WASHINGTON – That was quick. Strike up “Happy Days Are Here Again” and cue the balloon drop. Better yet, Democrats could skip the whole primaries-and-convention thing and let Hillary Clinton get to work on picking a running mate.
Barring the political equivalent of an asteroid strike, it’s over. The slick video Clinton released Sunday was both campaign announcement and acceptance speech. I’m tempted to say the Democratic presidential nomination is hers to lose, but I have trouble imagining any plausible way she could lose it.
Martin O’Malley isn’t going to beat her. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run. Jim Webb? Please.
So if Clinton stumbles, who’s going to be in position to take advantage? It’s true that this is not the first time she has appeared to be the inevitable nominee. But it’s useful to recall how she lost in 2008. Barack Obama had more than charisma and his eloquence on the stump. He had a campaign team that invented new ways of mobilizing voters and laid out a detailed and ingenious state-by-state plan to win convention delegates. Clinton, arguably, didn’t so much get beaten as blindsided; by the time her people realized what was happening, Obama had opened an insurmountable lead.
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If Clinton were to allow someone to do that again, she would deserve to lose. But while progressive organizations have done some organizing on behalf of Warren, they won’t get far without a candidate – and Warren has done nothing to indicate she will run. No one in the party is building a broad-based, grass-roots, nationwide presence except Clinton.
Can Clinton be “relatable” or “likable,” or however it is she’s supposed to seem? Again judging by 2008, she can.
I remember Clinton’s rallies leading up to the Iowa caucuses, when she was still in inevitability mode. She was stiff, cautious, scripted within an inch of her life – as if she were trying to protect a big lead and run out the clock. But after she finished third in Iowa, behind Obama and John Edwards, Clinton became a different candidate. In New Hampshire, she let herself appear open and vulnerable – and she won.
Later, when it was clear that her presidential bid would probably fall short, Clinton got even better. During the second half of the 2008 primaries, she was basically as good as Obama on the stump. History just wasn’t on her side.
Sunday’s campaign launch came in the form of a gauzy video featuring vignettes of families (white, black, Latino, gay, mixed) talking about the new ventures they are about to launch. After 90 seconds of such, Clinton appears and says that she has a new venture of her own – “I’m running for president” – and wants to be the champion of “everyday Americans” because “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”
Conspicuously absent is a certain William Jefferson Clinton. I have a feeling, though, that he’ll show up eventually. Try as he might, he doesn’t do meek silence well.
After posting the video, Clinton changed the picture on her Twitter profile – so goes 21st-century campaigning – and set off to Iowa. But instead of taking a private jet, she and several aides piled into a van for a carefully choreographed road trip. During the 17-hour drive, she would have ample opportunity to interact with those “everyday Americans” she so desperately wants to fight for.
The choreographed launch was overthought, overproduced and, in the cosmic scheme of things, not terribly important in its details. Everyone already knew she was running. More important will be the answers she eventually gives to questions about specific issues, such as fixing income inequality and dealing with Iran.
Many in the progressive wing of the party consider Clinton too cozy with Wall Street and perhaps too willing to use U.S. military power. In the final analysis, however, I believe the GOP will help bring the Democratic Party together.
No sooner had Clinton announced than the Republican National Committee issued a statement saying she has “left a trail of secrecy, scandal and failed policies.” Other Republicans resumed the familiar Benghazi chant. It doesn’t take clairvoyance to predict that the anti-Clinton rhetoric will become more heated, more extreme and more personal. I don’t think anyone will be surprised if it becomes sexist as well.
My guess is that progressive Democrats will react to these attacks by rallying around their party’s certain nominee. This time, Clinton’s inevitability looks real. History may well be on her side for a change.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.
For more columns from national writers, go to sacbee.com/op-ed
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