Hillary Adviser: ‘Nobody Should Take Us for Granted’

A warning to liberals (and conservatives): When it comes to Hillary Clinton, you can’t assume a damn thing.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the first annual Richard C. Holbrooke lecture at the State Department in Washington, DC.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Ron Fournier
Feb. 3, 2014, 4:47 a.m.

If I’ve learned one thing from know­ing and cov­er­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton for 25 years, it’s this: Don’t as­sume a damn thing.

People as­sumed that she couldn’t over­come skep­ti­cism of fem­in­ists and North­ern trans­plants (she was both) to cham­pi­on edu­ca­tion re­forms in Arkan­sas. She over­came. “I think we’ve elec­ted the wrong Clin­ton,” le­gis­lat­or Lloyd George, lead­er of the good-old-boy caucus, said after she presen­ted pro­posed re­forms to a le­gis­lat­ive com­mit­tee in 1983.

People as­sumed that she’d be a quiet part­ner in Gov. Bill Clin­ton’s closely fought 1990 reelec­tion bid. Wrong: She evis­cer­ated her hus­band’s Demo­crat­ic rival in a state Cap­it­ol am­bush.

People as­sumed that she’d shrink in­to a tra­di­tion­al first lady’s role after be­com­ing a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure in the 1992 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. Wrong: She over­saw her hus­band’s sig­na­ture le­gis­lat­ive ini­ti­at­ive, the poorly drawn and man­aged health care pack­age that col­lapsed in Con­gress.

People as­sumed that she’d leave her hus­band after he had an af­fair with a White House in­tern and lied about it. Wrong.

When I re­por­ted that she was con­sid­er­ing a cam­paign for the Sen­ate in New York, people scoffed. One news or­gan­iz­a­tions quoted sources “close to Clin­ton” in­sist­ing that she would not run. People as­sumed that she would lose that Sen­ate race in 2000, that she would win the pres­id­ency in 2008, and that she would re­ject Barack Obama’s of­fers of a Cab­in­et post.

Get my point?

Don’t as­sume that she runs for pres­id­ent. The deep­er you dive in­to her in­ner circle and talk to friends who are not fin­an­cially and pro­fes­sion­ally in­ves­ted in a 2016 cam­paign, the more likely you’ll find people en­cour­aging her not to run — or at least to avoid get­ting stam­peded. I’d put the odds at 80-20 in fa­vor of her run­ning, and yet I know I shouldn’t be sur­prised by any­thing she does.

Don’t as­sume she wins. I’ve writ­ten this be­fore: Des­pite her many strengths (“What I Learned Cov­er­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton”), noth­ing is pre­dict­able about mod­ern polit­ics, and Clin­ton has par­tic­u­lar weak­nesses (“7 Ways Clin­ton and Christie Could Bungle 2016”).

Don’t as­sume she’ll bow to the Left. My col­league Alex Seitz-Wald makes a well-ar­gued case that pro­gress­ives will steer her 2016 agenda be­cause they’ve es­sen­tially already made the Demo­crat­ic Party more lib­er­al. In “How Pro­gress­ives Will Pull Hil­lary Left­ward,” Alex writes:

No mat­ter how much money she can raise, Clin­ton will need the Demo­crat­ic base for its en­ergy and or­gan­iz­ing, she’ll need its small-dol­lar grass­roots dona­tions, and she’ll need it to rally to her de­fense when she gets at­tacked. If she wants to cre­ate an aura of hav­ing united the party be­hind her, she needs to bring the base on board. And all of that gives the rank and file lever­age.

I dis­agree. I think the lever­age lies with Clin­ton. More im­port­antly, that’s what her ad­visers be­lieve. They know that if Clin­ton is giv­en the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion by vir­tu­al ac­clam­a­tion, she will be able to man­euver freely to the middle when her per­son­al views and polit­ic­al ne­ces­sity re­quire it. She would need the pro­gress­ive base, of course, but less so than a tra­di­tion­al can­did­ate.

“Nobody, not even our al­lies, should take us for gran­ted,” said one of her old­est friends and polit­ic­al ad­visers, who spoke to me this week­end on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity, be­cause nobody is al­lowed to dis­cuss their private con­ver­sa­tions with Clin­ton. Her views on Wall Street and for­eign policy are already more cent­rist than the Demo­crat­ic base. This ad­viser also poin­ted to trade, school choice, en­ti­tle­ments, and wel­fare re­form as oth­er po­ten­tial points of tri­an­gu­la­tion.

Yes, I know. This ad­viser could be spin­ning me. It’s been done be­fore. That’s why pro­gress­ives (and con­ser­vat­ives, for dif­fer­ent reas­ons) should not as­sume a damn thing about Clin­ton. They should care­fully read a piece by an­oth­er Na­tion­al Journ­al col­league. In “What Hil­lary’s Not Telling Us,” Beth Re­in­hard noted that Clin­ton’s views on sev­er­al hot-but­ton is­sues are un­known be­cause of her re­l­at­ive si­lence since 2008. She wrote:

The gap in Clin­ton’s pub­lic re­cord between her first pres­id­en­tial cam­paign and the mo­ment if and when she launches a second one of­fers both op­por­tun­ity and risk. Op­por­tun­ity for a bag­gage-laden vet­er­an to re­in­tro­duce her­self to voters and re­pos­i­tion her­self to be more ap­peal­ing to the rising pop­u­list Left. Risk, in that crit­ics will scru­tin­ize the re­in­tro­duc­tion and re­pos­i­tion­ing for flip-flops.

This is what little I know about Clin­ton: The greatest gap is of­ten the one between our as­sump­tions and her real­ity.

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