Hillary Clinton says she no longer has ambitions of becoming the nation’s chief executive. But does anyone really believe her?
Her attempt to place herself at the head of the 2020 Democratic field in 2018 was a disaster. So was her “talking tour” with her husband Bill in 2019. Top Democrats urged her to renounce further effort to ingratiate herself with the voters.
It’s time to move on, they said.
But Hillary has never moved on. She still thinks she won the presidency, largely because of her 3 million popular vote margin. Her victory, she thinks, was “stolen” from her.
In 2020, she’d love to be “restored” to her rightful throne, and she’s still hoping that Democrats and the country as a whole will see the light.
The scary thing is, it could well happen.
One reason is the party’s deep ideological divide, which is growing worse. In the Obama years, the left and the center of the party largely held together. The left was sometimes frustrated but never too frustrated to walk away. And Obama remained a comforting reassurance to Wall Street.
But now, candidates like Elizabeth Warren are scaring the corporate chieftains. The word is spreading that they might back Trump if Warren becomes the Democratic nominee.
Warren’s surge would not be so troubling if it didn’t point to the weakness of the current Democratic front-runner, Joe Biden.
Biden is holding on to Black voters and older voters and states like South Carolina are considered his firewall should he fail to win in Iowa or New Hampshire – or both.
But the Democrat’s impeachment drive will invariably expose Biden to greater scrutiny over his role with his son in Ukraine. Biden may not have broken any laws but appearances count. The more Biden’s cronyism seems to look like Trump’s, the less positive an alternative he will seem
There’s also the age factor. Biden, like Sanders and even Warren, is getting old and it clearly shows. Clinton is younger and still represents the Baby Boomer generation. She’s old enough to reassure older voters but young enough to appeal to at least some millennials.
Clinton’s undoubtedly a shape-shifter, which many counted against her in 2016. But that could be a huge asset in 2020. She may be the only figure in the party that can keep Wall Street happy and still have credible appeal to working-class voters.
Kirsten Gillibrand, who many considered Hillary 2.0, fizzled because she wasn’t a credible bridge builder. Clinton spent years in the trenches earning the support and loyalty of figures like Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers. She has real roots in the Hispanic community, especially among Latinas, who adore her
Clinton’s already involved in behind-the-scenes discussions with some of the top candidates, most recently Warren. No one wants to be seen with her but they all want to know what she’s thinking and whether they might count on her support – including access to her key campaign “bundlers”– down the road.
In addition, a bevy of former top Clinton aides are working for California senator Kamala Harris and some of the other candidates. It gives Clinton an inside view in real-time of how a number of the campaigns are unfolding, both their strengths and vulnerabilities.
In short, Clinton, despite appearances, is increasingly well-positioned to step up and assume the mantle of party standard-bearer, if she’s needed.
Right now, Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Warren are splitting about 70% of the vote, and there is no sign that any one of them will grow their percentage substantially – or lose it, for that matter. Looking ahead it is quite likely that the three candidates will split the delegates earned from the major contests.
In other words, the party could be deadlocked moving into next summer with the election just a few months away. And other than Biden, none of the Democratic candidates polls all that well against Trump, especially in the key battleground states.
It’s not clear where Clinton stands with the general electorate – or even among Democrats. Past polling has shown her at her lowest point in history. She is no longer the most admired person – or even woman – in American politics.
Could she really be rehabilitated – and then resurrected — in the space of a few months?
It’s not out of the question. Clinton still enjoys a high-level of quiet support from key figures like Tom Perez, the DNC chair whom she almost named as her VP running mate in 2016. Old Democratic pols like former Ohio governor Ed Rendell and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who helped Clinton win her Senate seat over a decade ago, are die-hard supporters.
And the Clinton patronage machine, built up over several decades could still buy a lot of influence in the party’s middle ranks.
Make no mistake: Clinton remains a formidable figure. Now that the big issue is getting rid of Trump at all costs, Democrats may well decide that their 2016 leader is still their best bet – especially if Biden ends up badly bloodied.
In the end, Clinton may be the only Democrat left with enough prestige and political “chits” to stitch together a fragile coalition that could carry a beleaguered and divided party to victory.
Win or lose, 2020 would be Clinton’s last hurrah.