Hillary Clinton should prepare herself for a dogfight - not a coronation tour
Hillary Clinton is riding high
in the betting for 2016, but this week was filled with reminders, if
they were needed, that her dream of becomingAmerica's first female
president cannot be accomplished without indignity.
Officially, Mrs Clinton is
currently enjoying her first spell outside public life for 30 years, but
in practice her undeclared campaign is already filling the vacuum left
by an increasingly marginalised and irrelevant-looking second-term
Lewinsky broke her silence of a decade, writing inVanity Fairthat she
found it "troubling" that, as she saw it, Mrs Clinton "blamed not only
me, but herself", backhandedly raising questions about the former First
Lady's moral and emotional judgment.
in Congress voted to form yet another panel to investigatethe handling
of the Benghazi attacks in which two American diplomats and two CIA
officers were killedtowards the end of Mrs Clinton's time at State.
Mrs Clinton, who
is certain to be called to testify, has already described the Benghazi
episode as her "biggest regret" while in office, and conservatives will
waste no opportunity to remind voters of a security debacle they say the
White House deliberately tried to whitewash.
Then there was
Boko Haram. Mrs Clinton's tweet drawing attention to Nigeria's kidnapped
schoolgirls under the hashtag "#BringBackOurGirls" was initially hailed
as a demonstration of her global influence, with Michelle Obama and
other influential people joining a spontaneous campaign.
were soon rushing to the television studios to point out that Mrs
Clinton had repeatedly declined to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist
organization while she was Secretary of State. Yet another attempt to
question her record.
Republican protestations to the contrary, none of these attacks are even
close to killer blows. They might play well with the party's
Hillary-hating base, but the Lewinsky scandal is old news, Benghazi has
become a partisan hobbyhorse and the Boko Haram "scandal" was actually a
decision justified at the time by a perfectly reasonable desire not to
internationalise a regional terror outfit.
All the same,
they do point to the bare-knuckle nature of the fight that lies ahead.
If Mrs Clinton decides to run for president she cannot expect to rise
above the fray as she did while serving as Secretary of State.
recently Mrs Clinton displays a distinctly lofty tone. When she came out
in favour of same-sex unions after leaving the State Department's Foggy
Bottom headquarters, she equated equality for gay marriages to her own
experience of her daughter Chelsea's marriage, adding with regal
condescension that "I wish every parent that same joy".
It is not a tone
that works well on the stump, and, as she demonstrated when flying off
the handle during earlier Benghazi hearings, and in her nasty primary
fight with Mr Obama in 2008, Mrs Clinton's record in televised debates
She may have no
serious challenger for the Democratic nomination this time - polls put
her 50 points clear of Joe Biden, the vice president and her nearest
rival - but the presidential race will always be close given the
structural divisions of modern American politics.
Try as she might
to differentiate herself, Mrs Clinton will also be running as a "third
term" president, and unless he lifts his rock-bottom approval ratings,
Mr Obama will leave her none of the foundation of popularity that Ronald
Reagan bequeathed to George H W Bush, or Bill Clinton to Al Gore (who
then squandered it).
can find a fresh, plausible candidate ruthlessly focused on improving
middle class lives rather than the Culture Wars, then Mrs Clinton will
have to struggle to explain to voters why they should embrace what
Republicans will tout as "four more years" (of failure).
All this might
explain why "Team Hillary" says she has still not made up her mind to
run. It was no more than a "a 50-50 proposition" aides toldPolitico this
week, with one "confidant" questioning whether the 66-year-old, soon to
be grandmother, wants to spend "the rest of her useful life" locked in a
protestations sound plausible, until you stop to think about it.
This is a woman,
after all, who has spent 30 unbroken years in public life - beginning as
First Lady of Arkansas after Bill's re-election as governor in 1982, and
then choosing to run for senate straight after her husband left the
White House, and shortly after, for president.
A lifetime of
drive and ambition is not so lightly put aside, which is why these
maidenly protestations are almost certainly more about Mrs Clinton's
brand management and avoiding the "inevitability" tag which hurt her
against the upstart Mr Obama in 2008, than about serious second