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Republicans Shouldn't Fear Hillary Clinton

Republicans Shouldn't Fear Hillary Clinton

By Frank Donatelli - June 17, 2014

Washington’s Democratic elite may be unsure about how to fix Obamacare, boost the economy or lead the world from behind, but there is one thing they have no doubt about: Hillary Clinton will be the next president of these United States. Talk to any Democratic activist and you get a Joe Namath-like guarantee (apologies for the dated reference) that Hillary’s victory is a foregone conclusion.

After all, the former first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state faces token opposition in her own party, leads all Republicans by healthy margins in the polls, and is guaranteed unlimited financial support from the same crony capitalists who have made Hillary and Bill wealthy beyond any former first family.

Yet it is likely that her path back to the White House will be more difficult than conventional wisdom dictates. Republicans should welcome the opportunity to face her in 2016.

Democrats have a habit of not picking their front-runner, and that applies to Mrs. Clinton. She was supposed to have been elected president in 2008, but never made it as far as her party’s nominating convention. The primaries in 2008 exposed her as a wooden candidate with little of her husband’s personal charm, humor, or charisma. Politically, she tried to straddle the ideological divide in the Democratic Party and was outflanked on the left by Barack Obama.

Both of these dynamics will be in evidence again next year. The interviews for her book tour have been so underwhelming that commentators primed to be sympathetic have noted that she seems rusty and off her game. She’s likely to again face at least one opponent running to her left—and she’ll need a better way of convincing liberal activists that she’s a fellow true believer. Other gaffes are likely to follow the oddball “humble roots and dire circumstances” rap she laid on Diane Sawyer while pitching her book tour. (“I was dead broke,” she said, “when we left the White House.”)

If she makes it to the general election, Clinton will encounter more problems. As a prominent member of the Obama administration, she’ll be asked to answer its shortcomings. She’ll plead innocent to President Obama’s economic pitiful record, but history tells us how difficult it is for a party to win three national elections in a row—and the president’s declining job approval rating is unlikely to get much better in the next two years.

And how will she explain the international affairs failures of an administration in which she was the most prominent foreign policy official? It’s unlikely voters will be swayed by the blithe assurances in her book that the bloody Benghazi crucible wasn’t at all her fault. Even more troubling may be the unfolding disaster that is American policy in the Middle East. Syria remains in chaos, Iran is the march, and now Iraq is on the verge of falling to terrorist Islamic forces mostly because the current administration refused to keep even a token U.S. presence in the country. Add the newly and unchecked aggression of Vladimir Putin in Russia and you have a world in crisis with America nowhere to be found.

Politics can change quickly. Many experts assumed 2008 would be about foreign policy and yet the domestic economy dominated that election. Who is to say that foreign affairs won’t be key in the 2016 race?

More to the point, the winning argument in presidential races involves the future and which candidate can best lead America in the years ahead. Hillary seems intent on pivoting back to the past, to the halcyon years of the 1990s when she and Bill ruled the country. But when has going back 20 years represented a sound electoral strategy? Although voters who remember those times may have good feelings about the president who was in office then, it’s a stretch to think they’ll vote for someone pledged to bring back the good old days. Republicans have tried that. It doesn’t work. America is still a forward-looking country.

Most liberals still believe in group identity, the idea that Americans will vote for a member of their group even if it conflicts with their personal well- being and circumstances. Just as historical forces made Obama as the first black president, they believe, so history demands Hillary be the first female chief executive.

However, history doesn’t cast ballots, individuals do. Americans still believe that great men and women trump historical inevitability. A serious Republican making an appeal to a better future for all Americans should prove the point again in 2016. 

Frank J. Donatelli, a veteran conservative activist, served as White House political director under Ronald Reagan and deputy chair of the RNC in 2008. He is currently chairman of GOPAC.

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