What is different for Hillary Clinton the second time around?

We closed today’s Power Line show with a brief discussion of the outlook for Hillary Clinton in the coming year. I speculated, and Steve agreed, that Clinton likely will not be able to clear the field of rivals for the Democratic nomination. This time next year, she may very well still be the Democratic frontrunner, but probably will not have an unimpeded path to the nomination.

This was about where she stood in December 2007. As I recall, most observers thought she would be the Democratic nominee (I know I did), but Barack Obama was gaining on her quickly. By January, with his victory in the Iowa caucus, Obama was running no worse than even with Clinton.

J.T. Young, writing for the American Spectator, argues that Clinton is in worse shape for 2016 than she was for 2008. Her advantages, Young argues, are the same as those that proved insufficient in 2008 — résumé, name recognition, money, and party establishment support. But now, according to Young, she has two new disadvantages.

First, she is less in step with her party now. The Democratic left has become more powerful, while Clinton has become less popular with it.

Second, Clinton now bears the burden of being associated with an unpopular administration. This disadvantage, I take it, will apply mainly in the general election, if Clinton gets that far.

The points Young makes are fair ones. However, I think he overlooks two important advantages Clinton possesses this time around.

First, she’s not running against Obama. Because he is mired in an unsuccessful presidency, it’s easy to forget what an attractive candidate Obama was seven years ago at this time, especially to liberals looking for a thrill. For them, Obama had it all, smarts (head of the Harvard Law Review and all that), youth, dynamism, race, oratorical skill, and the glibness necessary to sell liberalism while sounding moderate (mainly by declaring all tough choices to be false ones).

Who among Clinton’s potential rivals has these attributes now? Who anywhere in our poltics does?

Second, Clinton has the advantages of the lessons of 2008. Despite all of Obama’s pluses, Clinton probably would have defeated him had not her political team been severely outmanuevered in state caucuses. Clinton did well enough with primary voters. But she was shellacked in caucus states because Obama’s team turned out their people while Team Clinton slept.

We can be confident that Clinton’s team won’t make this mistake again.

But Clinton has a new disadvantage that Young overlooks. Her age. Fortunately for her, most of those thought to be her potential rivals — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Jim Webb — have the same problem. But a plausible candidate 15 to 25 years Clinton’s junior could emerge. He or she won’t be nearly as formidable as Barack Obama was, but Clinton could still suffer by comparison.

In sum, Clinton probably should be thought of as neither a paper tiger nor a shoe-in for the nomination. And Republicans have grounds for hoping that their party won’t be the only one that hosts bruising primary fights with a strong ideological component.


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