Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Hillary Won't Challenge Obama

Some people are speculating that Hillary Clinton might challenge Obama in the Democratic primary for the 2012 election. They base this on Obama’s low poll numbers and the anger he’s producing in the country. But that doesn’t make sense, as I will explain. Moreover, I’m not even sure Hillary could run anymore at this point. Here’s why.

Why Nobody Is Running Against Obama Yet
Let’s start by dispelling the two reasons most commonly given for someone challenging Obama in the Democratic primary.

Low Poll Numbers Don’t Matter: Yes, Obama’s poll numbers are about as low as modern presidents can get, and yes they’ve been consistently low for almost a year now. But low poll numbers in and of themselves don’t matter because they are subject to change, especially with more than two years to go before the election. In other words, no one chooses to run against a sitting president just because he has low poll numbers. What politicians need to inspire them is some sort of disaster from which the president's electability won't recover. And right now, the only potential catalyst on the horizon is a potential total debacle in November. So barring that or something else dramatic, don't expect anyone to jump into the ring.

The Wrong Anger: Anger won't do it either at the moment because it's the wrong anger. There is no doubt that Obama is producing anger in the country, just as Bush produced anger in the country. But that’s not translating into anger in the Democratic ranks. Obama currently enjoys between an 85% and 92% approval rating among Democrats. Unless that changes, no Democrat will attempt to challenge him in a primary.

What this means is that we need to wait until after November to see if the Democrats suffer a big enough disaster that they start pointing fingers. Only if that happens, and only if the party itself starts to become angry with Obama will anyone challenge him. But it won’t be Hillary.
Why Hillary Won't Run
Hillary won’t run because of a combination of two factors. First, she’s smart enough not to run. Secondly, she’s put herself into a bind.

Smart Enough: No matter what we may think of Hillary, she’s not stupid. She knows that the history of insurgent candidates against a sitting incumbent president is less than glorious. I can’t think of any that ever defeated the incumbent, and most have basically destroyed their political careers in the process. This is because politics does not tolerate losers. To run and lose is almost a guarantee of the end of your political career in America. What’s worse, running against your own side makes you into a traitor. And that bad blood will keep you from being appointed to any other post or winning any other election. Since Hillary doesn't think she's done yet, it doesn't make sense for her to squander her future on a low probability run.

In A Bind: Moreover, it's not clear Hillary could run if she wanted to. Hillary may not be stupid, but she does have poor judgment. When she gave up her Senate seat, she took herself off the political map. Not only did she give up her bully pulpit, meaning that she no longer has a place from which she can challenge Obama, but she took herself out of the news cycle. When a politician makes themselves irrelevant, their support withers and dies, which has already happened to Hillary. Indeed, when Game Change came out, the political grapevine openly asked why no one came out to defend Hillary. In the past an army of Clinton people would have come out to denounce the book. This time we heard nothing but silence. That means her support is gone.

Further, by going to the State Department, a notoriously unglamorous and dead-end position, she put herself into a place where (1) she can’t raise funds, the lifeblood of any candidacy, (2) she can’t introduce legislation to rally her supporters, (3) she can’t do constituent favors, (4) her television appearances are limited to foreign policy issues, and (5) she must be loyal to Obama, bearing the brunt of his failures and sitting quietly as he steals the credit for her successes. And all of this was compounded with Obama’s disassembling the Clinton machine that Bill Clinton left in place upon leaving office and which remained in place until Obama purged it and replaced it with Chicago lackeys.

Basically, Hillary has no political machine, no profile, no base of support, no way to raise money, must do as she is told by Obama and play Obama's scapegoat, and has no way to change any of this from her present job.

If she wants to run in 2012, she needs to resign now and start rebuilding immediately, so that she can start campaigning if there is a disaster in November. Unless she does that, and there are no hints she's willing to do that, then I can't see her doing anything in 2012.


Tennessee Jed said...

A solid analysis. Obviously, things can change based on this year's mid-terms and the following two years, but the tide would seem to be against any Democrat in 2012 if there is not a significant economic rebound by then.

The Clinton's have shown an amazing resiliancy and lack of shame in the past, so I never completely count them out, but I have to wonder what the hell she was thinking when she took the job at state.

Ponderosa said...

Very much agree - she let herself get into a bind.

And even if his overall poll numbers are low, his approval rating among Dem voters is still high. 'Moderate' Dems don't play well in the primaries.

Besides what would her platform be? Socialist lite. I'll tax you even more! I won't bow (as much).

Joel Farnham said...

Good analysis. The only thing you missed is "Why did Hillary deliberately take herself out of the Presidential equation?" I think it is survival and a gamble.

A gamble that Obama, since he is obviously green, will fail. A survival in that she would have been the only challenge to Obama as a Senator, and subject to Palinization.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I agree. The Clintons' have show a real resilience in the past, but I think this time it might be too much. I think her thinking was that she lost the election because she was viewed as not having any foreign policy or leadership credentials, and she thought that she could get them by becoming Secretary of State for a few years and then moving on. But I don't think she thought this through, because that really is a political dead end.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, That's the biggest problem for anyone wanting to run against Obama -- there are no disgruntled Democrats to rally against him. Until his support within the part begins to fall into the 50% range, it would be totally foolish to run against him.

