The hottest story in U.S. politics last week, at least before the implosion of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, was an article in Politico detailing Hillary Clinton’s shadow 2016 presidential campaign.
On one level, it should make Democrats feel good. She hasn’t made a final decision, but she is preparing and planning. She is making sure she understands the rules, dates and modern news media, a lesson from her unsuccessful 2008 run, when her campaign didn’t master any of this. Almost every Democratic strategist, activist or fundraiser seems eager to jump on the Hillary bandwagon. There are even dueling super political action committees.
This picture — of a Washington and establishment-heavy machine with inevitable and outsize factions and frictions — should raise caution flags.
There are the angles. Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign chief, wants in; just don’t tell Vice President Joe Biden. The Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg wants to be the chief money man; other fat cats are clamoring to get in as long as Mark Penn, the discredited campaign czar of the failed Clinton presidential quest, isn’t around.
A Clinton confidant worries the Hillary machine is like a huge, luxury ocean liner that has collected lots of barnacles. Given the crazy-quilt presidential-election system, it isn’t premature to plan for 2016; the process is interminable.
There are a few certainties even this early: It is very likely that she will run; one smart Clintonite puts the odds at 80 percent. If she is in, Biden probably won’t be, and neither will be Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or any other prominent woman; the Democratic sisterhood is vested in the former secretary of state. It’s impossible to envision an Obama-like outsider in this cycle; then again, few envisioned candidate Obama eight years ago. It’s silly to even speculate about a general election.
One lesson from Clinton’s previous run is that you can’t corner a nomination, you have to capture it. That may not be possible without a first-class infrastructure; that alone won’t do it.
Also, at some stage, as one senator put it, she has to be today’s news. Political resumes, even those as impressive as Clinton’s, don’t win presidential elections. The last three elected presidents had limited national and almost no international experience.
There are challenges to trying to be today’s news. Like George H.W. Bush in 1988, she has to differentiate herself from a sitting president who is popular within his own party.
When there isn’t an incumbent, the race is about capturing the mantle of change. Clinton and her campaign never got that last time.
She has time to think about these matters. And there’s no shortage of advice, a cacophony of conflicting voices. That’s a problem.
She and her husband are different people. She is more disciplined. He is more freewheeling. He seems to have a million confidantes. She has a tight core of loyalists.
In 2007, she picked the wrong people to run her campaign, and it cost her. This time, she can ill afford to repeat that mistake or have a campaign run by committee. She needs to select someone like Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, a high-powered group that supports pro-abortion-rights Democratic women candidates, or Robby Mook, a young Clinton operative who successfully directed Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial run in Virginia. There are several other possibilities; it needs to be someone versed in modern politics, who can take control and prepare for a bitter campaign.
This necessity is a lesson of the late spring of 1992 when a presidential candidate named Clinton was struggling toward the nomination; all his associates seemed to have a piece of the action, requiring a high-level conference call with more than a score of participants.
An intervention ensued. James Carville was put in charge. Bill Clinton was elected president. The person who ordered that change was Hillary Clinton.
Albert R. Hunt writes for Bloomberg News.