We have a long time go to until the 2016 presidential election, but political reporting in this country is obsessed with presidential elections and we are going to continue to see a lot of stories centered around the media’s pick as front runners. As I discussed yesterday, Hillary Clinton is a stronger front runner for her party’s nomination than Chris Christie, especially following the recent scandal.It is notable that early front runners rarely win the Democratic nomination, excluding sitting presidents and sometimes the last vice president. While Hillary Clinton is currently in a strong position to overcome the obstacles faced by front runners, she faces problems including the desire of the media to run “man bites dog” stories and highlight any potential political liability. The media will concentrate on a variety of ABC stories (Anyone But Christie and Anyone But Clinton.
There are two stories along these lines today. Michael Crowley has written about Clinton’s hawkish views, which many Democratic voters are likely to disagree with:
As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues—Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid—Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.
Former administration officials also tell TIME that Clinton was an advocate for maintaining a residual troop force after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq—an issue of renewed interest given al Qaeda’s resurgence there. They also describe her as skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, and firmly opposed to talk of a “containment” policy that would be an alternative to military action should negotiations with Tehran fail.
Recent comparisons of Secretary of State John Kerry’s frenetic globe-trotting to Clinton’s arguably modest diplomatic achievements have tended to overlook this less visible aspect of her tenure. But no assessment of her time in Obama’s administration would be complete without noting the way Clinton hewed to the liberal hawk philosophy she adopted during her husband’s presidency in the 1990s, and which contributed, less happily, to her 2002 vote to authorize force against Iraq. “The Democratic party has two wings—a pacifist wing and a Scoop Jackson wing. And I think she is clearly in the Scoop Jackson wing,” says former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, now director of the Wilson Center. (Jackson, a Cold War-era Democratic Senator from Washington state, mixed progressive domestic politics with staunch anti-communism, support for a strong military, and backing for the Vietnam War.)
But at a time when fewer Americans support an active U.S. role in foreign affairs, Clinton’s comfort with the harder side of American power could be a vulnerability. A liberal primary challenger might well reprise Barack Obama’s 2007 line that Hillary’s record amounts to “Bush-Cheney lite.” One potential contender, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, has already been zinging her over her 2002 Iraq vote. “When George Bush got a bunch of [Democrats] to vote for that war, I was just shaking my head in Montana,” he said recently. Whether such attacks will hold even a fraction of the valence they did at the Iraq war’s peak remains to be seen.
Yet despite having the Democratic establishment at her back, there remains a palpable sense of unease with Clinton in grass-roots corners of the party, even as those very same activists promise to support her if no one else runs.
Part of that restraint is ideological. Iowa’s Democratic caucus-goers remain as dovish as they were in 2008, when Clinton’s support for the Iraq war badly damaged her standing on the left. Clinton helped wind down that same war as Obama’s secretary of state, but she is now linked to his national security apparatus, which has expanded drone attacks overseas and broadened intelligence gathering with controversial surveillance and data collection techniques.
And at a time when progressives feel emboldened to confront issues like income inequality and wage stagnation, Clinton, who delivered paid speeches last year to two prominent private equity firms as well as a group that actively lobbied against the Affordable Care Act, is perceived by some as too close to the deficit-obsessed worlds of Wall Street and official Washington…
Clinton is also susceptible to some of the same whimsical Democratic impulses that propelled Obama to his stunning Iowa victory in 2008. “Democrats love an underdog and we love a story,” is how Meyer put it. With a gleaming resume and the potential to make history as the country’s first female president, Clinton has a powerful story to tell. But she is hardly an underdog.
Some party leaders warned Clinton against reprising the same kind of heavy-handed front-running behavior that rankled so many Iowa activists — not to mention the media — during her 2008 effort.
“I don’t know if she has learned that lesson,” said Jean Pardee, the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2nd District vice chair. “The problem with so much of her staff was that they were all sort of higher class than the mere peasants that they had to campaign with. Everyone was kept at arm’s length by the staff, although a couple of key ones were pretty good. That’s a lesson that should be hopefully learned. But when it comes to human nature, maybe that’s not possible.”
Clinton must also confront the who’s-on-deck inclinations of the Democratic caucus-goer. Unlike Republicans, who have a habit of nominating loyal soldiers who have waited for their turn, Iowa Democrats have a tendency to search for someone new. The last time the party nominated an obvious heir-apparent was 2000, but Al Gore first had to beat back an unexpectedly fierce primary challenge from Bill Bradley on the left.
George Appleby, an attorney and lobbyist in Des Moines who supported Bradley and copped to a “pristine record of picking the wrong guy” in every caucus since 1976 until he backed Obama in 2008, described Clinton as “strong” and “brilliant.”
But he said liberals are suffering from an acute case of “Clinton fatigue.” He named O’Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Secretary of State John Kerry, the 2004 Iowa caucus winner, as Democrats he’s keeping an eye on.
“Hillary would make a great president,” Appleby said. “She is the odds-on-favorite. But I don’t think she is necessarily going to be the nominee, or going to win Iowa. Sometimes people have been around forever, and there is time for some new blood.”
I’ve previously expressed my preference for current Secretary of State John Kerry over his predecessor and found it interesting to actually see his name come up as a possibility. Unfortunately I find it unlikely he can repeat what Richard Nixon did in the Republican Party, and in a different era, and win the Democratic nomination after once losing the presidency. He loses out on the “tendency to search for someone new.”
In addition, it is difficulty to run while being Secretary of State. He cannot campaign for other members of his party as Nixon did to obtain support. Nor can he participate in the current “invisible primary” to raise money and develop the framework of a campaign. I can only see two possible ways that Kerry can win the Democratic nomination. One would be if he does something major of historical proportions, such as succeeding in his attempts to broker a peace agreement in the middle east. This would also have to occur early enough for Kerry to then step down and actually run. The other would be if Clinton either decides not to run, or her campaign is seriously derailed, and nobody is able to win enough support to make a credible front runner. The chances of stopping Clinton would be better if another liberal candidate could obtain sufficient support to make a serious run, and at this point I don’t see anyone doing this. Any chance Al Gore is still interested? There is a long way to go and perhaps we will see some new blood.