Hillary Clinton: The inevitable presidential candidate

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington & Mary Reichard
Posted 11/19/14, 03:18 pm

This article is the 17th in the White House Wednesday series by The World and Everything in It looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Earlier installments profiled Republicans Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, and John Kasich, and Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Bernie Sanders.

During a recent trip to Iowa to campaign for fellow Democrats, Hillary Clinton hinted she might be planning a campaign of her own.

“Hello Iowa! I’m back!” she announced, calling to mind her 2008 presidential bid. Clinton is widely considered the inevitable nominee for the Democrats in 2016. As a candidate in a general election, Clinton has a lot going for her, which explains why so many Democrats are already backing her for 2016. She has the credibility and gravitas of the Clinton name. Many voters remember the 1990s as the last era of peace and prosperity, and a Clinton was in the White House during those years. 

She was very involved in policy during her years as first lady. Her campaign might try to sell the idea that the Clinton administration of the 1990s was really a co-presidency with Hillary Clinton involved in most every aspect of it. Aligning herself with her husband’s popular presidency could help her overcome the negatives of her close association with a less-popular president, Barack Obama.

But that will be difficult to do, given she was a member of the Obama administration as secretary of state for four years. Reviews of her performance as the nation’s top diplomat are mixed. Clinton’s supporters claim she helped repair a badly damaged U.S. reputation around the world. And some say she saved the signing of a Turkish-Armenian accord. Others say she was instrumental in convincing Obama to sign off on a 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan.

But the most indelible moments of her four-year tenure leading the State Department won’t be remembered as accomplishments.

In 2009, with media cameras rolling, Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Her message got lost in translation, though, when she used the Russian word “overcharge” in lieu of “reset” when she tried to say, “We want to reset our relationship.” What was once thought to be merely an embarrassing moment may now be more politically damaging to Clinton, given that U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated in recent years. The “failed reset” is likely to be campaign ad fodder in 2016.

But the most memorable event during Clinton’s time as secretary of state was the result of a failing at the State Department much more consequential than a flubbed translation.

“The fact is we have four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” Clinton said last year during a Senate hearing on the deadly 2012 terrorist attack on a US diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

At the time of the attack, other western nations, fearing for the lives of their diplomats, evacuated the region. The United States not only kept its diplomats there, but even reduced security. The investigation into the events surrounding the Benghazi attack is still ongoing. It’s the subject of a special select committee in the House, and it figures to be an issue that will haunt Clinton in 2016, should she decide to run once more for president. 

Fortunately for Clinton, conventional wisdom says foreign policy, her main area of responsibility during those years, doesn’t usually decide elections. 

If Republicans can tie Clinton to Obamacare, that could hurt more. During her time as first lady, Clinton took the lead on the top policy priority of her husband’s first term: comprehensive healthcare reform. So prominent was her role in the policy push as chairman of the healthcare reform task force that the plan soon became widely known as “Hillary-care.”

But there was broad resistance to the universal healthcare proposal. Hillary-care was eventually defeated, but it would be revived in a different form more than a decade later.

During the 2008 campaign, then-Sen. Obama said his healthcare plan and Clinton’s were 95 percent the same. Just as Obama infamously said repeatedly, if you like your plan you’ll be able to keep your plan, Clinton made similar assurances about her proposal. Expect political ads that claim Clinton’s promise was just as disingenuous as the president’s. 

Adding to Clinton’s problems is the fact that she’s not an exciting speaker. She’s made some pretty costly gaffes just this year. So she’s far from a perfect candidate, but she is a strong candidate overall, which should make for a very close election in 2016.

Listen to Kent Covington and Mary Reichard discuss Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential candidacy on The World and Everything in It: