Two magazine covers last week heralded the arrival of the fully fledged Clinton campaign-in-waiting, outing the nation’s worst-kept political secret: Clinton is considering a run for the presidency. Both tacitly urged her to jump in soon, before the excitement about the inevitability of her run becomes stale.
It all seems a little hasty. The New York Times piece, picturing Clinton’s beaming face imposed on a planet like the man in the moon in vintage children’s books, appeared to take for granted that before long – the sooner the better, if you don’t mind — Clinton will launch her presidential campaign, win the Democratic nomination, shaking off anyone who dares stand against her and, assuming that Republican candidates remain in disarray, assume her rightful place in the Oval Office.
Time magazine asked what those who learned Latin know to be a question expecting the answer no: “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?”
Their cover depicted Clinton as the heroine of the 1958 pulp movie “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.” As the giant former secretary of state’s trousered leg and high heel march off the cover right, a tiny man clings for his life to the tip of the heel, in a last desperate attempt to keep up with her hectic routine.
Again the message to Clinton was clear: We are bored (not to say disappointed) with President Barack Obama and getting increasingly impatient waiting for you to make up your mind. If you don’t launch your White House bid soon, we will start campaigning without you.
I suppose these editors calling for time on Clinton’s decision are only aping the universe parallel to the Times’s Planet Hillary — made up of PACs busily raising funds for a Clinton run just the minute she makes an announcement. There is even a PAC devoted entirely to correcting factual errors reported about Clinton. (They are going to be busy.)
We have been here before. Clinton was pronounced the “inevitable” candidate back in 2008 and just look what happened. At this stage of the 2008 race, most of us had never heard of Obama. So much for taking things for granted.
The problem with inevitability is that it often doesn’t happen. A month ago, for example, the person thought most likely to lead the GOP into the 2016 presidential race was Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, assuming – which is quite a leap — the big business Republicans who back him could have bought off the Tea Party people, who suspect him of being in favour of government.
Then came Bridgegate, one part “All the President’s Men” and two parts “The Sopranos.” Guilty or not, Christie is unlikely to come out of that in any shape to mount a strong run for the White House. So much for inevitability.
Kept in reserve, as an outside candidate if Republicans needed a good-looking, successful Republican governor with ample television experience and a well turned out wife, was Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia and his charming designer-clad consort Maureen. Now both are facing jail time for corruption.
That’s the problem with making plans. Stuff happens. And those closest to the disaster do not always see it.
In Greg Whiteley’s fascinating, if chilling, documentary “Mitt,” the former governor of Massachusetts and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is shown living in the bubble of a presidential campaign that was itself trapped within a larger bubble of his and his own family’s charmed existence.
Little wonder that, right up until the last minute, Romney failed to realize he was a loser. Incarcerated in his own complacent privilege, dabbing his dress shirt cuffs with a steaming iron, he didn’t stand a chance.
One problem of many who choose to go into politics, as well as those who comment on it, is that they have a tin ear when it comes to the general mood. In Romney’s case, this failure to catch on was made worse by those closest to him loudly cheering.
Clinton is an enigma. She was tone deaf when it came to Hillarycare, the fore-runner of Obamacare that she failed to bring to fruition. She was deaf, too, to the pounding footsteps of Obama coming up fast behind her during the 2012 primaries. But few can fault her for preparation.
Rarely has a non-incumbent presidential candidate been provided with such an advantage over not only her internal rivals but the Republicans, too. Her prestige is high, polls suggest people like her and could back her bid for the presidency, she is well funded and – as far as we know – in good health. At her side is America’s best retail politician and political strategist.
How could it all go wrong? It is that, perhaps, that stays her hand.
That and the knowledge that the minute she declares, a torrent of personal abuse will be directed at her that will re-litigate her husband’s presidency, her time as first lady, her period in the Senate, and her decision-making while secretary of state.
Clinton is wise to spare not only herself but also the rest of us from having to listen to history retold through a distorting lens for too long. She is in for a long war of attrition that would do justice to Ho Chi Minh.
If you think you are bored of hearing about Benghazi now, just wait. Then there is Monica Lewinsky, and Whitewater. No one can blame Clinton if she threw in the towel right now.
But if she is to run — and rarely has a conditional been less convincing — Clinton needs to take her time. Put off candidates within her own party by monopolizing donors. Plan for a primary season that will be short and undamaging. Above all, avoid giving off the impression that the White House is somehow owed to her or an inheritance.
So don’t be tempted by the flurry of interest this week in a Clinton run. There are going to be a lot of similar pieces putting flesh on the ghost of her campaign. However, Clinton’s decision, whenever she makes it, will have nothing to do with those who are urging her on — and everything to do with whether she thinks she can win.
Nicholas Wapshott is a Reuters columnist.