Can Anyone Stop Hillary?

1/25/14
 
   < < Go Back
 

By David Von Drehle,

from TIME Magazine,
1/27/14:

Why Clinton’s 2016 candidacy-without-a-campaign dominates the political galaxy.

Hillary Clinton has not decided whether to run for President again. I have this on good authority, despite a recent barrage of reports detailing the many moves that signal a campaign in the making. People close to Clinton and familiar with her thinking insist that she hasn’t made a decision. Moreover, “it’s not a decision she is going to make anytime soon,” says one insider.

But what about the high-ranking personnel from President Obama’s political brain trust who are moving into jobs in pro-Clinton groups?

But what about the recent email blast that retired general Wesley Clark, a Clinton diehard, sent to past supporters whose names are embedded in Clinton’s database, exhorting them to rally to Hillary’s cause?

Perhaps it all comes down, in Clintonian fashion, to definitions. It depends on the meaning of the word decide. And on the meaning of the word run. In Hillary Clinton, the United States of America is now experiencing a rare, if not unprecedented, political phenomenon; she requires a new lexicon. Clinton is so globally famous, so politically wired and so primed for the presidency after two campaigns at her husband’s side and one epic race of her own that her life as a private citizen has become virtually indistinguishable from her life as a candidate.

We can believe that she hasn’t “decided” to “run” because there is almost nothing that a decision would change for her.

Clinton has not decided whether to run for President because to do so would only slow her down. Lots of people can be a presidential candidate–ask Patrick Buchanan or Dennis Kucinich or Herman Cain. There is only one Hillary able to dominate discussion of 2016 even as she sails above it. Indecision serves her well by preserving flexibility in her schedule, by shielding her from answering every Internet controversy and by allowing the Republican opposition to take shape and draw fire.

How long can this go on? Longer than you might think. The typical reasons for a candidate to “decide”–credibility with donors and voters, access to media, ability to recruit staff, leverage to secure endorsements–wouldn’t move Clinton because she already has those things. There’s not a door she can’t open nor a camera she can’t command.

We know from biographers that Team Clinton actually started running for President sometime in the 1960s, when young Bill fretted about preserving his political viability while avoiding the Vietnam draft. If they ever stopped running, it was only in a semantic sense. Along with her husband, the former First Lady is the embodiment of the so-called permanent campaign, in which years blur into an endless loop of staged events and solicitations for money and skirmishing for control of the next news cycle. If that’s not running, what is?

The existence of Clinton’s 2016 campaign cannot be directly observed through a formal announcement ritual or by linking to documents at the Federal Election Commission. But its massive influence on the stars and gases of Washington is unmistakable. Most of her fellow Democrats are signaling scant interest in taking her on.

Vice President Joe Biden would love to run, though he would be 74 by Inauguration Day and past donors and former staff report that he sees little room for himself in a field with Clinton.

This dearth of competition–which could change if Clinton were suddenly, somehow, to appear vulnerable–is a testament to her immense pull inside the Democratic electorate, which is disproportionately female. She has cleared the field of major challengers despite the fact that the party’s left wing has serious reservations about her centrist record and gilded connections.

In other words, the Stop Hillary movement among Democrats may never get started. As a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Adam Green might be expected to lead the effort, but [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren’s decision to remain on the sidelines has left him resigned to seek concessions from the overwhelming front runner.

No longtime Clinton watcher is surprised to find that the noncandidate’s noncampaign has been keeping a nonschedule immaculately tuned to the heartstrings of various Democratic constituencies.

Of course, she won’t be nominated without at least a token challenge. Someone will take the bait, professional Democrats predict, if only to establish credibility as a Clinton running mate.

Call it pessimism or call it realism–for nervous Democrats, 2016 looks to be another hard fight across the narrow ground of a few swing states. Broad demographic trends will matter less, they fear, than a relative few hearts and minds in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Hopeful Republicans are making the same calculation, which is fueling the ambitions of aspirants with strong working-class appeal, men like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

… suppose that she does what Clintons always do and runs anyway? She would enter the race with a suitable bang of delirious rallies and million-dollar checks sometime after the off-year balloting in November.

… her record as Secretary of State marks her as a particularly macho brand of Democrat. As head of the State Department, Clinton sided with the generals in favor of a large Afghanistan troop surge. She pressed to arm the Syrian rebels and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee faults her department over security lapses leading up to the 2012 terrorist attack on Americans in Benghazi. But in earlier decisions, Clinton’s team at State enabled Obama’s lethal drone campaign. On at least three crucial issues–the surge in Afghanistan, bombing Libya and the raid to kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden–Clinton favored more-aggressive action than Gates himself.

“She is a hawk, but she’s a smart hawk,” says James Jeffrey, a former ambassador under Clinton,

Blurring the bright lines of an increasingly polarized public has always been the Clinton family business. Give them the choice of A or B and they’ll gravitate to C.

Can it play again after all these years?

More From TIME Magazine: