Democrats are making a mistake counting so completely on Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Far be it from me to underestimate Hillary Clinton. She’s weathered scandals, tragedies, her husband’s affairs and impeachment and her own wrenching primary loss to Barack Obama to become her party’s leading 2016 presidential prospect by a mile. Make that a light-year.
Stipulate that the former secretary of state is on a different plane from most other Democrats when it comes to experience, endurance and popularity. And yet, as one damaging report after another emerges, it’s got to be asked: How dumb is it for Democrats to count so completely on this one person? What is their Plan B?
If Clinton folds under political attack or has an unexpected health emergency, absent a bigger and better field, Democrats might as well hand Republicans the White House with a bow on top.
So far nothing has stopped this woman who has lived her entire life in the arena since she was a college student, and who reportedly had this succinct response to a friend considering a run for office: “No guts, no glory.” Yet who knows what lies ahead? An unexpected problem surfaced just this week from an investigation into the fatal 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton, it turns out, did not have a government email account while she was secretary of state, according to the New York Times. She used a personal address for all government business and her email was not preserved or archived as required, raising serious transparency and security questions.
A series of news reports about foreign contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative, both while and since Clinton was secretary of state, could also be damaging. Republicans are certainly trying to make it so. “Please explain why we should accept that the millions and millions of dollars that have flowed into the Clinton Global Initiative from foreign governments doesn’t represent a conflict of interest,” GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina demanded at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week.
These early ripples could be a minor nuisance, or grow into symbolic reminders of the complicated family, friends, finances and history that are part of the Hillary Clinton package. As Politico Magazine writer Glenn Thrush put it on Twitter last week amid the stir, “After a fleeting 6.5 year hiatus Hillary Rodham Clinton has assumed her rightful place as the Democrat in the Middle of Every Sh-tstorm.”
It’s unusual for a single nonincumbent candidate to so completely dominate a field as Clinton does. Even heirs or heiresses-apparent usually encounter real competition. Sen. Gary Hart emerged as a serious threat to former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984. Four years later, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole and televangelist Pat Robertson beat Vice President George H.W. Bush in the Iowa caucuses.
Clinton has drawn three potential opponents so far in the shadow pre-campaign: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, technically an independent, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland. All would be good sparring partners for Clinton but none of them show any sign of taking off.
The rest of the bench looks empty partly because Democrats have been wiped out in recent races for Congress and governor, but mostly because Clinton has sucked up all the oxygen on the planet. The massive GOP field, by contrast, boasts more than a dozen current and former governors and senators. And they are all over TV, radio and social media, making waves and headlines. Beyond Clinton, Democrats have little comparable presence or buzz.
The party does have some solid though obscure politicians who might work as a credible Plan B, based on their experience, records, age, temperament and comfort on the national stage. The gubernatorial pickings are exceedingly slim. O’Malley would be one of my choices. I’d also include Jack Markell, formerly a telecom executive, state treasurer and chairman of the National Governors Association. What, you’ve never heard of him? That’s because he’s the governor of Delaware.
Senate possibilities start with Tim Kaine, a Spanish-speaking former Virginia governor, former Democratic National Committee chairman and prime vice presidential prospect, and Patty Murray of Washington state, a top member of the Democratic leadership and two-time chair of the party’s Senate campaign committee, who has demonstrated she can bargain hard and cut a deal. There are also people like Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who have signaled interest in higher visibility but aren’t national figures. Speaking of which, I have my doubts about Elizabeth Warren as a presidential candidate, but she’s a publicity magnet and there’s no let-up among her fans on the left, so add her to the list if you must.
And there must be a list. Conservatives have correctly discerned that Clinton is the Democrats’ indispensable woman. “If she dies, they’ll probably have to stuff her and run her anyway,” David Keene, former president of the National Rifle Association, said in an MSNBC story. Shocked? Don’t be. As things stand now, he’s right.