I want to talk about 2016.
The upcoming presidential election has already been grist for the political rumor mill for some time. President Obama cannot run again. The Republicans will by that time have been out of the White House almost eight years. Russia and a resurgent war on terror surrounds us, even as domestic questions continue to fill our thoughts as well. The world may change even more drastically in the next two years. Who will run–and win–the office of Chief Executive in times like these?
My answer is a fairly boring one. It’s obvious, actually. From where I sit, the 2016 election is likely over the day that Hillary Clinton announces her candidacy. I say this not as an indication of my vote (one way or the other), but as a simple statement of fact.
As long as she chooses to and is able to run, Hillary Clinton is already the indisputable nominee of the Democratic Party. Even those who disagree with her or feel she may not be the best choice will be almost compelled to side with her. She’s put in her time and been a good soldier following the trainwreck of 2008. At the very least, it would seem, they’ll owe it to her.
I realize that Clinton seemed inevitable 6 years ago until Obama derailed her. But that was then and this is, well, now. She learned some important lessons through that process, and has only deepened her sense of inevitability since then. I simply cannot imagine any other Democrat offering a legitimate threat to her this time. In party circles, to oppose her would seem almost rude.
For Republicans, a Clinton nomination presents a problem. As a person who has been in the national spotlight for over twenty years, there are few issues in her life that have not been vetted thoroughly. When it comes to experience, she can boast of things no one else can: eight years in the White House, service in the Senate, and representative of America’s foreign policy in her role as Secretary of State. While each of these aspects of her political life have been critiqued and analyzed by her opponents, little of this would represent anything new. Good or bad, most people in American already know how they feel about Hillary Clinton. Take a look at this chart. While her lead in a showdown with potential Republican challengers is narrowing, it has nevertheless been a consistent one.
Politically speaking, whomever the Republicans throw against her will be facing the disadvantage of introducing themselves to America at the same time they are trying to change long-held opinions. This is a daunting task. All of the GOP options have their potential, surely. I’m just not sure that Rand Paul or Jeb Bush can do it. Mitt Romney may sound enticing to some, but he’d have a hard time overcoming the Clinton juggernaut. Even Chris Christie, who I had previously thought was the best positioned and temperamentally suited to compete with her has shown over the past season that he has his own issues to work out. Underscoring all of this, of course, is the fact that Hillary Clinton has the name, the recognition, the quantifiable body of work, and almost certainly the organization to trounce her likely opponents. If politics is a game, it is one she has played quite well these past few decades (2008 notwithstanding).
Those who feel she is a bad choice for America will try their best to stop her ascent. When she runs we’ll see the return of Benghazi and the “vast right-wing conspiracy” and the health care debate all over again. She’ll be attacked for being too old, being married to Bill, and possibly even for being a woman. For another candidate these things might spell doom. But for Hillary Clinton? That’s what she’s had to deal with this every day for years. Criticisms–legitimate and otherwise–could get lost in the shuffle.
As Clinton has through her career attempted to build a case for why she is a good choice, she represents a study in both national service and political calculation that would make Lyndon Johnson proud. Her recent efforts to critique a less-than-popular Barack Obama and distance herself from his foreign policy is only one part of this (and, should he continue to be unpopular, I suspect we’ll see a lot more distancing on other issues as well). In the end, whomever the Republicans field will have to deal with all of this…and the fact that attacking any of her choices–even undeniably bad ones–might very well get drowned out by the persistent critiques of Clinton that have been deflected and absorbed over the decades.
So–politically speaking–I say that as much as anything can be a “sure thing” two years out, Hillary Clinton is going to be our next President. Barring her decision not to run or some other miraculous chain of events, this just seems the more likely outcome.
Whether or not she’ll be a good President? That’s a good question. We’ll just have to see.