Saturday at CPAC, I warned Republicans that a contest between Bush nostalgia and Clinton nostalgia in a 2016 presidential race would not turn out well for the GOP. This week, it’s not turning out well for Democrats either, and they’re beginning to hit the panic button over it. Hillary Clinton tried defusing the emerging scandal over her disregard for both the Federal Records Act and the security of her communications as Secretary of State by declaring that she’s fully behind the idea of transparency. However, ABC’s Jon Karl reminds Twitter that access to the e-mails Hillary provided State will take “several months” — and will be the pre-sanitized set anyway:
“People will have to trust that she has turned over all relevant documents to the State Department.” Well, that’s why we have the Federal Records Act in the first place — because we can’t just “trust” officials to act in an aboveboard manner when it comes to accountability. Hillary evaded and violated that law because she didn’t want to be held accountable for her actions in an official capacity as a high-ranking official in the executive branch. Her actions in evading official e-mail systems make it obvious that she can’t be trusted now, or in the future.
For Democrats looking at the 2016 election landscape, this sense of déjà vu provides them with a belated reminder of what the Clinton years — and the Clintons themselves — were really like. Their golden age turns out to have a lot of tarnish, and now they’re looking for an exit strategy or at least some options, according to The Hill:
They worry that the flap is just the latest example of the former first lady’s “bunker mentality” — a decades-long tendency toward secrecy that, more often than not, has blown up in her face.
Some within the party also contend that the controversy has been poorly handled by Clinton’s team, intensifying fears that she has not learned the right lessons from her famously fractious 2008 White House bid.
One Democratic strategist, who asked not to be identified, complained that the email embarrassment was a by-product of “a cadre of enablers around her, and no one has the strength to say to her, ‘We can’t do this.’ ”
Democratic nerves are even more jumpy, according to the strategist, because the story is breaking just as people are expecting Clinton to launch her presidential campaign.
“We’re probably a month or so away [from the campaign launch] and if this is not handled really well within the next three to six weeks, you’re going to see chatter among Democratic operatives saying, ‘Maybe we need another person in this race.’ And that is really problematic.”
Problematic? Well … yeah. Democrats don’t have many options, as they’ve all but conceded the nomination to Hillary for months, if not for the past three years. In part, that’s because the Democratic bench is exceedingly thin:
But as they survey the landscape, few Democrats see other credible contenders.
“The problem is, there’s nobody out there who’s not Clinton who’s the equivalent of Barack Obama,” said Larry Drake, chairman of the Portsmouth Democrats in New Hampshire. “He was a fresh face … and he gave great speeches and he turned out to be electable.”
The angst among Democrats offers new evidence that opportunities remain for other candidates despite Clinton’s commanding lead in early polls. H. Boyd Brown, a member of the Democratic National Committee from South Carolina who supports former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, said Clinton will not wear well as Democrats are exposed to a continuing drumbeat of press scrutiny.
“Nobody down here wants a coronation,” Brown said. “We need options. Who knows what could happen. It’s always good to have more than one candidate running.”
“Those aren’t some tabloid scandals,”he said of the Clinton controversies. “Those are job-related, national-security-related issues that matter.”
The problem, as I write in my column for The Fiscal Times today, is that Hillary has already framed herself as the “indispensable woman,” as Jill Lawrence put it earlier this week, and pre-empted most legitimate contenders from jumping in against her:
Still, what choice do they have? At the moment, that’s literally the question. US News’ Jill Lawrence took Democrats to task this week for relying so completely on Hillary Clinton, but also acknowledged that several cycles of losses at the federal and state levels have left Democrats with a lot fewer options.
Even those legitimate options have yet to put themselves forward, perhaps worried about the powerful Clinton machine and interfering with the “it’s time for a woman President” argument. The only Democrats indicating any interest are former one-term Senator James Webb and self-identified socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. They are both older than Clinton, who will be 69 in 2016. Governors Martin O’Malley and Jack Markell can’t check off the diversity box that Hillary’s argument creates. Those who do all come from the Senate and have no executive experience – a situation that will remind voters of 2008, and not in a good way.
Hillary has made herself, as Lawrence writes, “the indispensable woman,” and Clinton nostalgia the unavoidable theme for Democrats in 2016. Unfortunately for them, they’re discovering the audacity of Clintonian opacity, which has a very long track record that extends to the present moment.
As long as the Clintons maintain their hold on the Democratic establishment, they will be stuck with a damaged and damaging party leader – and give Republicans a perfect opening for a young, engaging outsider to play the part of Bill Clinton in a mirror image of the 1992 election. That may end up being the worst kind of déjà vu in 2016.
The question, therefore, isn’t whether anyone will run against Hillary. It’s whether she’ll withdraw to allow for some competition for the Democratic nomination. As long as she stays in, the Democrats are stuck — and the Clintons are not the shy and retiring types.
On the other hand, CNN’s Peter Hamby thinks that Democrats in some key states may have had enough:
We’ll see. It’s not so much that Hillary’s beloved, but that the alternatives are few, and not terribly compelling.