In case you missed the news, Hillary Clinton has sewn up the Democratic primary and is well on her way back to the White House.
Former president Bill Clinton, as the nation’s first gentleman, will have to balance curtain selections with his job as an unofficial envoy to hot spots abroad. With the 2014 midterms just months away, if political strategists and television pundits can be believed, the race is already over.
They may well be right.
It stands without question that there is no figure on the stage today that can match her political prowess, the ocean-deep resume, or her ability to tap millions in a single fundraiser. The lure of the first woman president is an appealing, not-to-be-missed opportunity in many quarters. Conventional wisdom says there is no “Barack Obama,” no little-known senator with a great American story, big ears and a funny name waiting in the wings.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is thankfully and happily storming committee hearings with corrosive, pointed questions and, although he is enjoying the spotlight for now, a potential White House bid by Vice President Joe Biden has been met with derision at best. Then too, the list of supposed republican front-runners is replete with cultural extremists, do-or-die government kidnappers who have proven that they will “shoot the hostages” without hesitation, and scandal-ridden governors praying against possible indictments.
That being said, the 2016 presidential preference primary will be no cakewalk for the former first lady and Secretary of State. Clinton ’08, and even New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s latest travails, taught me never to bank on coronations—especially those the originate inside the Beltway or on the island of Manhattan. The fact is, we shouldn’t want one. Even if the media doesn’t always agree, a competitive and spirited primary is the linchpin of a strong republic. A heated primary–within reason of course– makes for a stronger nominee.
And speaking of unreasonable, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), whose recent television appearances have been rife with ridiculous attacks on Clinton’s heretofore-unannounced candidacy, has sent a clear signal that everything is on the table. While his vicious, kitchen-sink war is nothing short of despicable, the politically seasoned, erudite Clinton has a few things to worry about and not all of them are her doing—at least not directly.
Her success is highly dependent upon, among other things, her ability to repair fissures in her own left flank, recast the narrative around the fabled Clinton political machine and turn out less-than-enthusiastic black voters.
A powerful force in 2008 and 2012–fueled by a masterful, technologically driven grassroots campaign launched by Obama for America (OFA)– today “Big Left” is locked in a battle for the very soul of the Democratic Party that can be most accurately described as a circular firing squad. There appears to be no end in sight for rancorous fights over foreign policy, healthcare and immigration. On these issues, and others, the line has been drawn in the liberal sand. And, in case you haven’t noticed, somebody doused it in gasoline and set it on fire.
If you’re looking for a “happy medium” on Edward Snowden, drone warfare, and government spying, you will be sorely disappointed. The same is true, if to a lesser degree, for single-payer healthcare advocates. Comprehensive immigration reform, a now-dead-on-arrival package wasting away in the halls of Congress, will be a dish best served hot in 2016—especially for a republican party hell-bent on killing any pathway to citizenship, while reaping the benefits of immigrant labor. Their “let them work our fields, but keep them out of the voting booth” policy proposals are designed to “split the baby” in two.
American business clearly benefits from cheap labor, but handing over amnesty almost certainly means turning some deep red states, like Texas and Georgia, bright blue with 11 million new potential voters. As Ryan Lizza correctly posits, the die may already be cast. While the actual numbers are vigorously debated, the Big Left is up in arms over the record number of deportations exacted by the Obama Administration.
And it isn’t abundantly clear where Hillary Clinton stands on any of it.
In her time away from the State Department, she has deftly evaded any attempt to nail her down on key policy positions. That’s smart politics. But, there will come a time when she will have to answer. How she answers may mean the difference between becoming the first woman Commander-In-Chief and a quiet retirement in that beautiful farmhouse in leafy, bucolic Chappaqua.
If mending left-wing rifts were not enough, the Clintons will have to deal effectively with their own political house. Together, Hillary and Bill have made powerful friends during their decades in public life. But, they’ve also made a fair number of enemies. Whether out of political expediency or a devotion to keeping the White House in democratic hands, the Clintons will have to entice and welcome back into the fold the very people they once chucked onto the roadside. Her political future may well depend on those left-for-dead political carcasses that litter the highways and byways.
What was at first an informal “gatekeeper” list, started in tiny Little Rock, Arkansas when her husband was first elected state attorney general in 1976, has now morphed into a searchable color-coded spreadsheet. Not satisfied with a more traditional slip of paper, cloaked in a breast-coat pocket, the document, secret until now, tracks the names of lawmakers, donors and even journalists who have been deemed “traitors,” and the favors previously done for them. The data project ensured that the acts of the sinners and saints would never be forgotten.
The much-ballyhooed “hit list,” first revealed in “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, assigns a numeric value to every person listed based on perceived slights and includes a “special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school.”
My political mentor once, rightly, told me, “There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies.” No one knows this better than Hillary Clinton. If she wins the presidency, or even the primary for that matter, it will be because she re-examined that “black list” and worked hard to stitch together a new alliance of uncommon friends behind a common cause.
That won’t be easy.
Hillary Clinton, it must be said, is not responsible for the full of her husband’s legacy. Senator Paul and RNC chair Reince Priebus recently lobbed head-scratching personal assaults that looked more like fear-induced muscle spasms. Priebus even went on record saying everything—including Monica Lewinsky—is fair game. They seem to believe that reminding the world (or at least the republican base) about the ’90s-era Clinton White House, and specifically Mr. Clinton’s now infamous dalliances, will somehow alienate women voters.
One has to wonder if Priebus has stopped to look at what is happening in Congress and in republican-controlled state legislatures. Since 2010, hundreds of bills aimed at limiting access to healthcare and testing the limits of Roe v. Wade have been introduced in state legislatures across the county. Facts be damned, but according to Paul, the War on Women is over. Has he listened to Rush Limbaugh lately?
But that is not to say that Mrs. Clinton will remain unscathed. After all, she wasn’t exactly baking cookies and hosting teas during her tenure as first lady. She was a surefooted, policy-making partner. Her name wasn’t on the ballot, but in 1992 the American electorate fully embraced the “2-for-1” model embodied and extolled at the time by the Clinton political machine. Hillary Clinton is certainly not her husband, but if she decides to make a second bid for the highest office in the land, she will reasonably be asked where she stood then and stands now on critical issues. It is possible, if not wholly likely, that she will have to artfully rebuke her husband.
Bill Clinton’s two-term presidency, as well as his now infamous behavior on the 2008 campaign trail, may be problematic for at least one voting block: African-Americans. What was then heralded as a victory for bi-partisanship, “triangulation” was rampant in the Clinton era. A governing strategy first articulated by then Clinton advisor Dick Morris, triangulation was not without its victims. Black voters were asked to take it on the chin.