She’s been playing this game for months. “I’d like to be president,” she said in October, stressing that “the work would be work that I feel very well prepared for having been at the Senate for eight years, having been a diplomat in the State Department.” She said she’d think about her role in the party after the midterms — but added that no, she wasn’t running. Did that mean she wasn’t running at the moment or that she wouldn’t run? Her spokesman pointed to that “no” when reporters came calling, seemingly closing the door on Hillary 2020.
Then, last week, the NYT reported that “Mrs. Clinton has given the impression that she harbors a faint hope she could still become president one day. In private conversations, she occasionally muses about an opening, according to some who have spoken with her, sounding more wistful than realistic.” She was asked about that on Monday and shot it down again. “I’m not running, but I’m going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe,” she told a New Jersey television. So there you go. The Clinton era is over.
Or is it? Today brings the inevitable walkback of that latest denial. Even for Hillary, this is pretty Hillary:
The person also says she is extremely unlikely to run, but that she remains bothered that she’s expected to close the door on it when, say, John Kerry isn’t. She has told her team she is waiting at least to see the Mueller report. 2/2
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 6, 2019
The reason she’s expected to close the door when Kerry isn’t has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman, which this complaint obviously implies, and everything to do with the fact that she has a following and Kerry doesn’t. No one cares if he runs; he’s the oldest of old news, no threat to the Democratic top tier in the long run. (In the short run, he might show up in the polls purely by dint of name recognition.) Kerry doesn’t have the same network of friends within the party as the Clintons who can deliver infrastructure and money instantly if he wants to run. Nor does he have the “it’s her turn”/”it’s our turn” trailblazer appeal of Clinton’s bid to become the first woman president. She’s a factor in the race if she runs, he isn’t. That’s why people are eager for a clear answer from her.
The last line in Haberman’s tweets is the most interesting, that Clinton is waiting on the Mueller report. What if Mueller makes the Resistance’s dreams come true and flatly accuses Trump and his inner circle of an extensive conspiracy with the Russians in 2016? There’s no scenario in which he’ll allege that Clinton would have or should have won if not for Russian influence, but logically the more sophisticated the plot to influence the election was, the more Clinton voters will claim that the outcome was a fraud, that they were cheated, and that she was cheated. Some of those voters will insist that the only way to deliver justice for Hillary at this point is to renominate her and give her another chance to make history at Trump’s expense.
How much would that argument resonate? Not at all with Berniebros, I realize, but what about the majority of the party? Emailgate will feel like even older news than John Kerry by next year. How many Kamala Harris or Amy Klobuchar — or Joe Biden — voters would decide that Clinton, although flawed, was stronger than the tainted 2016 results suggested and that she’s likely to win this time in a fairer fight?
Not many, I think. The Democratic nomination isn’t a consolation prize. The party’s not going to renominate her as a matter of “justice.” Voters will play what they deem to be to their strongest hand against Trump and it’s all but impossible to argue that someone capable of making the “blue wall” in the midwest a toss-up, even with Russia working against her, is their strongest hand. It’s not as if all of Clinton’s weaknesses have faded with time, after all: #MeToo-themed attacks on Bill and on Hillary for enabling him would likely be harsher this time than they were last time. And the idea of a dynastic politician trying to monopolize the party’s presidential nomination after winning it three years ago on grounds that “it’s her turn” would, I’d guess, irritate anti-Clintonites even more than her 2016 victory did. At what point do you write off someone who’s lost not one but two national elections in the span of eight years, one within her own party and the other among the national electorate? We’re at that point, I’d bet.