Until quite recently, the preposterous idea of Hillary Clinton seeking a rematch with Donald Trump in 2020 was mostly a right-wing fantasy projection from people who loved the idea of beating her again (and perhaps imprisoning her in the bargain), wanted an excuse to continue their ludicrous conspiracy theories about her, or simply wanted to troll Democrats. Yes, once-upon-a-time Clinton adviser Mark Penn traded on his lost relationship with her to titillate his new conservative friends with HRC 2020 talk last year, but nobody should have taken his bad-faith word seriously. And nearly a year ago, one genuine Clinton intimate, Philippe Reines, let it be known that while it was very unlikely, there was a remote chance she might be interested in a comeback:
When pressed on whether she’s running, Reines told Politico: “It’s somewhere between highly unlikely and zero, but it’s not zero.”
Earlier this month HRC’s name started coming up again in conjunction with probably exaggerated reports of big-money donor panic over the weak “centrist” bench in the Democratic presidential field. But the Washington Post reported that “according to two people close to her, [HRC] has not ruled out jumping in herself, a sign that she is hearing similar dissatisfaction.”
And now, in a move designed to make sure conservatives don’t forget their own HRC 2020 dream world, Reines did something to keep the speculation alive:
Speaking of “unlikely”: That’s the word I’d use for the possibility that Reines chose to say this particular thing in that particular venue without prior approval from Clinton.
Now as I’ve said before, Hillary Clinton’s service to her country and her party mean she is entitled to say and do any damn thing she wants with her life and career going forward. But she of all people should grasp how very bad an idea this is, and scotch it once and for all. Yes, it’s understandable that she would want to “redo” that disastrous 2016 campaign. But that is precisely what Democrats from every faction of the party and every perspective on politics do not want to do.
In no small part that’s because we may never completely figure out how and why the Bad Man did the Bad Things and won anyway. There are so many theories, ranging from Russian interference to post-Obama racism to financial and mechanical mistakes by the Clinton campaign to her long exposure as an “Establishment” figure to revenge by the Bernie people. Personally, I think sheer complacency and protest voting (and nonvoting) by people who couldn’t imagine a monstrous figure like Trump winning were the X factor. But the fact remains that HRC cannot go back and fix one thing and make the nightmare go away, for her, for Democrats, or for America. So clearly someone else needs to pick up the banner and keep the next four years from being like the years we are living through right now.
Panicky donor whining notwithstanding, Democrats have a record number of options for doing just that. They offer a wide range of policy views, records, theories of change, personalities and identities. And while one may worry about this or that candidate underperforming during the “invisible primary,” nobody still in the race has been eliminated yet. All the leading Democratic candidates are routinely trouncing Trump in general-election trial heats; his job approval rating is perpetually stalled in an area that usually means defeat; and half the electorate wants to run him out of Washington without even waiting for the opportunity to eject him at the polls. Why are any Democrats in the sort of despair that might support a recourse to HRC?
It’s far too early for panic, but it’s probably not too early to conclude that the current field isn’t going to be displaced by some late entry. How, exactly, is Hillary Clinton supposed to win the nomination? Will she rebuild an Iowa organization even though all her old staff and supporters have moved on to other candidacies? Can she push aside Joe Biden? Would supporters of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders really look to her for inspiration and salvation? Perhaps the idea is that the convention in Milwaukee will be deadlocked and will then turn to the 2016 nominee. How likely is that, as opposed to a coalition ticket? And if a retread somehow seems appropriate, why not John Kerry, who also narrowly lost but did not lose to Donald J. Trump?
Please, Ms. Clinton, don’t keep this right-wing fantasy in play, and don’t make admirers (like me) have to recite the reasons you should not run for president in 2020. If you want to have an impact, endorse someone who is already running, or help the party in other ways. You’d done what you can to expose the terrible future Trump represents for America and its most vulnerable people. Let someone else change that future for good.