Perhaps the final indignity for Hillary Rodham Clinton after her calamitous defeat last November is that talk is already circulating that she is plotting one more presidential campaign in 2020. Yes, it’s in the form of a piece appearing in Politico Magazine, where no horsy-racy speculation is too weird or premature. Yes, the author is a Republican — a former Bush speechwriter, no less — who disclaims any “insider” information.
But still, the idea of one more Clinton Comeback Story being written at this moment is so annoying that Matt Latimer’s essay deserves a derisive response, or ten.
It is possible the whole piece is an exercise in irony that I, a baby-boomer, do not get. If not, it is, to use a technical term, ludicrous.
Clever boy that he is, Latimer hedges his bets despite the decisive headline (“Clinton is running again”) and teaser (“Here’s the proof”). The qualifier — “if she finds a path to do so” — covers pretty much anything. But the evidence for his counterintuitive take is almost entirely circumstantial and mostly of the you can’t prove she won’t variety.
Three of the signs Latimer sees for Clinton 2020 are actually things that did not happen: (1) the Clintons did not reverse a preelection promise to scale back the Clinton Global Initiative; (2) HRC did not rule out a political future for herself when she conceded defeat to Trump; and (3) she did not “disappear,” the way “most defeated rivals” do. They are most likely signs of absolutely nothing. The decision to wind down CGI may have been a painful one that the Clintons made too late to matter for 2016, but that by no means made it reversible or contingent on another campaign. Losing candidates do not always or even often make definitive statements about their careers on Election Night, which is why Latimer has to go all the way back to Nixon in 1962 for an example of what Clinton did not do. And I’d say Hillary Clinton’s postelection visibility is significantly lower than the previous three “defeated rivals,” Mitt Romney, John McCain, and John Kerry.
The only positive sign Latimer cites for Clintonian plotting is that HRC has signed a book deal. As he notes, this is her seventh book deal. Why is this one so remarkable? Are there reasons for politicians to sign book deals other than a future presidential run? Yes, there are, but the more pertinent question might be, has any politician ever turned down a book deal?
So having “proved” nothing, Latimer is off to the races with speculation on how she might win the Democratic nomination. His main argument is that having lost twice as a front-runner, running as an underdog should do the trick because she did best in the past when she had none of the advantages she enjoyed in 2016. This is another non sequitur: Yes, underdogs sometimes win, but it’s not because they are underdogs. Wallis Simpson famously said you cannot be too rich or thin. Politicians cannot be too strong, unless it leads them to overconfidence and related mistakes, which are not great indicators for future success. Nobody, after all, is predicting a Jeb Bush presidency any more.
Latimer must not have too much faith in either the underdog hypothesis or in his “proofs” Clinton is semi-openly plotting a comeback, because here’s his ultimate scenario:
Hillary Clinton has 100 percent name ID, a personal fortune and a bastion of loyalists. She could enter the race at the last possible moment—at the behest of the people, of course—and catch her Democratic Party rivals by surprise.
It would be a surprise, all right, because it is so not happening.
Please, scribblers, leave HRC to a dignified post-presidential-election career and then retirement. She will be forever renowned as the first woman to win a major-party presidential nomination. But she will be the Moses who could not enter the promised land of actually winning the White House, not the Joshua who finally broke the last glass ceiling. That could happen as soon as 2020. But it is time for the speculation to shift to the other women who might build on Hillary Clinton’s achievements.