Draft Hillary Movement Goes International! (Sort of)

First France.  Now Canada.  The “draft Hillary” campaign that I am now accused of sparking is apparently gaining traction in all the places where no one can vote for her.  Evidently that’s the kind of influence I have – a pariah at home, prophet abroad.  Yesterday, I appeared on the Arlene Bynon Show, a Toronto-based radio talk show, to discuss the “growing draft Hillary movement”. (Note that the audio link is listed under Monday, August 16. Must be based on the Canadian calendar!)  In that interview, she asked a very interesting question: what would it take to persuade Hillary to jump into the race?  I should begin by reminding everyone that I don’t think that she will get into the race, nor am I personally advocating a Clinton challenge.  (For those who haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an analyst, not a partisan advocate.)  The original post that started all this was based on conversations with Democrats, many of whom were making the argument that she should run.  In that post I tried to lay out the scenario that would justify that decision.   The primary one, as I discussed with Bynon, is the calculation that Obama can’t win in 2012, and that she would have a better chance of keeping the White House in Democrat’s hands.  We can (and have) debated whether that is true.

But Bynon’s question got me thinking: what would be the logistical hurdles a Clinton challenge must overcome? In contemplating this question, it becomes immediately clear that she faces complications that previous intra-party challengers to incumbent presidents did not.  To begin, she is part of Obama’s administration.  When Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter in 1980, he was a sitting Senator and sometime administration critic. Four years earlier, Ronald Reagan was an ex-Governor with national stature but no official public position when he took on the “accidental president” Gerald Ford.  In 1992, Pat Buchanan was a media personality with a reputation for “pitchfork” American-first politics at odds with President George H. W. Bush’s more internationalist “new world order” foreign policy. If we go back further, to 1968, both Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy were senators who turned against the Vietnam War when they launched their bids for the presidency held by Lyndon Johnson.

As Secretary of State, Clinton faces a different challenge. Presumably launching a candidacy would involve a two-step process – resigning from Obama’s administration and announcing she was taking him on.  Taking the first step would generate immediate speculation about the second, so she would in all likelihood combine them both into a single media bombshell announcement.  “I am stepping down today to announce…” In that speech she would have to explain why, as a member of the Obama team, loyalty demanded that she not express the deep dissatisfaction that was now fueling her run.  Could she pull off this delicate political pivot?  Jon Huntsman has had to perform a similar two-step, with results still pending.  If Clinton is truly committed to running, I don’t think this additional complication would be an impediment to winning, although some opponents would certainly cite it as a form of political “backstabbing.”  But my guess is it wouldn’t cost her the votes of people who would otherwise be inclined to support her.

One reader laid out another factor that might be necessary for Clinton to run: a Democratic stalking horse.  If another Democrat launched a bid against Obama – say a Kucinich, or Feingold – that might provide political cover for Clinton to jump in.  A similar dynamic drove RFK’s decision in 1968; he formally entered only after McCarthy’s second-place finish to LBJ in the NH primary demonstrated that the President was vulnerable.

There is also the timing issue. When would Clinton have to announce?  Reagan, Kennedy and Buchanan all launched their bids about a year before the general election: Reagan in November 1975, Kennedy in November, 1979 and Buchanan in December, 1991.  That gave them 10-15 weeks to gear up for the New Hampshire primary.  In contrast, under the pre-primary, convention-dominated nomination process, Robert Kennedy could afford to wait much longer before entering the 1968 race, since he was courting party leaders who controlled blocs of delegates more than issue activists that voted in primaries. Given the front-loading of the current nomination process, and the need to put together a funding infrastructure, I would guess Clinton would have to declare at least as early as did Reagan, Ted Kennedy or Buchanan – that is, no later than December, 2011.

So, what would it take for Clinton to run?  Here’s the hypothetical scenario. Sometime in the next two months, a progressive Democrat needs to jump into the race, perhaps emboldened by a drop in Obama’s approval ratings into the mid-30% level.  Meanwhile, despite the President’s nationwide September “jobs” speech, third-quarter employment figures come back showing little-to-no job growth.  Then the joint budget committee releases a deficit reduction plan that calls for deep spending cuts, including entitlement reform based in part on pushing back eligibility dates which are interpreted by the Democratic Left as de facto benefit cuts.  Meanwhile, Syria and Libya continue to burn, while a rise in violence in Iraq leads the government there to petition for an extension of the U.S. military presence.  These events don’t need to unfold exactly like this, or in this exact sequence, but you get the picture.

Would this convince Clinton to throw her pantsuit into the ring?  I doubt it.  But evidently what I think no longer matters (if it ever did) – the “Draft Hillary” movement has gone international!  Will the U.S. be next?  Stay tuned, and keep those comments coming.

(Note to Readers: I’m on deadline with a couple of papers, so will be posting shorter pieces in the next couple of weeks.)

9 comments

  1. I still can’t see any reason for it. It’s fine that you support HRC. It doesn’t pass the straight-face test with me.

    You explain well the constraints Obama is under. He can’t pull many levers on jobs. HRC has the same politics. So the reason she does better or has a better shot is??? Also, Obama has a huge war chest and nobody can say he’s not a great politician.

    And it already happened in 2008. That’s the big problem. It simultaneously says “We picked the wrong candidate AND we still only have two to choose from in the whole country so here’s the loser from last time.” And, yes, HRC was the loser and I don’t see why she transforms into a winner all of a sudden.

    And wouldn’t essentially every Congress person back Obama? So then HRC (as political royalty) runs as some “outsider” crashing the gates???

    This is through the looking glass.

