Christmas, as it often does in my house, brought books. (Father Christmas clearly knows what I like by now.) Two of them in particular – Samuel L. Popkin’s The Candidate, an excellent analysis of American electioneering, and Christopher Hitchens’ fierce polemic No One Left to Lie To, a brutal attack on the presidency and personal character of Bill Clinton – got me thinking about the next presidential election.
Early, I know. However, 2016 threatens to be an extremely interesting campaign. There will be no incumbent, and a challenge from Joe Biden, the Vice-President, is unlikely (and, in all honesty, ill-advised). So what there will be in 2016, then, are two candidates who may not be especially familiar to those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Except for one, of course. The big fish in this pond. The Usain Bolt on the starting line. Hillary Clinton. That is, however, if she runs.
She is the favourite, obviously, not just for the Democratic nomination but for the Presidency. Currently on the crest of an approval-ratings wave, it’s suggested by a PPP poll that she’d beat Republican front-runner Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, by two points. But is it a good idea for her to run? Would she be seen as an Obama continuity candidate? A rehash of the Bill Clinton years? And is she up to it physically?
Even assuming Barack Obama is still popular in 2016, there is no guarantee that running as a continuity candidate will guarantee Clinton’s success. It did not work for Al Gore in 2000. Add to that Clinton’s link to her husband’s presidency and you have Hillary as flag bearer for the last two Democratic presidents. Would the American people want another two terms of continuity? Perhaps not. They like newness; renewal; ‘change.’
Furthermore, though it may be distasteful to discuss her recent health issues it is necessary to do so. She will be 69 in 2014. She has had a very stressful term as Secretary of State, visiting over 100 countries, and the job of President would be an even greater strain. Eight years is a long time. She has been ill recently, having been hospitalised with a virus and a blood clot. She has spoken in public about being tired, and perhaps a break from public office would revitalise her. But these are intangibles.
The serious solution, then, is for Clinton to offer to only serve one term. This, of course, would be unprecedented. The last president to sacrifice a run at a second term was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, and the circumstances surrounding that announcement concerning his Presidency were rather dire. American politics are all about ego, and Clinton conceding a second term before the first had even begun would seem like failure. The option, though, deserves to be considered. America gets a President who is refreshed and ready to serve again, someone who enjoys wide popularity and who won’t get bogged down in electioneering for the whole of the first term. This is crucial when we look back on the Obama first term, which can be assessed as being legislatively solid, but littered with wasted opportunities.
Jettisoning Clinton after one term would not be particularly suicidal for the Democrats. There are several others who could do a good job; for example, Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, or the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. There are others, too – I’ve merely picked ones I find politically interesting. There is clearly a large group of strong, capable Democrats; they just don’t have the name recognition, the political capital or the fund-raising ability of the former Secretary of State, women’s rights advocate, two-term Senator, First Lady and arguably most well-respected female politician worldwide. But give some of them another four years and they could easily run powerful and successful campaigns in 2020.
If Clinton has the interests of her party at heart – debatable – she will run in 2016 on a guarantee that she will, if elected, only serve one term in office. She could put out her own tailored legislative agenda and spend four years punching it through Congress, with a definitive mandate for her policies set out during the election from which she wouldn’t have to deviate. She could be the President she wanted to be. Whether she will be, and whether she would be a good President, are separate matters entirely. In his aforementioned book, Samuel L. Popkin details glaring flaws at the heart of her campaign in 2008, and the monumental hubris Clinton showed when that campaign died a death suggests she may not have learned her lessons. Similarly, Christopher Hitchens savaged her in No One Left to Lie To, presenting her as damn near the equal of her husband in terms of lying, opportunism, arrogance, corruption and hypocrisy (I really can’t recommend the book enough).
You can’t predict whether she will fail again, whether the American people will, after almost twenty-five years, start to recognise her personal or political flaws, or whether she will break the mould and promise to do just four years. It is not even clear whether she will run, and there isn’t the slightest idea who she would have to run against, either in her own party or from the Republican contingent. The will-she won’t-she nature of Hillary Clinton’s ascent does, however, promise to be a fascinating little saga all of its own.
Image Credit: Harald Dettenborn, Munich Security Conference