Everyone pretty much agrees that if Hillary Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, she’d be a lock for the Democratic nomination and very difficult to beat in the general election. But David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter and current disgruntled Republican moderate, doesn’t think the Democrats should nominate her. In a Slate-pitch for CNN, Frum warns that handing over the nomination to Clinton without a competitive primary (presumably, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, and others wouldn’t run) would be a terrible, terrible mistake.
Yet the biggest risk to Democrats from a Hillary Clinton nomination is not that it would be generationally backward-looking – or that it would reopen embarrassing ethical disputes – but that it would short-circuit the necessary work of party renewal.
After eight years in the White House, a party requires a self-appraisal and a debate over its way forward. Bill Clinton offered Democrats just such a debate in 1992 with his “New Democrat” ideas. Barack Obama offered another in 2008 with his careful but unmistakable criticism of Clinton-era domestic policies and Hillary Clinton’s Iraq war vote. But if Hillary Clinton glides into the nomination in 2016 on the strength of money, name recognition, and a generalized feeling of “It’s her turn,” then Democrats will forgo this necessary renewal …
A Hillary Clinton campaign would want to shut down any such debate before it starts. It would want to inherit the Democratic nomination and then the presidency as an estate in reversion: a debt long owed, now collected. If successful, it would arrive in office without a platform and without much of a mandate. That’s not a formula for an effective presidency – or a healthy democracy.
We’re not sure why Clinton wouldn’t have a platform (surely she will have to share her ideas during the campaign?) or a mandate (the American people still would have voted her in over the Republican candidate), and as for the “party renewal” aspect, how important is that compared to a golden opportunity to hold on to the White House for another four or eight years? Figuring Out Who You Are isn’t worth much if you lack the power to carry out your agenda.