I argued in a column last week that, despite the conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton is certain to run for president in 2016, there’s a decent chance — maybe 30 percent — that she won’t. Obviously, that means there’s still about a 70 percent chance that she will.
The article’s point was very deliberately not to make a case that she absolutely would or wouldn’t run. My intention was purely to point out that chances are pretty fair that she may not run (perhaps more of one than many have suggested).
It would hardly be possible for anyone to argue that she lacks the ambition to run. However, Clinton — who turns 67 in October — will presumably be making her “go or no go” decision soon after her next birthday. That decision, if in the affirmative, would effectively be a nine-year commitment. One year to run, and, if successful, the four years of a first term beginning at age 69. This would be followed by — if she were reelected — a second term at 73. Include the four years of a second term, and Hillary could presumably be leaving office at age 77. Given the health scare she had during her final year as secretary of State, the choice to take on an even more physically demanding challenge three years later, i.e. running for president, would not be a decision to be made easily or lightly.
The reaction to that piece was somewhat dismaying on several levels. The vast majority of the more than 4,200 comments that appeared on nationaljournal.com were anti-Clinton and among the most vitriolic that I have encountered in 28 years of column writing. It’s proof that no matter how polarizing President Obama has been, no matter how much many conservatives despise him, he has in no way displaced their deep-seated hatred for the Clintons. The bile just poured out of the screen as if we were back in the 1990s, a very unsubtle reminder of how much politics have changed in the past 30 years. Back then, while emotions ran high, things weren’t quite this personal. It’s this current volatility that could very well be another reason why Clinton may ask herself, “Life is too short; why would I want to put up with this crap another time?”
But again, in all probability, she will run. And, at least for the Democratic nomination, she would be a very difficult candidate to stop. She would also likely be a very formidable opponent for any Republican nominee to defeat.
The pro-Hillary Clinton side largely held their fire, but I did get a bit of sentiment that some saw the column as implied sexism — despite the fact that I explicitly stated that Clinton’s age at the time of the 2016 election would be exactly the same as that of Ronald Reagan when he was elected in 1980. I also pointed out in the column that the age argument was used against him in both 1980 and 1984, but it didn’t seem to work. Left unstated was why I chose not to discuss Joe Biden, who will turn 74 two weeks after the 2016 election. Biden wasn’t brought up in that piece because the column was not about the vice president. The age issue is obviously one that will confront Biden, and his potential candidacy even more — notably, he is almost five years older than Clinton.
For either Clinton or Biden, the challenge is to make themselves, and their candidacies, more relevant to the future than to the past. The youngest voters in 2016 were 2 years old when Bill Clinton left office in 2000 and were not born when Biden first ran for president; indeed, many of their parents may not yet have been born when Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972. Having elected, and reelected, Obama, himself a member of Generation X, the 2016 electorate poses a significant problem for any potential candidate.
Appealing to the baby-boom cohort in the near future would require a candidate to make a very deliberate decision to step back a generation in terms of targeted voters and campaign strategy. The generational difference between Obama and John McCain in 2008 may or may not have been relevant to the outcome of that election; however, it certainly was noticeable. It’s worth noting that, purely speculatively, virtually all of the names on the Republican side in 2016 would be far younger than either Clinton or Biden.
If people want to speculate about Clinton — should she run, will she run, how well would she run — it is important to note that these same questions are just as applicable and appropriate when considering Biden. Having been burned by one inevitable Hillary Clinton nomination, aficionados would be better advised to consider all of the various permutations of Democratic fields, and remember that all decisions about running are not purely political.