Hillary and Inevitability

Hillary Clinton may well be the Democratic nominee in 2016, but I’d counsel my friends on the right to let the world turn on its axis for a while before we get obsessive with running against her.

It’s certainly become locked in stone in the minds of the D.C. apparat and national media that Her Majesty is the inevitable nominee, and the even more inevitable President in 2016. She’ll also win re-election in 2020 against a hapless Republican stooge who will run simply to make her feel one last rush of competitive energy. And obviously, Chelsea will be ready in 2024 … you can see where this kind of parlor-game transmutes into obsession.

In some ways, you can’t blame them. The long, sloppy foot-massage interview by Steve Kroft (which, probably did more damage to the 60 Minutes brand than anything I could imagine, other than a partnership with the Kardashian empire) was Barack Obama’s way of telling Joe Biden “Whoa there, Plugs.” It was a neat, packaged little performance, and a lovely parting gift to Hillary (and, in more ways, Bill) for four years of playing nicely.

She’s received almost nothing but praise for her tenure as Secretary of State, which neatly elides over the massive fecal tornado engulfing the world from Mali to Islamabad, the Arab Spring’s descent into something that looks more ugly by the day, and the coming festivities in Afghanistan when we close up shop there in 2014. Other than that, Mrs. Clinton, how did you enjoy the play?

She’ll have the institutional juice of the alphabet-soup of liberal groups that have grown like kudzu over the last decade, the party’s fund-raising heavy hitters, Hollywood, and the rest of the usual suspects in the press cheerleading her for the next four years.

All of this means … well, probably not much.

In 2007, Hillary was inevitable. I mean, really, really inevitable. Every media organization in the known universe gushed over her competence, her intellect, her stellar turn as a U.S. Senator, her prolific fund-raising ability, Bill’s transformation from intern-nailing atavist to Mr. Popularity and the historical precedent of a woman running for President.

And in the end, Obama.

Her money didn’t matter. Her reputation didn’t matter. Bill didn’t matter. What mattered was the fickle mistress of media attention and the ever-faster cycling of attention and the growing cult of political celebrity. Barack Obama emerged from the brow of Zeus (or Bill Ayers, if you believe my more conspiratorial brethren) and her every fault and failing became the center of the story. After a certain inflection point, her assets became faults and his faults became assets. We’ll likely see the same in 2016.

The media loves consistency and narrative, but they also love the shock of the new. They love the prospect of another Obama, who electrifies their fantasy lives in a way that Hillary never quite did. Oh, she’s entirely preferable to any Republican in their minds, but 2008 should have been a cautionary tale for those who are today declaring her inevitability. No, there probably won’t be another Obama, but there may well be someone and something else that captures attention.

And 2016 is so very far away.

Hillary Clinton, though beloved by the Acela Corridor, in reality has a kind of fuzzy brand image right now. Name ID is necessary, but not sufficient, and unfortunately for her, there isn’t a single, defining philosophical principle by which she can be identified, and part of the predicate of a future Hillary run is that Obama’s brand and her association with it will be a political asset.

Consider for a moment how different the political landscape looked between 2004 and 2008. In 2004, the compassionate-conservatism-national-security mashup brought George W. Bush a second term. After four years of Democratic and media onslaught, by 2008 the GOP brand was toxic. In 2012, Obama’s left-wing populism and technologically superior election machine left the commentariat convinced that a thousand years of Democratic dominance awaited us.

Hillary 2016 is a pleasant little parlor game, but there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip between now and the next inauguration. GOP candidates for 2016 should behave accordingly, and run on their own message and philosophy rather than plotting their race against the Countess of Chappaqua this early in the game.