You are likely to see a lot of stories like this one in the coming years, alleging previously unreported reckless sexual behavior on the part of Bill Clinton while he was in the White House. Some rivals of Hillary Clinton will see this as a liability for her increasingly likely presidential campaign. More than a few people will recall how public sympathy for her exploded during the Lewinsky scandal, and contend these sorts of allegations actually help her; she’s soldiering on during great hardship, etc.
The years of 2015 and 2016 will feature a dramatically different political and economic environment than the late 1990s. In 1998, the country was at illusory peace (the threat of al-Qaeda was building, lurking, and beginning to strike at Americans overseas) and enjoying great prosperity, fueled largely by the dot-com bubble. A White House marriage marked by relentless, crass, and often risky philandering may seem like small potatoes in a time of economic stagnation and global instability . . . or it may seem like one more problem the country doesn’t need right now.
By themselves, tales of Bill Clinton’s affairs, past or present, won’t derail a Hillary Clinton presidential bid. But they may be a bit more baggage for a candidate who has already managed to lose a presidential race she was heavily favored to win.
Presuming he runs, Vice President Joe Biden may prove a bit more of an impediment than the early polling indicates. A Biden 2016 campaign will have a simple message, “Keep it going,” and he will pitch himself as Obama’s third term. Obama fans in the Democratic primary may buy that pitch or they may not, but it will be pretty difficult for any other Democrat to criticize Biden without implicitly criticizing the president.
No matter what the state of the country is in 2016, criticism of Obama in the Democratic primary will be rare. Think back to 2008, and how George W. Bush was rarely directly criticized by the GOP field that year. Once Obama took office, a lot of long-repressed frustration about runaway spending, coziness with Wall Street, and military interventions bubbled up from the GOP grassroots. But partisans find it extremely difficult to criticize “their guy” in the Oval Office, and they don’t want to hear it on the campaign trial.
You may see some subtle criticism of Obama and his policies, but Hillary won’t be able to make it. A governor like Martin O’Malley or Brian Schweitzer may be able to argue it’s time for a new face in Washington, or it’s time for a new generation of Democrats to step up. In 2016, Hillary will turn 68; she won’t be able to easily play the age card against then-73-year-old Biden.
Hillary’s not close enough to Obama to run on his record, but she’s not enough of an outsider to run against Washington. (Remember her foolish friends think she can be sold to the electorate as the Pope Francis of American government.)
Andrew Sullivan, of all people, points out the elephant in the room:
More importantly for me is the inability of her supporters to answer a simple question. I was having dinner with a real Clinton fan the other night, and I actually stumped him (and he’s not easily stumped). What have been Hillary Clinton’s major, signature accomplishments in her long career in public life? What did she achieve in her eight years as First Lady exactly? What stamp did she put on national policy in her time as Senator from New York? What were her defining and singular achievements as secretary-of-state?
Ben Smith’s article in BuzzFeed quotes “a former top Obama aide, who said she would like to see a woman elected but worried that Clinton doesn’t have a compelling rationale for her candidacy.”
The Democratic party of the late Obama years is the party of Elizabeth Warren, who described herself as the “intellectual godmother of Occupy Wall Street,” and the class warfare of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. By contrast, Hillary Clinton has always been very comfortable with Wall Street, telling Goldman Sachs executives in a paid speech last year that she found banker-bashing foolish. Some liberal blogs call the Clinton Foundation a factory for favor-trading and transactional politics with big corporations. It’s surprising that more Democrats with presidential ambitions aren’t licking their lips in anticipation.
The playbook to beat Hillary was executed by Obama in 2008. A lot of those same criticisms — “manufactured, untrustworthy, and a creature of forgotten Baby Boom quarrels” — are still in play for 2016.
In this Getty photograph from earlier this week, the choice of a new generation of Democrats.
UPDATE: Notice what CNN’s Peter Hamby found in Iowa:
A common theme emerged in conversations about Clinton with more than two dozen Democratic activists, strategists and elected officials during a recent winter week in Iowa: Respect for her within the party runs deep, burnished since 2008 by her tour of duty at the State Department, but widespread passion for Clinton remains wanting.
Can you win a Democratic presidential primary with just “deep respect”? Or is some passion, enthusiasm and inspiration necessary?