We’re still three years away from the 2016 general election and two and a half years from the Iowa caucus, but Hillary Clinton has already managed to grab top-rank political talent on the Left. Does she risk getting too far ahead of the pack and making herself into a punching bag for up-and-comers over the long haul? National Journal’s Jill Lawrence wonders if Hillary is peaking too soon for her own good:
Crack organizers from President Obama’s campaigns are the latest political honchos to join the Clinton-for-President movement and, like others involved, they say they are just trying to make things “Ready for Hillary” if she decides to run. But the bandwagon effect is fueling an “inevitability” narrative that damaged Clinton in 2008, and is allowing her no reprieve from politics.
The Ready for Hillary super PAC announcement of a partnership with 270 Strategies, coming on top of earlier testimonials from prominent Democrats, feeds the impression that the non-existent Clinton campaign is a runaway train about to reach top speed (albeit without an engineer at the controls). Former Clinton campaign aide Mo Elleithee says the actual significance of the new partnership is merely that “there are a lot of people that want her to run. That’s all it means. She is not in this race yet and there’s no guarantee that she ever will be.”
The early and intense focus on Clinton recalls 2008, when she was wrongly assumed to be the prohibitive frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. The constant spotlight now means Clinton remains a political target even as friends and associates say she is trying to focus on advocacy, speeches, and writing a book about her tenure as secretary of state. “What they’re doing is fantastic,” Elleithee says of Ready for Hillary, but “I do think it is adding to the hyper-politicization of every move she makes.” He says her advocacy for women, children, and families, a lifelong crusade, is more important to her right now than politics.
The addition of “crack organizers” probably gives the best hint to her thinking at the moment. Most of these people wouldn’t tie themselves to someone who’s seriously thinking of sitting out the next election cycle; they’d rather work for a presidential campaign than a legacy tour. If the Clinton organization is attracting this kind of talent, it’s for a purpose, and it’s not to polish trophies sitting on a shelf. According to Lawrence, the official decision won’t come until “late next year or early 2015,” at which point it might be too late for some of these crack organizers to find high-ranking jobs on other campaigns. If they’re joining Team Hillary, they’re likely hearing something more concrete than what’s being said publicly.
Lawrence has a point about peaking, though, and especially about making one’s self into a big target. The Republican Party isn’t the only one with a bench, after all, and the Clintons are as old news on the Left as the Bushes are on the Right. As the rest of the Obama presidency unfolds, the nostalgia for the Clinton era may rise, but politicians don’t win nominations on nostalgia — as Hillary’s last presidential campaign proved. Her tenure as Secretary of State will undergo serious scrutiny not just from Republican presidential candidates but also from Democrats looking for their shot at the brass ring. After Benghazi, Hillary won’t be able to run any more “3 AM phone call” ads skewering a lack of experience, and the probe into the obstruction of Diplomatic Service investigations may make her State experience a very inviting target on both sides of the aisle.
Generally speaking, the big frontrunners three years out from the next presidential cycle don’t pan out to be the big winners in the end. Again, one could look at Hillary herself in 2005-6 and what happened in 2008, or Joe Lieberman in 2004 after the 2000 election, or Mario Cuomo throughout the 1980s for examples of this. Voters want a candidate for the moment, not a candidate from the past when it comes to presidential elections, and it’s going to be very difficult for Clinton to sell herself as the future of the Democratic Party or the US by 2015. Realistically speaking, we probably hit Peak Hillary in 2007.