Team Obama: Hillary's making her 2008 mistakes all over again

If these comments about the nascent Hillary Clinton campaign had come from unnamed sources within the Obama White House, one might be tempted to write them off as snark, intranecine jealousies, or long memories and bruised feelings from six years ago. However, Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith gets key Obama campaign players to go on record for their public warnings about the direction they see Team Hillary taking, which makes this sound more like … intranecine fighting, to be honest:

Top advisers and former aides to Barack Obama say Hillary Clinton is repeating the mistakes she made in 2008, building a machine in lieu of a message and lumbering toward the Democratic nomination with the same deep vulnerabilities that cost her the nomination eight years earlier.

The former secretary of state has offered her tacit blessing to a series of Democratic organizations, including a draft group, Ready for Hillary, which was recently taken over by a former Clinton aide; and Priorities USA Action, the Obama super PAC repositioning itself to raise huge sums for Clinton. The moves have been effective in telegraphing to other would-be candidates that they may have a hard time raising money and building an organization, and in establishing the sense of inevitability that was central to her 2008 campaign — a perception that also backfired badly.

“I just don’t see any strategic value in stories positioning her as inevitable or the pre-emptive nominee, and I don’t think people who are out there talking about this help her, and I think she should make that clear,” said Joel Benenson, Obama’s chief campaign pollster and now the top White House pollster. “She doesn’t need this. If she decides to run for president, everybody knows she’s going to be able to raise money, everybody knows she’s going to be extremely formidable, that she’s going to have a significant network of supporters around the country — so what’s the value of all this in 2014?”

Say, isn’t this the same team that raised hundreds of millions of dollars in two election cycles? And when did they start doing that in the second election? IIRC, it was about ten seconds after Obama took the inaugural oath the first time. Well, okay, it wasn’t that quickly, but it was well before Republicans started primary campaigns in 2011, nearly two years before a President who would face no primary challengers would have to stand for re-election.

What was the message in that re-election effort? The first election’s message was “hope and change,” but I’d bet most people wouldn’t remember the second-term message without Googling it. (“Forward.” With the period, eventually.)

We’ll get back to messaging in a moment. Ben LaBolt has a more rational concern about the early launch:

“The further out front the effort to elect Sec. Clinton is three years before election day, the greater the incentive is for the press, prospective opponents, and adversarial groups to scrutinize and attack her every move,” said Ben LaBolt, the national press secretary for the 2012 Obama campaign. “Even if it is a well-known candidate — sometimes more so — activists, donors, and voters like to see candidates fighting for every vote. If they start to feel like their power and influence is diminished it could have unforeseen consequences — we learned that lesson the hard way during the New Hampshire primary in 2008.[“]

The willingness of Benenson and others to speak openly about their concerns reflects a growing consensus among Democrats that Clinton may be taking a wrong turn, something that has been much the conversation among the people — notably, advisers to Obama and to former Sen. John Edwards — who beat her seven years ago.

That’s not a bad point at all, but what’s the alternative? Everyone knows that the Clintons have been itching to return to the White House ever since the moment they left it. The early entry makes her a bigger target, but more importantly, it may keep other Democrats out of the race — although they’d have to have very short memories, given how Clinton screwed up what should have been a cakewalk in 2008.  There is another worry too, one left unspoken by critics in this piece: fundraising now may drain efforts by Democrats to keep control of the Senate. I’d bet that this is driving a lot of the concern about the early launch of these “independent” groups.

Let’s get back to messaging. The message here will be what it was in 2008 and to a lesser extent in 2012 — a chance to make history, this time by electing the first female US president. In fact, that’s all Hillary has. She has no track record of significant accomplishment in her eight years as a US Senator, and nothing at all to recommend her from her four years as Secretary of State. Even a Clinton ally like Lanny Davis couldn’t come up with a single data point in a tenure bookended by the “reset button” embarrassment and the debacle in Benghazi. Despite her outsize power in the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton is simply a weak candidate and a mediocre-at-best campaigner — and that’s why Democrats should be hitting the panic button.