|Are America’s First Couple on their way back to the White House?|
The year was 2007, it was the middle of US primary season, and Hillary Clinton seemed a shoo-in to be nominated as the Democratic candidate for the following year’s presidential election. Indeed, Mrs Clinton was so filled with self-confidence that she had already consulted with her closest aides as to how she would manage her transition to the White House. A tough political veteran with eight years of unique experience at the heart of power as First Lady, Senator Clinton saw herself as the Democrats’ only credible candidate, a big fish surrounded by political minnows.
Of course, things didn’t quite go as expected and Clinton was overtaken and soundly defeated by one of those minnows she had so perilously underestimated, the young and inexperienced Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton regarded Obama with suspicion and disdain; yes, he was clearly a talented man and a rousing public speaker, but he wasn’t presidential material! The Clintons were convinced that Obama, who had been a senator for less than three years when he announced his candidacy, was a flash-in-the-pan figure whose appeal was only temporary and who would soon begin to lose momentum once his superficiality and lack of substance was exposed.
How wrong they were. Obama’s momentum grew and grew as he mobilised key demographic groups including students, young professionals and ethnic minorities. In contrast, Senator Clinton seemed to be the candidate of the past, the epitome of the Democrats’ corporatist Washington establishment. Against such a backdrop, it must have been a brutal kick in the teeth for Mrs Clinton to find herself in 2009 being sworn in not as President of the United States of America, but as Secretary of State in an Obama administration.
Fast-forward five and a half years, and the situation is a very different one. Hillary Clinton is once again in pole position to be the Democratic candidate in the next presidential election, this time with a lack of any credible alternatives. Her supporters claim that she is a new woman and that her four-year tenure as Secretary of State allowed her to reinvent herself once again, this time as America’s top diplomat. This is a claim which may indeed be based in some truth – after all, no one is as skilled as Hillary Clinton when it comes to the art of political reinvention.
During her time as First Lady she was widely seen as an activist who was to the left of her more centrist husband, particularly on the issue of healthcare reform where she gained notoriety for her controversial and ultimately botched ‘Hillarycare’ proposals. This activism caused her to be the most polarising First Lady in living memory, a hero to the feminist left but a hate figure amongst conservatives who largely viewed her as an overly ambitious, self-promoting careerist. All too aware of her public perception, Clinton moved towards the political centre-ground after entering the Senate in 2001, befriending several key Republicans, supporting the Bush administration’s Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11, and most controversially, voting in favour of the invasion of Iraq.
However, by moving to the centre she alienated the left wing of the Democratic Party, which rallied around Barack Obama in order to deny her the presidency. So why does anyone think that things will be different in 2016? After all, the Democrats seemed determined to find a suitable ‘anti-Hillary’ candidate in 2008, and on paper at least it would appear that the same thing will also happen this time around.
Hillary Clinton is still just as controversial and polarising as ever; although she was a fairly popular Secretary of State she is still deeply disliked by the Republican grassroots, feelings which have been strengthened by her role in the Benghazi controversy of 2012. Likewise, she is still far from being the American left’s candidate of choice, a fact which is highlighted by the presence of Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent progressive who many are tipping to run as an anti-establishment dark horse candidate.
No matter who wins the Democrat nomination, the 2016 election will be a much closer fight than 2008. The Republicans are still bitterly divided, but they do have the potential to regain the White House as long as they can nominate a solid and plausible candidate with the ability to reach out to independents and swing voters as well as the conservative grassroots. Likewise, with President Obama’s popularity waning, the Democrats will have to beat off ‘incumbency fatigue,’ a struggle which will prove to be difficult anyway due to the fact that the present incumbent was once the personification of new beginnings and political change. With Hillary Clinton at the helm, it could turn out to be impossible.
Also published on my personal blog: http://georgereeves1994.blogspot.co.uk/