Is Hillary Clinton Really a 100 Percent Lock to Run?
At least every week now, there is a new story supporting the narrative of an inevitable 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential bid. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that it is an absolute certainty that she will run. If anyone is currently saying, flat out, that Hillary isn't running, I haven't come across them. Is the inevitability of her run really as certain as the conventional wisdom suggests, and further, is it unfolding in an optimal manner for the potential candidate?
In all likelihood, Clinton will not make a final, "go-or-no-go" decision until early next year, after the dust has settled from the midterm election. Generally speaking, few presidential contenders make their final decisions before the preceding midterm, and, with the notable exception of Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, most have been laying the groundwork for a long time for a potential run. Most have already been attending countless state and county Jefferson-Jackson (for Democrats) or Lincoln (for Republicans) dinners, meet and greets, and other events to prepare for the potential campaign and the ensuring shakedown (if they do, in fact, decide to run).
The question remains: Is Hillary Clinton really a 100 percent lock to run? I think it is a pretty good bet, maybe 70 percent chance or so; but that also means there is an approximately 30 percent chance that she doesn't throw her hat in the ring. The current political environment certainly argues on behalf of a Clinton run, and it would be very difficult—but not impossible—for anyone to beat her for the nomination. However, these choices can never be considered 100 percent political decisions. Clinton turns 67 this October. At that age, she will likely be making her candidacy decision, and if nominated Clinton would turn 69 two weeks before the 2016 general election, notably the same age Ronald Reagan was when he was first elected in 1980. The choice to run for president is effectively a nine-year commitment: one year to run, another four years if she wins a first term—finishing up that term at age 73—and then, assuming she runs for reelection and wins, serving four more years to end a second term at 77 years of age. None of this is to say that the age issue could successfully be used against her. After all, Reagan won the presidency at the same age. But how many 67-year-olds make nine-year commitments, and what concerns have to be addressed if they do?
According to The Atlantic, during her tenure as secretary of State, Clinton traveled for 401 days to 112 countries, totaling 956,733 miles, a distance equal to more than 38 times around the globe; wags have taken to calling it "odometer diplomacy." But also worth noting is how in Secretary Clinton's last year at her post, particularly the last few months at the State Department, the position clearly took a toll on her health; she experienced an episode of fainting or passing out, and suffered a head injury. None of this necessarily is to argue against her running, but she would be undertaking something that, as she well knows, is considerably more physically demanding even than her previous position, and at an older age. This is not necessarily an end-all-be-all argument that she should or would not run, simply that she likely would have to think long and hard as to whether she is physically up to the rigors of running and serving in office. Having run for president once before, and enduring two presidential campaigns and terms as a spouse, no one understands more clearly than Hillary does what the position demands. Do all of the people who say that she absolutely will run know and appreciate this as much as she obviously does?
A law school friend of the Clintons' put it to me this way to me last year: "If Bill and Hillary are healthy, she will run," a subtle reminder to me that her husband will be 70 by Election Day 2016, having already gone through quadruple cardiac bypass surgery and two heart stents. He looks healthy, as she now does, but it does remind us that these are team efforts, and how they both are doing is relevant to the equation. When the 30 percent guestimate of her chance of passing up a race was run by a former senior Clinton staffer, the response was something to the effect of, "That sounds about right."
Assuming that she does run, Clinton would obviously be a formidable candidate, starting out with total name recognition and an ability to raise more than enough to fund a big-time campaign. There would absolutely be many challenges along the road for Hillary. For one, the challenge of a 68-going-on-69-year-old going after a considerably younger electorate, particularly in the primaries, and how to make herself more relevant to the future, rather than to the past. Running on how great the economy was in the mid-to-late '90s, when her husband was president, would be tantamount to a sequel of Back to the Future. Clinton needs to lay out a rationale for her relevance to the future electorate of a rapidly changing country. Not that she can't do it, but it would be a different battle than that of 2008.
Finally, don't expect that Hillary would have a free ride for the nomination. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo presumably wouldn't run if she does. Similarly, it would seem unlikely that another major woman like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, or Elizabeth Warren would make the race either. But there's Vice President Joe Biden, and one could easily see former Govs. Howard Dean of Vermont and/or Brian Schweitzer of Montana decide to take a stab at it. For that matter, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley might get in the race, just as an Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton took a gamble getting into the race in 1991, particularly when many expected New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and other big names to get in and dominate the race. Expectations for O'Malley against Clinton would be low; he could end up with a cabinet job, and, who knows, she might falter along the way. Stranger things have happened.
And if HRod doesn't run, Katie bar the door, we would be looking at a huge field of Democrats.