The email controversy engulfing Hillary Clinton hasn’t put a crimp in her presidential ambitions. But the drama of it and the remembrance of dramas past that it inspires do challenge the notion of the inevitability of a second Clinton presidency.
“Don’t you someday want to see a woman president of the United States?” Clinton recently asked an applauding audience marking the 30th anniversary of EMILY’s List, the Democrat women’s political action committee.
Yes, that goes without saying.
But why should it be Hillary Clinton?
If Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were in the race, she too would be a candidate for first female chief executive. But no doubt would exist about what Warren stands for — a fiery left-wing, you-didn’t-build-that, soak-the-rich, corral-Wall-Street populism.
Would a Clinton White House be the third term of President Barack Obama? Or would it be a Clinton restoration of the 1990s — triangulation and shifting to the center?
Or would it be Warren-light? In response to surging left-wing Democrat enthusiasm for Warren, Clinton has tried to shore up her liberal credentials with some recent remarks tilting toward populist economics.
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod put it best in wondering about the rationale for a Clinton campaign: “You hear Ready for Hillary; it’s like, ‘Ready for what?’”
The arguments for her running seem to boil down to two:
First, she has the best chance of being the first woman elected president.
Second, thanks to her name, money, party clout and familiarity to the voting public, Clinton is the best-positioned Democrat to win the White House.
The second one presumes that there’s no one who could replace her with the same odds of success. True. Democrats have a short bench. Still, there are candidates itching to run and others who would jump in if Clinton seemed vulnerable or chose to bow out.
One is former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. He’s out there, letting it be known he’s interested. It’s almost like he’s positioning himself to be the default candidate if Clinton stumbles.
But that position should belong to Warren, her adoring left-wing fans would claim. At 65, she’s almost as old as Clinton, 67, so this time might be her only shot at the White House. She’s not challenging Clinton because she couldn’t win that battle and she thinks she can best serve her cause in the Senate.
Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb is also considering a run. As a decorated Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the Navy (appointed by Ronald Reagan), he would have impressive credentials if the 2016 campaign were to be dominated by national security issues, as seems possible given the chaos in the Middle East and Ukraine.
Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has made noises about running, but he seems to me to be the left’s version of Ron Paul, so politically pure he’s loved by his base but too pure for a general election. Vice President Joe Biden is out there, but he’s yesterday’s news.
Other candidates could jump in, like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and/or Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, to name two.
So perhaps the Democrat bench isn’t so weak as advertised. Furthermore, it’s not like the Republican field is bristling with a plethora of well-known names outside of Jeb Bush. I’d argue that fresh faces bode well for GOP fortunes, and might be welcomed on the Democrat side as well.
Democrats confident that Clinton is their strongest candidate might recall Obama’s judgment on her in 2008: “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” Pretty faint praise for a presidential candidate — and she didn’t look all that likable in her defensive, evasive, imperious press conference that utterly failed to put the State Department email controversy to rest. The email storm may not have crimped her candidacy, but it’s not over yet.