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April 05, 2013 12:32 PM “Clearing the Field” Redux

By Ed Kilgore

I wrote about this in February, but since Tod Lindberg’s piece at TNR throwing cold water on the idea of HRC “clearing the field” of Democrats in 2016 will likely get a lot of attention (he’s a respected conservative writing about Democratic politics), I will repeat myself a bit.

Like some other writers, Lindberg seems to take the notion of “clearing the field” quite literally, and thus pens a column that trashes that extremely unlikely contingency by noting that candidates seeking a “trial run,” vying for the vice presidency, or even just wanting attention, could well enter the lists against a prohibitive front-runner. I don’t know anybody who doubts that. That has generally been the case since the full adoption of the primary system in 1972 made a complete preemptive lockdown of the nomination by party bosses impossible, and was usually the case even before 1972.

So when Lindberg quotes Steny Hoyer endorsing the “HRC could clear the field” hypothesis, he seems to think Steny meant that quite literally, which I doubt seriously. The more likely meaning of the term, which we ought to adjust to or just find a different term, is that HRC is in a position to have a dominant opening position unlike anything we’ve seen in either party for quite some time. Based on her current popularity and poll standings; her universal name ID; and the historic nature of her candidacy, she’s currently in a vastly stronger position than she was in 2008 (when she was considered “too polarizing” for a general election, had a rival for “historical candidacy” in Barack Obama, and had to deal with a significant number of Democratic voters and activists still angry at her Iraq War vote and at various things her husband did). And at present, she’s in a stronger position than George W. Bush or Al Gore going into 2000; Bob Dole going into 1996; George H.W. Bush going into 1988; Richard Nixon going into 1968; and anyone else you can think of after 1960.

That could obviously change, but unless we just want to throw up our hands and not think about it, HRC is at a unique level right now, and “she could clear the field,” which just means she could chase off strong opposition and lock down the nomination very early. This is probably as good a way to describe it as any other, but if people keep taking it literally, let’s use “most dominant front-runner of our era” or something.

UPDATE: Since commenter Lifelong Dem thinks I’m trying to “rewrite history” by suggesting HRC is in a better position that she was at this point eight years ago, I have to say I just disagree, and I was around then, too. No, Obama hadn’t emerged as a likely candidate just yet. But John Edwards basically never stopped running after 2004, and let’s don’t rewrite history about him: he was a formidable candidate with an organization already in place in Iowa (where he ultimately finished ahead of HRC). John Kerry was still thinking about running again, and he had universal name ID and no more intraparty detractors than HRC. There was serious talk about Al Gore running. But aside from the potential field, a HRC candidacy was controversial within and beyond the party in a way that it simply isn’t right now. Everyone’s entitled to their own memories, particular on a slippery topic like this, but I don’t think I’m just making this up, and I’m certainly not trying to help build some HRC bandwagon. It’s already there if she chooses to climb aboard.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Josef K on April 05, 2013 12:39 PM:

    Is it just me, or do conservatives (both large and small "c") seem to be engaging in increasingly bloody language and imagery these days? I mean, the first image that comes to mind with “clearing the field” involves alot of bodies lying about, many with arrows and spears stuck in them.

  • Mimikatz on April 05, 2013 12:43 PM:

    As long as it remains true that she will be 70 the year due is inaugurated, there will be questions apart from her strong position. Plus her running mate, should she win the nomination, is well positioned for 2020. So there will be many candidates. And that is a good thing. The Hillary of today is not necessarily the Hillary of 2016, and we all have to be clear eyed about that.

  • Stina on April 05, 2013 12:51 PM:

  • low-tech cyclist on April 05, 2013 1:04 PM:

    Hillary has a remarkably strong position going in. But I can't see her clearing the field in even a figurative sense. Two counterexamples:

    1) Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. 2016 is his 'as good as it gets' moment. After 8 years of being governor, and 8 years of being mayor of Baltimore before that, there's only one place for him to go, and he very much wants to go there.

    If he doesn't run, and run strongly enough to make an impact on people, he'll be a political has-been by 2024. So he's running, and running for real.

    I suppose Hillary could take him out of the game by promising him the veep slot, but I can't see her making that deal early enough to take him out of the primaries.

    2) There's this Biden guy who sure sounds like he's running.

    Just goes to show what a wealth of talent there is on the Dem side. Meanwhile, the best the GOP has to offer is newbies like Rubio, idiots like Jindal, and refugees from the Pleistocene like Ted Cruz.

  • c u n d gulag on April 05, 2013 1:14 PM:

    Don't underestimate the Republicans attempts to fling poo at HRC.
    They've been pretty good at it for 20 years.

