Hillary Clinton’s Hardest Choice Still Lies Ahead

As her book tour kicks off, she can decide whether the high personal costs of a presidential campaign are worth it.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waits to speak at the World Bank May 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim joined others to speak about women's rights. 
National Journal
Charlie Cook
June 9, 2014, 5:31 p.m.

A vir­tu­al cot­tage in­dustry has de­veloped from journ­al­ists who do little else but cov­er — or per­haps the bet­ter term is ob­sess over — Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Every week there seem to be hun­dreds of thou­sands, if not mil­lions, of words writ­ten about her, par­tic­u­larly as she kicks off her new book tour Tues­day. Con­sid­er­ing that she is not pres­id­ent of the United States and no elec­tion for the job will be held un­til 2016, that is a pretty re­mark­able feat, and ar­gu­ably an un­pre­ced­en­ted one.

Now that the tour has be­gun, and re­views of her new book Hard Choices are ap­pear­ing every few minutes, it’s like a Niagara Falls of words. Many hav­ing read the book or even just ex­cepts are pars­ing its words the way Krem­lino­lo­gists in our in­tel­li­gence com­munity used to ex­am­ine every mes­sage from Mo­scow to de­term­ine the in­ten­tions of So­viet lead­ers. They mostly con­clude that she is cer­tainly run­ning, while a few have cre­at­ively found what they think are un­mis­tak­able in­dic­a­tions that she won’t.

Per­son­ally, I think all of them should take a deep breath.

The one art­icle in re­cent days that seems to make more sense to me than any oth­er is “Hil­lary Clin­ton’s Gut Check,” by Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Alex Seitz-Wald. The art­icle pos­its that Clin­ton’s tour, with at least 20 stops in 10 U.S. cit­ies plus two more in Canada, of­fers an op­por­tun­ity for the former sec­ret­ary of State to test the wa­ters, not so much in polit­ic­al as in per­son­al terms. As an un­named former aide to Clin­ton said in the art­icle, “What she’s go­ing to be ask­ing her­self is, am I hav­ing fun? Am I en­joy­ing this? Do I really want to do this again and po­ten­tially risk los­ing again?” Seitz-Wald then makes the point, “While Clin­ton is more fa­mil­i­ar than nearly any­one with what it’s like to run a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, a lot has changed since her last bid eight years ago: She’s older, and the oth­er per­son­al costs have nev­er been high­er. Even as she’s clearly lean­ing to­ward a run, it’s a chance for due di­li­gence.”

In my view, she al­most cer­tainly hasn’t de­cided wheth­er to run, nor does she need to do so be­fore the end of the year, and the de­cision could eas­ily slip in­to early next year. Quite simply, there is no need to de­cide any soon­er, so why should she? Back in Feb­ru­ary, this column poin­ted out that the choice to run for pres­id­ent is ef­fect­ively a nine-year com­mit­ment. It takes about one year to run for the job. Then, if you win, you serve for four years, and we’ve al­most nev­er seen a first-term pres­id­ent who didn’t want to have a second term, so four more years is needed for that. This is not to ar­gue by any means that Clin­ton is too old to run. After all, if elec­ted, Clin­ton — who is cur­rently 66 and will turn 67 in Oc­to­ber — will be 69, which is ex­actly the same age that Ron­ald Re­agan was when he was first elec­ted in 1980. That works out to 73 at the end of a first term and, if reelec­ted, 77 at the end of a second. This is a com­mit­ment for someone in her late 60s that would re­quire al­most a dec­ade, at a time when most people are start­ing to think about slow­ing down and en­joy­ing life a bit.

In the end, my guess is chances are 70 per­cent chance that she will run, but that one im­port­ant data point will be how she en­joys, or doesn’t en­joy, the taste of be­ing on the road and back in the fray.

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