Hand­i­caps in Hil­lary’s way

Con­trary to con­ven­tional wis­dom, she’s prob­a­bly fin­ished

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Robert W. Merry Robert W. Merry, po­lit­i­cal edi­tor of The Na­tional In­ter­est, is the au­thor of “Where They Stand: The Amer­i­can Pres­i­dents in the Eyes of Vot­ers and His­to­ri­ans” (Si­mon & Schus­ter, 2012).

Hil­lary Clin­ton isn’t likely ever to be­come pres­i­dent of the United States. In fact, there is a greater pos­si­bil­ity than is gen­er­ally rec­og­nized by the Wash­ing­ton cognoscenti that she won’t even run. If she does, though, the bar­ri­ers she faces will prove over­whelm­ing. Her 2008 cam­paign was her last good shot for the of­fice, and she failed. Since then, nu­mer­ous de­vel­op­ments have con­spired steadily to di­min­ish her prospects. Those prospects are now near zero.

This an­a­lyt­i­cal frame­work holds ab­so­lutely no credulity in Wash­ing­ton, where think­ing rarely ex­tends be­yond the con­ven­tional. The con­ven­tional wis­dom, of course, is that Mrs. Clin­ton’s nom­i­na­tion is nearly in­evitable and her sub­se­quent elec­tion highly likely. It’s true that she is smart, tested, uni­ver­sally known, a whiz at fundrais­ing and gen­er­ally re­spected. The lon­gago scan­dals that got her la­beled by one prom­i­nent colum­nist as a “con­gen­i­tal liar” have long since re­ceded into the nether­world of the na­tional con­scious­ness. On pa­per, she looks nearly un­beat­able.

Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions don’t take place on pa­per, though. They take place in the real world, where pol­i­tics is al­ways about the fu­ture. Mrs. Clin­ton is a prod­uct of the past.

The coun­try is at an in­flec­tion point brought on by its cri­sis of po­lit­i­cal dead­lock. It des­per­ately needs a new brand of pol­i­tics that can break the dead­lock and set it upon a new course to­ward its fu­ture and des­tiny. In such times, a gap nor­mally opens up be­tween the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, guided by the lessons of the past, and the elec­torate, al­ways ahead of the es­tab­lish­ment in push­ing for new po­lit­i­cal par­a­digms, new di­alec­ti­cal think­ing and new coali­tions. In the cam­paign year of 2016, the vot­ers, an­gry and anx­ious, ap­pear poised to grab power away from the es­tab­lish­ment and in­vest it in can­di­dates of the fu­ture.

If so, Mrs. Clin­ton isn’t go­ing to be able to with­stand these winds of change. Her re­cent au­to­bi­og­ra­phy be­trays a politi­cian seem­ingly de­void of fresh think­ing or even a recog­ni­tion of what kind of po­lit­i­cal mes­sage is re­quired by the tem­per of our times. In some eras of our po­lit­i­cal past, this wouldn’t have been a hand­i­cap. In to­day’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, it is likely to be fa­tal.

There is a ques­tion that al­ways comes up at this point in any dis­cus­sion of a can­di­date’s nom­i­na­tion­bat­tle weak­ness — namely, well, who can de­feat her? Think back just about ex­actly eight years, when the same sense of in­evitabil­ity was at­tached to the same can­di­date by the same po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors and ob­servers. Their weapon of choice: the polls. In Jan­uary 2007, Real Clear Pol­i­tics com­min­gled a num­ber of polls to ar­rive at a read­ing sug­gest­ing Mrs. Clin­ton was ahead of her near­est ri­val, Barack Obama, by 38 per­cent to 18 per­cent. Ten months later, the gap was 49 per­cent to 20 per­cent. A Wash­ing­ton Post-ABC News poll in Oc­to­ber 2007 pegged Mrs. Clin­ton at 53 per­cent, com­pared with Mr. Obama’s 30 per­cent. The poll officials said she was up 12 points in three weeks, while he was down 7 points.

Of course, we all know what hap­pened. The new man on the po­lit­i­cal scene, Mr. Obama, oblit­er­ated those early poll num­bers and over­whelmed her in the nom­i­na­tion fight.

Thus, it’s clear the early polls are worth­less to any­one seek­ing to as­sess any can­di­date’s prospects. So what should we look to? The generic po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, in which the coun­try needs and de­sires fresh think­ing and a way out of the cur­rent dead­lock. Mr. Clin­ton can’t of­fer ei­ther.

If, how­ever, she pre­vails in the pri­maries, she faces another ma­jor bar­rier in the gen­eral elec­tion — the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing po­lit­i­cal per­for­mance of Mr. Obama’s sec­ond term. Though many po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists don’t buy the idea, his­tory tells us that pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are largely ref­er­en­dums on the four-year per­for­mance of the in­cum­bent or in­cum­bent party. Mr. Obama was elected largely be­cause of the per­ceived fail­ures of Ge­orge W. Bush in his sec­ond term. Ron­ald Rea­gan was elected be­cause of Jimmy Carter’s abysmal record.

There may be time for Mr. Obama to turn around his fal­ter­ing sec­ond-term per­for­mance, but time is run­ning out. We see the ad­min­is­tra­tion strug­gling, some­times al­most hope­lessly, with the kinds of prob­lems that spell real trou­ble for any in­cum­bent or in­cum­bent party. These in­clude a lack of ini­tia­tive on the do­mes­tic front, se­ri­ous set­backs in for­eign af­fairs, a lack of any ma­jor for­eign-pol­icy tri­umphs, the gath­er­ing In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice scandal, long-term stag­na­tion in real per-capita eco­nomic growth, a likely de­cline in con­gres­sional stand­ing for Democrats, and grow­ing civic un­rest at­tend­ing the il­le­gal in­flux of for­eign chil­dren into the United States.

All this spells trou­ble for any can­di­date fac­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple in 2016 un­der the Demo­cratic ban­ner. Some peo­ple think that Mrs. Clin­ton’s name recog­ni­tion, po­lit­i­cal stature, longevity on the na­tional scene and past record can trump any dif­fi­cul­ties stem­ming from the Obama per­for­mance. His­tory sug­gests this isn’t likely.

And so it is dif­fi­cult to avoid the con­clu­sion that for 2016, Hil­lary’s hand­i­caps are in­sur­mount­able. She is the wrong person in what is likely to be a tran­si­tional po­lit­i­cal year that, in any event, isn’t likely to be par­tic­u­larly hos­pitable to Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. That is why there is a greater like­li­hood than is gen­er­ally rec­og­nized that she will va­cate the field be­fore the bat­tle be­gins.

If, how­ever, she pre­vails in the pri­maries, she faces another ma­jor bar­rier in the gen­eral elec­tion — the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing po­lit­i­cal per­for­mance of Mr. Obama’s sec­ond term. Though many po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists don’t buy the idea, his­tory tells us that pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are largely

ref­er­en­dums on the four-year per­for­mance of the in­cum­bent or in­cum­bent party.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

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