Hillary 2016: The Democrats Best Hope
Democratic strategist James Carville coined a phrase, which was reduced to an acronym: KISS. It meant “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” a reference to voters’ limited capacity to dissect and digest complex issues.
That was further embellished by his 1992 advice to Bill Clinton: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The astute Clinton focused on that issue, which propelled him to the White House.
But acronyms will not necessarily overcome the symmetry and balance of U.S. presidential politics. With monotonous regularity, usually in 8-year increments, the “outs” beat the “ins.” In the 64 years since 1952, extending through 2016, a Democrat will have held the presidency for 32, and a Republican for 36.
It means neither Democrats nor Republicans are the nation’s undisputed governing party. There is a perpetual ebb and flow. Voters want partisan alteration so as to minimize corruption, complacency and stupidity. Given that history, 2016 looks like a switchback election, in which a Republican wins.
But, for Democrats, salvation lies in another acronym: NHS. That means “Nominate Hillary, Stupid” – as in outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. After eight years of Barack Obama, a still-sputtering economy, and a national debt which will top $20 trillion by 2016, America should be ready for the traditional “change we need.” That was Obama’s theme in 2008, when his race, coupled with George Bush fatigue, gave him a sweeping 9,549,975-vote victory.
By 2016, there will definitely be Obama fatigue, and a dozen or more Republican presidential candidates will be busily portraying themselves as instruments of change, attacking Obama’s policies and performance. They’ll lambaste him for taxing too much, spending too much, borrowing too much, and regulating the private business sector too much.
But Hillary Clinton has the proverbial trump card – namely: gender. She need not run for president as an apologist of the Obama Administration. She need not defend his economic or foreign policies. By resigning as Secretary of State, effective 2013, she separates herself from the president. Apart from the Libya situation, Clinton has been a competent diplomat, visible on the world stage, provoking no wars. Her poll approval ratings, down in the 30s when she was First Lady, are now in the 60s. In 2016, Clinton can concoct her own platform, rejecting and criticizing Obama’s failures.
If she runs, she will be, as was Obama in 2008, an instrument of “change” – namely: America’s first woman president. And her gender, alone, is enough to elect her. On the strength of the female vote, every state that voted for Obama in 2012 would vote for Clinton in 2016.
According to the 2010 census, the U.S. population is 308,745,538, of which 50.8 percent is female. There are 5,182,890 more females than males. There are more male births than female births. In the 14-24 age bracket, there are 104 males to 100 females; in the 24-44 bracket, it drops to 98 per 100; and in the over age 65 bracket, there are 70 males to 100 females. By 2016, the so-called post-World War II “baby boomer” generation will be near or past the “over age 65 bracket,” as will Hillary Clinton, who was born in 1947. And there will be hundreds of thousands of women, especially in urban areas, and especially aging “baby boomers,” who will say to themselves: I want a woman president in my lifetime.
The drumbeat has already begun. Hillary Clinton, if elected in 2016, would be age 69 when she assumed the presidency. Ronald Reagan was 69 when elected in 1980. To blunt the “age issue,” Clinton’s boosters trot out Golda Meir, who was 71 when she became Israel’s prime minister in 1969, was known as the “toughest man in government,” and retired at age 75.
But, in reality, it’s statewide, not nationwide, gender allocation that matters. U.S. presidential elections, as demonstrated in 2012, are determined in 10 states: Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa, which have a combined 142 electoral votes. Obama won 9 of those 10 in 2012, amassing 127 electoral votes. In 2008, the “Obama Nation” produced a 365-173 electoral win; in 2012, it was 332-206. The only states that flipped from Obama (2008) to Romney (2012) were Indiana and North Carolina.
The national Democratic “base” is solid. Obama won by 60,652,238-57,810,407 over Romney. In 2008, he won by 69,498,215-59,948,240 over McCain. Amid a stumbling recovery from what the Democrats portrayed as the “Bush recession,” Obama persevered. He did not absorb voters’ blame. Absent an ongoing economic holocaust, which means unemployment over ten percent, gross annual domestic product (GDP) growth under two percent, and debt mushrooming at over $1 trillion a year, a Democrat path to victory exists. If the 2016 election is a “referendum” on Obama, any Democrat other than Hillary Clinton is the underdog. If the election is a incumbentless “choice” between the well-known Clinton and an untested, budget-cutting Republican, Clinton has the edge.
Here are key facts going into the 2016 race:
First, the Democratic field is desultory and uninspiring. The contenders are:
* Deval Patrick, the Chicago-born black governor of Massachusetts. He’s the hope of those who subscribe to the notion of “non-retrogression,” meaning that once an office is occupied by a minority, it must be forever held by a minority. Patrick, who is term-limited in 2014, is the only black on the national scene with stature sufficient to run for president. Whether he will be 2016’s “Obama” is doubtful.
* Joe Biden, the vice-president, first elected senator in 1972, will be age 74 in 2016. A Biden presidential candidacy will neutralize Clinton’s “age issue” problem, and present Clinton with the perfect foil. If Biden runs, he would be the “Obama Administration candidate,” even if Obama did not publicly endorse him. Clinton would then be the “outsider,” and could excoriate Biden for all of the administration’s flaws. That would allow Clinton to be both the gender-change and the policy-change candidate – an unbeatable combination. If Biden runs, his candidacy means “more of the same.”
* Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor and son of Mario Cuomo, governor from 1982-94, whose gutlessness in 1992 allowed Clinton to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Elected governor in 2010, Cuomo has tried to straddle the raise taxes/cut spending divide, and has not enamored himself to the party’s pro-spending/pro-taxing/liberal/minority base. He evokes no enthusiasm.
* Martin O’Malley, Maryland’s governor, is the Howard Dean of 2016: unabashedly liberal, an enthusiastic tax-and-spender, and apologist for Obama. While other governors have addressed their fiscal crises by slashing spending, O’Malley took the easy, politically expedient course, and hiked Maryland’s already oppressive taxes. Former head of the Democratic Governor’s Association, O’Malley has nationwide contacts. Term-limited in 2014, O’Malley will have plenty of time to campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states
* Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s junior senator, appointed to replace Clinton in 2009. Once an Upstate anti-gun control congresswoman, Gillibrand, a youthful age 50 in 2016, is now a conventional, pro-Obama liberal. If Hillary Clinton doesn’t run in 2016, Gillibrand definitely will, if only to build a base and name recognition for 2020. As the only woman in a big field of men, she would draw well, and position herself for the vice-presidential nomination.
* Mark Warner, Virginia’s senator and former governor (2001-2005), is a mega-wealthy entrepreneur who could be 2016’s Bill Clinton. Warner’s mantra is non-partisanship, and his theme is “bring us together.” In 1992, Bill Clinton ran as an “electable Democrat”; in 2016, with the liberal Obama having won twice, the liberal and minority Democratic base will feel no desperation.
* Bob Casey, Pennsylvania’s senior senator, who beat Rick Santorum (R) in 2006, is pro-gun and pro-life – not popular nationally, but very much so in Pennsylvania. His dad was governor 1986-94. Casey may run for governor in 2014 against conservative Republican incumbent Tom Corbett, who has cut spending and entitlements. If Casey is governor, he’d be well-positioned to run for president, especially by waiving Corbett’s scalp to the liberal base.
* Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior senator, is on Obama’s short-list for a U.S. Supreme Court appointment. If she doesn’t get it, a presidential run is an option.
* Brian Schweitzer, Montana’s outgoing governor, could be 2016’s Jimmy Carter: an obscure westerner with rural appeal who, if he spends months in Iowa, could surprise in the January 2016 caucuses.
The consensus among Democrats is that their 2016 ticket must contain a woman or a black. If Clinton is nominated, a Clinton-Warner ticket is likely; Clinton-Patrick would be problematic. If a white male is nominated, former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2010, is everybody’s choice for veep.
And second, nobody has the credibility or money to beat Hillary for the nomination. Clinton beat Obama in the 2008 Pennsylvania primary with 55 percent, in Michigan with 55 percent, in New York with 57 percent, and in California with 51 percent. If Hillary runs, she wins. But the Rush Limbaugh-led conservative media machine will soon begin churning out anti-Clinton propaganda, with the Benghazi assassinations first up.
Clinton may win the presidency, but it will be long, nasty, brutal campaign.
Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer
E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.
image Hillary and Bill Clinton with Obama financier Tony Rezko