  2. Hillary announced several months ago — perhaps at the beginning of the year? — that she would not serve as SoS in a second Obama Administration, so the various mechanics involved in one SoS leaving and a new SoS coming onboard are already at play.

    I doubt very much that fundraising and putting together an operation would be as difficult for her as it would for someone else. The massive groundwork — and donor base — was laid in 2008 and, with the escalating sense of keen dissatisfaction in the Base as well as with Independents and Moderates with Obama probably making it larger than it was.

    Any cries of political backstabbing could easily be answered via Obama’s unfortunate history of throwing mentors/supporters under the bus re: Alice Palmer, Shirley Sherrod, etc. I also suspect, if Obama is limping badly enough to warrant a Primary Challenge, most wouldn’t care about the personal politics of it. They’d just want a strong Democrat to vote for!

    When it comes to not expressing her deep dissatisfaction with the Administration while serving in it, most would understand that’s not something she could have done — in fact, many might appreciate her sense of loyalty with what must have been an untenable situation — while others would accept her NOT deciding to serve under a second Obama Administration as a clear message of her unhappiness.

    She could also say that, in seeing where the Country has gone the last four years and, from the inside, seeing how problems were handled or addressed — or not handled or addressed –, she felt it was time to step up to the plate and give the American People and fellow Democrats a choice: more of the same under Obama — including a shocking threat to “entitlement” programs –, the nightmare of a Tea Party-beholden President, or someone who’s had a life of public service, a history of supporting and assisting those who struggle (from as far back as her days as the First Lady of Arkansas), a wealth of experience, and the backbone to face down the Republicans, again, and win.

    The Clintons are, if anything, political animals, something I believe we need in the Oval Office to help stem the tide of extremism coming from the Right. All these thoughts, and more, have probably already gone through their minds long before this Post and my Reply.

    In fact, any Primary Challenge, if it’s going to happen, is probably already in the works.

  3. Adam. Read the post again. I am agnostic when it comes to whether she should run. I am on record as saying she will not run.

    As for your points, Hillary’s defenders will likely respond with some variation of the following:

    a. We certainly can say he’s not a great politician. Otherwise he wouldn’t be at 40% approval and trending down, and he wouldn’t have accepted a debt deal that didn’t include revenue increases and would have closed Guantanamo and not escalated in Afghanistan and would be closing down military commissions, etc.
    b. Clinton pulled more popular votes than did Obama in 2008 and fought him to a virtual draw. Since then she has become stronger, he’s become weaker. We picked the wrong candidate in 2008. Now we get a do-over. This time we get it right.
    c. Who cares how many [Democratic] congressman back Obama now? They are a minority in the House. They don’t influence election outcomes.

    You can (and already have) debated the merits of these points. But I suspect you won’t sway her supporters.

  4. Adam, if I may,

    You’re ignoring the political reality Obama is facing. There are many, many, many people who voted for him who now wish they had voted for Hillary. In fact, in a poll in 2010, I believe, those who responded found HER more Presidential than HIM! So, although you may consider Hillary the “loser” in 2008 — a contest that basically ended up in a draw with him winning the early caucuses and her winning every major large State Primary (except for Illinois, of course) –, there are a lot of people who are feeling a keen sense of buyer’s remorse and would relish the opportunity to “put it right”, so to speak, by putting a strong Democrat in the WH.

    As for people saying, in essence, “we picked the wrong candidate”, that’s already being said and continues to be said — and loudly — in Voter circles for at least two years. I doubt that will be a strong enough incentive to not vote for Hillary should she decide to run.

    When it comes to Obama’s “huge war chest” and him being a “great politician”, his war chest is currently not what it should be. The fundraising numbers are decidedly down from the numbers he was averaging at this time in 2008 with Wall Street, despite the bailout, all but abandoning him.

    As for the “great politician” moniker, I don’t know if that would be something many would agree with right now. The prevailing sentiment seems to be he’s weak, he capitulates too soon and offers too much, he’s tone deaf to the needs of the Average American (the dread out of touch label comes up a lot), has an irritating habit of negotiating behind the back of his Party, and the much vaunted rhetoric of 2008 has been replaced by a tendency to offer grating professorial platitudes backed by little action.

    The Congressperson question is interesting. It really depends on who is polling better in their District and who can raise the most cash with a personal appearance. If Obama polls better and rakes in some strong re-election dollars, then he gets their support. But if Obama is persona non grata with the locals — and his poll numbers as well as the general sentiment right now indicates he may well be –, and Hillary is the Democratic Leader they want to see and who puts the butts in the fundraising seats, then they’ll go with her.

    Whether or not it actually happens, a Hillary Clinton Primary Challenge could work on a lot of different and surprising political levels.

    That’s how politics works.

  5. Hey Adam

    I can say he´s no great politician and the LOSERS were the country! What´s wrong with admitting we picked the wrong candidate and now want the one we SHOULD have voted for. I´m one of those older¨ white women everyone is talking about. Perhaps we support Hillary because we know that while an inexperienced man can be attractive, captivating and sexy perhaps, we date them, we don´t elect them¨to President of the United States. Of course I had to vote for him…Palin was horrifying…a heartbeat away?

    He´s inexperienced and it shows. He should have started with jobs even though he said he would do healthcare and he should not have caved…much less bent over. He is a huge disappointment and I think Hillary should do the resign and I´m running speech ASAP.

  6. Perhaps, but you don’t see me wearing a plastic boot because of a minor ankle sprain. What good is juicing if you can’t play?

  7. We need problem-solving more than either ideology or speech-giving. There is a consensus path to fixing things but it doesn’t look to me like any of the current candidates in either party have the combination of skills to get the country to follow that course. Hillary’s it-takes-a-village approach and basic competence would seem to be a great mix right now.

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