And even then, the challenge would need to come from the left because that's where the activists are and because "moderates" don't tend to want to support insurgent candidates.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, If I put on my devious hat for a moment, I would say that she thought she could achieve two things by taking the SoS job:

1. She could avoid being in the Senate during all of the bad votes that she knew were coming -- ObamaCare, massive tax increases, more bailouts. Basically, she hoped to skip a bad political cycle.

2. She figured that Obama would fail and she would look like the only "grown up" in the administration, and that she could get credit for "fixing" out foreign policy.

But she never counted on Obama bringing her over basically to shut her up. Or on Obama sending special envoys to do everything she thought she was going to do.

In any event, I don't think that was her thinking. I think she thought she was just resume padding for her next run.

Joel Farnham said...


The simplest answers are always the best. Resume padding.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That's my suspicion. But in politics, you never know.

StanH said...

The only one that I can think of that was challenged within the party was Ted Kennedy against Carter in ’80. It’s hard to believe but Jimmy wasn’t far enough to the left for the swimmer. Reagan in ’76 going against Ford, who as we know was the appointed incumbent (Watergate), and later wiping the field in ’80, both challenges were resolved at the conventions.

As far as losing and making a comeback Nixon in ’60 came back, and won decisively in ’68 and ‘72.

But I agree if the democrats get their butts handed to them in 11/10…perhaps. If you think that we’re hearing screams of racism now, just wait if that happens, the caterwauling would be insufferable.

BevfromNYC said...

There is one other factor - those people who despised her before, now see her in a whole new light compared to Obama. She doesn't seem so bad after all. [I include myself in that too] I think if we could go back to early 2008 with what we all know now, even Democrats would have to agree that she would have been a much better choice. She would come with her own host of problems, but she also has experience and Bill. They both work well across party lines.

She has stated emphatically that she will not run again, but that means nothing. She said empathically that she wouldn't run for the Senate until she did and she wouldn't run for Presidant in 2008 until she did. She still has alot of support in NY and probably could win easily if she decided to run again for the Senate.

Writer X said...

I think Hillary's ego is big enough that she would in fact consider another run, her intellect nothwithstanding. She smells blood in the water cause just when you think Obama can't get any worse, he dials it down another notch.

I think we'll start to see people making announcements after the November election.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Nixon is one of the few that managed to make a comeback after losing, and I think there were special circumstances there because, if historians are correct, Nixon actually won the election but got robbed. That's why I was a little amazed that Al Gore didn't try again in 2004 against Bush.

Joel Farnham said...


Do you know how Barack managed to get the early caucuses? People were bused in to participate. A move Hillary didn't anticipate. This created an illusion that momentum was gathering for Barack. If he hadn't done that, Hillary would have won. She still has supporters, and outside of this blog, I haven't heard of that book.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I agree, there has been a surprising and dramatic shift in the public's perception of her since the election.

If you'd asked me before the election who would have been the better choice for Republicans, I would have said Hillary because she was more controversial and divisive and, therefore, more likely to help the Republicans return to power.

But in hindsight, I think we got lucky that Obama turned out to be such a poor politician and so divisive. If Hillary had been elected, I have no doubt that she would have been more effective at getting liberal policies into place and likely could have done it without angering the entire country.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I could see her ego overcoming her judgment. She certainly seems to have an abundance of ego. And Obama does seem to keep digging himself bigger and bigger holes.

If she does run, though, I'm not sure how she could overcome the loss of her network. I think taking the SoS job was a huge mistake and I honestly don't know how she would plan to come back from that. . . unless Bill has been rebuilding it for her quietly?

I guess we'll see.

I think whether we see people jump into the 2012 race (on the left) will depend on how the elections go. If the Democrats do worse than expected, then I could see a half dozen take the plunge. If they do better than expected, then I don't see anyone risking it.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Game Change was huge news. It was on the best seller list for weeks and it was covered by every "big" blog, magazine or newspaper I can think of. Palin, Romney, and Edwards all blasted it, as did many of their campaign people. Hillary's people, however, all remained silent.

As for Obama bussing people in, that appears to have been a myth. It looks like he managed to turn out college kids in the caucus states.

CrispyRice said...

Call it Schadenfreude, but I'm definitely on the "Ooooh, I hope Hillary runs" bandwagon, LOL.

Your analysis makes sense, though, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I also really agree with Bev that lots of people are looking at her in a new (better) light and she might stand a better chance of winning that O will in his reelection.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I think you and Bev are right, except that I don't see her being able to get through a primary against Obama. If they could go back to 2008, I'm sure the Democrats would have switched to her. And she might be a good candidate for them in 2016, but I don't see them leaving Obama to support her in 2012 unless something big and bad happens first.

LawHawkSF said...

Tweelde-Dum and Tweedle-Dummer. I think you're absolutely right that she won't challenge the messiah, but I don't really care as long as neither of them is in the White House after the 2012 elections.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I'd love to see a knock-down, drag-out fight between the two of them in a primary. But, sadly, it won't happen.

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