    And then, for the MSM to pick up on that poo, and make her negatives their meme, and root for the poor plucky little underdog Repubican candidate, who, no matter who he or she is, and what stupid or hateful positions he/she takes, will be described, of course, as having learned the lessons of '08 and '12.

    Whether that poo sticks with the public, will be entirely up to the turds in the MSM, and how hard they try.

    Having said that, I think her time as a very respected SoS will help her fight off the Reich-wing poo-flinging.
    And that she seems like a much more sympathetic figure to the general public than she had, even 5 years ago.
    And, "The Big Dawg!"

  • Lifelong Dem on April 05, 2013 1:27 PM:

    I'm sorry, but I don't buy the notion that Hillary! is somehow in a stronger position today than she was at this point in the 2008 race. During the summer of 2005 (which is comparable to this point in the 16 election cycle), she was the clear favorite for the nomination. I clearly remember conversations at the time with politically aware friends who asked, "Who else is there?"

    Obama had made his speech at the 2004 convention but at this point in 2005 he was in his first legislative session as a US Senator. NOBODY was thinking of him as a presidential candidate yet.

    Jeebus, leave the history rewrite to the Republicans. I expect it there.

  • Lifelong Dem on April 05, 2013 1:30 PM:

    I'm sorry, but I don't buy the notion that Hillary! is somehow in a stronger position today than she was at this point in the 2008 race. During the summer of 2005 (which is comparable to this point in the 16 election cycle), she was the clear favorite for the nomination. I clearly remember conversations at the time with politically aware friends who asked, "Who else is there?"

    Obama had made his speech at the 2004 convention but at this point in 2005 he was in his first legislative session as a US Senator. NOBODY was thinking of him as a presidential candidate yet.

    Jeebus, leave the history rewrite to the Republicans. I expect it there.

  • hornblower on April 05, 2013 1:55 PM:

    Sometimes we bemoan the permanent Presidential campaign. Then we write about the next one daily. Give it a rest please. Four years is a long time.

  • cwolf on April 05, 2013 2:08 PM:

    Republican Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower was the most recent slam-dunk Shoo-in for a candidate of the out of office party. He stomped The Democrats in all the presidential election of 1952.
    He won in 47 states, losing only in the 7 most rabid states of the old confederacy + KY & WV.

  • cwolf on April 05, 2013 2:09 PM:

    Correction: Typo: Ike won 37 states

  • cwolf on April 05, 2013 2:11 PM:

    This is not my day. M
    0ake that correction:
    39 States that Ike won.

  • colby on April 05, 2013 2:29 PM:

    "Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. 2016 is his 'as good as it gets' moment."

    Yes, but I don't see O'Malley as a very formidable candidate if Hillary or Biden is in the mix. I like him a lot, but he's basically just Standard Issue Mainstream Dem. Biden would be quite something, though.

    "They've been pretty good at it for 20 years."

    Have they? For all their efforts, her career trajectory has only been in one direction. The only guy who ever even stalled her was a Dem.

    "During the summer of 2005 (which is comparable to this point in the 16 election cycle), she was the clear favorite for the nomination. I clearly remember conversations at the time with politically aware friends who asked, "Who else is there?""

    I remember her being ahead, but I certainly do not remember thinking there were no realistic alternatives. I also remember quite a few Dems casting about for those alternatives (remember, Obama was subject to a draft movement), whereas any dissatisfaction with her now is much more muted.

  • Peter C on April 05, 2013 2:33 PM:

    I'm starting to wonder if conservative pundits are discussing "Hilary!" in 2016 because they want us to forget about 2014.

    Really, 2016 is not a big problem, folks. We have lots of qualified candidates and the GOV have their same old clown car. We need to work on 2014.

    Seriously, we've got big problems which will sit and fester because of the Republican-dominated House. I think anyone expecting solutions in the next year and a half is even more optimistic than I usually am.

    We've got to make 2014 a national campaign and work it hard. If we regain the House in 2014, 2016 will take care of itself.

  • Daryl Peter Cobranchi on April 05, 2013 2:59 PM:

    I remember some discussion in Dem circles expressing a bit of wariness over the dynastic quality of an HRC run. We had gone Bush-Clinton-Bush and were looking at continuing the cycle. That's ancient history now.

  • Mimikatz on April 05, 2013 6:53 PM:

    Unless Jeb Bush runs.

    And I agree. Let's concentration 2014. There are too many unknowables about 2016. Let's see who busts their chops campaigning for others, who makes a name for themselves in 2014. Keep an eye on Kirsten Gillibrand, for example.