primary landscape than any undeclared candidate since perhaps Dwight Eisenhower, and the drop-off in prominence between her and the next tier of Democrats makes it all but impossible for any less famous politician to win consideration as a credible alternative.
That is, unless Clinton doesn’t run.
Or unless she does, and fares as well as she did in 2007-8. The continuing perception of Hillary’s inevitability is simply mystifying. The media had the exact same perception of her at this stage of the 2008 cycle and almost all the way through 2007 until the primaries actually began. At that time, she was just six years past the end of her popular husband’s administration and six years into a Senate career that gave her a separate political identity, plus the Clinton machine was in full stride.
Even with all of that going for her, she lost to a first-term Senate backbencher with an utterly unremarkable career outside of a few speeches. Now Hillary has four years as Secretary of State shepherding a failed foreign policy, which ended on the collapse of an under-protected diplomatic facility in Benghazi that got attacked by terrorist forces unleashed by the Obama administration’s ill-advised intervention in Libya. She will be 69 years old and her husband’s presidency will be as relevant to the electorate as Eisenhower’s was to the Jimmy Carter electorate — literally, with 16 years separating them.
If Hillary proves that invincible, it will be a measure of the rest of the field, and not her. Consider the candidates described by Burns in this article. We have only one governor, Martin O’Malley, who’s not exactly known for his charm and wit. There are two second-term Senators, neither of whom have exerted any kind of leadership within their own party. Next we get the mayor of San Antonio as a presidential contender? What’s next, an Assemblyman from California? Other than O’Malley, the only really legit contender mentioned is Joe Biden, who also lost to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2007-8.
Perhaps this New York Times report on the disarray at the Clinton foundation might encourage a few more Democrats to test the waters:
Worried that the foundation’s operating revenues depend too heavily on Mr. Clinton’s nonstop fund-raising, the three Clintons are embarking on a drive to raise an endowment of as much as $250 million, with events already scheduled in the Hamptons and London. And after years of relying on Bruce R. Lindsey, the former White House counsel whose friendship with Mr. Clinton stretches back decades, to run the organization while living part-time in Arkansas, the family has hired a New York-based chief executive with a background in management consulting.
“We’re trying to institutionalize the foundation so that it will be here long after the lives of any of us,” Mr. Lindsey said. “That’s our challenge and that is what we are trying to address.”
But the changing of the guard has aggravated long-simmering tensions within the former first family’s inner circle as the foundation tries to juggle the political and philanthropic ambitions of a former president, a potential future president, and their increasingly visible daughter.
And efforts to insulate the foundation from potential conflicts have highlighted just how difficult it can be to disentangle the Clintons’ charity work from Mr. Clinton’s moneymaking ventures and Mrs. Clinton’s political future, according to interviews with more than two dozen former and current foundation employees, donors and advisers to the family. Nearly all of them declined to speak for attribution, citing their unwillingness to alienate the Clinton family.
The Telegraph calls this “devastating”:
The NYT runs the scoop in its usual balanced, inoffensive way – but the problem jumps right off the page. The Clintons have never been able to separate the impulses to help others and to help themselves, turning noble philanthropic ventures into glitzy, costly promos for some future campaign (can you remember a time in human history when a Clinton wasn’t running for office?). And their “Ain’t I Great?!” ethos attracts the rich and powerful with such naked abandon that it ends up compromising whatever moral crusade they happen to have endorsed that month. That the Clinton Global Initiative is alleged to have bought Natalie Portman a first-class ticket for her and her dog to attend an event in 2009 is the tip of the iceberg. More troubling is that businessmen have been able to expand the profile of their companies by working generously alongside the Clinton Foundation. …
The cynical might infer from the NYT piece that the Clintons are willing to sell themselves, their image, and even their Foundation’s reputation in exchange for money to finance their personal projects. In Bill’s case, saving the world. In Hillary’s case, maybe, running for president.
It’s nothing new to report that there’s an unhealthy relationship in America between money and politics, but it’s there all the same. While the little people are getting hit with Obamacare, high taxes and joblessness, a class of businessmen enjoys ready access to politicians of both Left and Right that poses troubling questions for how the republic can continue to call itself a democracy so long as it functions as an aristocracy of the monied. Part of the reason why America’s elites get away with it is becuase they employ such fantastic salesmen. For too long now, Bill Clinton has pitched himself, almost without question, as a homespun populist: the Boy from Hope. The reality is that this is a man who – in May 1993 – prevented other planes from landing at LAX for 90 minues while he got a haircut from a Beverley Hills hairdresser aboard Air Force One. The Clintons are populists in the same way that Barack Obama is a Nobel prize winner. Oh, wait…
Don’t expect Hillary to waltz through a coronation, in other words. Just like 2007-8.
Addendum: Klobuchar is personally well-liked, and for good reason; she’s a genuinely nice person. I’ve met her and chatted briefly with her twice. But that’s not the same thing as political charisma, which few Minnesota politicians have, and neither Klobuchar nor Al Franken are an exception to that rule. She succeeds in Minnesota where voters like their politicians to be boring and competent, but she’s not going to garner much support anywhere else.