Tag Archives: Clinton; 2012

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.)

An Open Letter to Madam Secretary: Run, Hillary, Run!

(Cross-posted at Salon.com)

She won’t, of course.  But if I were a Democrat, here’s why I think she should.   (Please note the disclaimer: I’m posing as a Democrat!)

To begin, the President is in deep political trouble.  I’ve presented some basic economic indicators earlier that show the historical comparisons indicating that Obama is in Jimmy Carter territory.  These are crude measures, of course.  But more sophisticated forecast models, such as Yale economist Ray Fair’s, which uses per capita growth of real Gross Domestic Product during the three quarters preceding the election; the growth in inflation during the incumbent’s term; and the number of quarters during the incumbent’s term in which real GDP grows by more than 3.2 percent to predict the popular vote, now show Obama winning slightly less than 50% of 2012 popular vote.  Given current economic projections, there’s not likely to be any more strong growth quarters between now and November, 2012 meaning the odds for Obama’s reelection are probably not going to get better. To be sure, most of the political science forecast models don’t kick in until a year from now, so it’s a bit early to rely on them.  But if Clinton is going to run, she can’t wait.  And right now Obama is very vulnerable to a strong Republican challenger.

Of course, the fundamentals won’t change if she’s running. But note that the forecast models aren’t predicting a Republican blowout – they are forecasting a race that is, at this point, too close to call.  That means marginal changes in turnout among key groups are crucial. Here’s where Hillary has the advantage.  To begin, her stint as Secretary of State has done wonders for her approval rating, as indicated by Gallup poll surveys dating back to her time in the White House.  While the President, mired deep in the political muck of Washington politics, sees his approval falling to 40%, Hillary’s has climbed close to 70% approval – and even higher in other surveys. Yes, this is a partly an artifact of her position, which places her above the fray of domestic politics, and yes it will fall if she enters the race.  But the fact remains that her public profile has been bolstered in the last several years, and she enters the race with that advantage.  Indeed, she can use that non-partisan vantage point to frame her decision to run: it’s not about politics – it’s about the future of this country both here and abroad.

Her second advantage relates to the first:  she’s not part of the mess at home. She didn’t weigh in on the stimulus bill, or health care, or the banking overhaul, and she certainly bears no responsibility for the state of the economy.  In this respect, she’s the Obama of 2012: a candidate who can run on the promise of change, without specifying the nature of that change.  And she’s has an added advantage: years of governing experience in the White House, the Senate and most recently within the foreign policy establishment.  To be blunt, her resume outshines the incumbent’s. Meanwhile, her liabilities (the health care fiasco, Hill and Bill) have largely receded from public consciousness.  And in any case they are now dwarfed by Obama’s baggage.  In 2008,  Obama was the unsullied one. Not anymore.  Heck, even the Big Dawg has been largely rehabilitated.

This leads to a third point: buyer’s remorse.  It’s not one she can directly bring up (after all, she’s above politics), but others will certainly remind voters that she did warn you.  Remember that 3 a.m. phone call?  Remember the warning about the rose-colored petals falling from the sky?  Remember about learning on the job?  Sure you do. Doesn’t a part of you, deep down, realize she was right? If I heard it once this past week, I heard it a thousand times: you were duped by Obama’s rhetoric – the whole “hopey-changey” thing. And you wanted to be part of history too – to help break down the ultimate racial barrier.  That’s ok.  We were all young once. But now it’s time to elect someone who can play hardball, who understands how to be ruthless, who will be a real…uh….tough negotiator in office.   There won’t be any debate about Hillary’s, er, “man-package”.

All of these factors mean Hillary will appeal to precisely those voters who are most disillusioned with Obama, and who the Democrats lost in the 2010 midterms: older voters, the less educated and independents.  Moreover, she has stronger support in the key battleground states of Ohio and Florida and maybe even Pennsylvania, whose electoral votes may determine the 2012 election.  And the chance to finally put a woman in the Oval Office will energize voters in a way that Obama’s candidacy cannot.

The problem with this scenario, of course, is that it ignores a very big obstacle: the nomination fight.  The reality is that, at least until the recent debt deal, Obama continues to have strong support among Democrats.  Why should we expect Clinton to prevail in a nomination fight?  Indeed, a Gallup poll survey from last September shows Obama beating Clinton in a hypothetical nomination contest.

Politically speaking, however, that poll came out ages ago.  Since then, it has become clear that the economy is not going to rebound any time soon.  Obama’s approval ratings continue to drop, and this is before the full impact of the debt negotiations on Democratic support – particularly within Obama’s base: those Democrats with higher incomes and better education, as well as minorities and younger voters.  The other fact to remember is that despite the gaffes in Clinton’s 2008 primary run – the failure to fully contest caucus states, the mishandling of the Florida and Michigan delegates issue, she essentially fought Obama to a nomination draw.  Indeed, by some estimates she won more popular votes than he.  In the end, his nomination was secured not by winning enough delegates at the ballot box, but by gaining support from the non-elected superdelegates.  Four years later, who do you think has gained more politically among likely Democratic voters?

Make no mistake about it: a contested nomination would be a nasty, brutish spectacle. But in all likelihood the winner would come out stronger.  Think back to 2008 – despite the appeals from Obama backers that Clinton should drop out for the good of the party, she stayed in until the end – and in so doing exposed vulnerabilities in his candidacy in time for him to address them before the general election.  A primary challenge will be good for the party – it will give Democrats a real choice. It will mobilize the base. And it will expose candidate strengths and weaknesses leading into the general election.  Remember, there’s no evidence that previous primary challengers weakened incumbents.  The causal arrow runs in the other direction: incumbents like Carter in 1980 were challenged because they were already weak.  A Clinton run won’t damage Obama, and may strengthen him – if he fends her off.

And really – isn’t it time to elect a qualified woman as President? We are way behind the rest of the world in this regard.

But there’s a more important reason why Hillary should run – one that transcends party, or personal gratification, or payback, or breaking barriers.  She should run for the good of the nation.  She should run to prevent a rollback of health care, to make sure the Bush tax cuts are not renewed, to protect entitlement programs, to make sure Republicans – who are poised to regain the Senate in 2012 – don’t control all three governing institutions through 2016.  It’s not about her – it’s about the future of the country.

Madam Secretary, if you are reading this – the President is a good man who happened to be very unlucky in office.  He inherited problems of almost unprecedented severity.  But this is no time for sentiment to cloud your judgment.  You need to do what’s right.

If not now, when?  If not you, who?  The nation cries out for leadership.

Run, Hillary, Run!