Ready, Dems? Hillary Wants a Starring Role

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A divided Democratic Party, united only in a quest to defeat President Trump this year, is stretched to breaking over fault lines of young and old, liberal and moderate, persuaders and mobilizers, stabilizers and revolutionaries. About the last thing they need now is another Hillary Clinton revival tour -- but here it comes.

As the first votes in the nominating contest are set to be cast in just days, and barring a sweep by former Vice President Joe Biden, a protracted contest between the progressive and centrist candidates could drag out through February, to Super Tuesday, March 3, and even late into that month as delegates potentially pile up for several candidates. So if the party’s in Week 5 of that meltdown, March 6 is quite a time for Clinton’s four-hour docu-series about her life to debut on Hulu.

She will be seeking press attention upon its airing, of course, but has already upset the establishment by attacking He Who Must Not Be Named. In the film she says of Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.” She then hedged when asked by the Hollywood Reporter whether she would endorse Sanders as the nominee should he prevail. A fierce reaction ensued on Twitter, with outraged voices from ObamaWorld countered by HillaryLand defenders, and it ended with Clinton having to tweet that yes, of course she would support the nominee, even if it’s the democratic socialist who challenged her four years ago.

That is not exactly how it sounded in the Reporter interview. When asked if she will support a Sanders candidacy in the general election, she said: “I’m not going to go there yet. We’re still in a very vigorous primary season. I will say, however, that it’s not only him, it’s the culture around him. It’s his leadership team. It’s his prominent supporters. It’s his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture — not only permitted, [he] seems to really be very much supporting it.”

For a while after the 2016 election and the inauguration, there were long breaks -- mercifully -- when we didn’t hear from Clinton. She was grieving, raging, whatever those five stages of electoral defeat are that one must journey through. But she’s healed and liberated and energized now, downright perky in fact, and is eager to rejoin the community of newsmakers. No matter that many Democrats aren’t over their grief, and still blame her for Trump, she’s out of her shell and truly enjoying it.

The former secretary of state has been book-touring with her daughter for months (they collaborated on “The Book of Gutsy Women,” which was published last fall). A glance at StubHub shows the speaking tour she and former President Bill Clinton did last winter practically merged with the next set of appearances with Chelsea. And her cathartic Bernie-bashing began in a December Howard Stern interview that lasted several hours where she also dished on Trump, her pained Inauguration Day experience and so on and so on.

The formerly clammed-up Clinton provides an intimate look at her life in the documentary, sharing the ugly times -- Monica Lewinsky, etc. -- along with the good. It is her project, one she sought just months after her defeat to make use of the extensive documentation from her 2016 campaign, to share her story and her glory. The filmmakers even tried tracking down Republican validators but couldn’t find one participant, and they admit former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told them directly he would rather “stick needles” in his eye. All these years and crushing defeats later, Clinton’s blindness is alive and well.

While Democrats know Clinton’s thirst for relevance renders Trump and his voters euphoric, she remains entirely unaware. And given her mockery of Trump’s emotionally desperate tweets, it’s ironic that the former senator and first lady has also stooped to social media neediness – as when, on Jan. 8, with the nation panicked because Trump had taken us to the brink of war with Iran, she tweeted a GIF of herself under the hashtag #ivotedforHillaryClinton.

This is what Democrats dread as the campaign season intensifies and she seeks more opportunities to make news. With her 2016 battle scars Clinton feels uniquely positioned as the expert on anything related to the election of 2020 and she is prepared to indulge herself. She told the Hollywood Reporter that she has warned all the candidates: “Whoever gets the nomination, you've got to deal with the structural challenges that the Republicans and their allies have put in your way. So, that means you've got to deal with voter suppression, because they'll steal votes or they'll prevent votes from happening. They're now trying to purge voters so that they can try to limit the electorate. You've got to deal with the theft of your personal information, particularly your emails. I say to them, ‘If your emails haven't been stolen yet, they will be.’ ”

But of all topics, Clinton is most fond of the double standard she believes she endured and that female candidates in the 2020 race are now subjected to. It’s not hard to tell, given the time spent on this topic in the film as well, that Clinton sees this as her unique expertise, a subject on which she can enlighten or inspire. She wants us to know she has met with the women candidates in the race and told them they won’t be treated fairly and “don't let it knock you off your stride.”

In the Reporter interview, Clinton said of the women who ran in 2018, “I supported them. They contacted me, they told me that volunteering for me or my election motivated them to run.” And while that may be true, no Democrats had Hillary or Bill Clinton campaign for them in those midterms. Clinton, who said that “thankfully I still have a voice and a following,” clearly feels needed, and says many people ask her to run for president “every day.” So while she won’t run she is geared up to stay in the fight.

“Does it get discouraging? Do you feel like you want to pull the covers over your head? Yes. But it's just not how I'm made, and it's not what I think this country that I love and I've tried to serve should stand for,” she told the interviewer. “So, I get back in the fray.”

At the premiere of “Hillary” at the Sundance Film Festival last weekend, Hillary made sure to make news on Facebook, likening the platform to a foreign power and calling Mark Zuckerberg’s policy of permitting lies in political ads “Trumpian,” and “authoritarian.” Zuckerberg, Clinton said, has been persuaded “that it’s to his and Facebook’s advantage not to cross Trump. That’s what I believe. And it just gives me a pit in my stomach.” Clinton concluded, which she is likely to repeat in the future, that she believes Facebook is “not just going to reelect Trump, but intend[s] to reelect Trump.”

She is not the only Democrat who believes this, but as tensions grow, along with the debate over the dominance of digital advertising in the campaign, it isn’t likely to be an issue Democrats want Clinton to lead on. Unfortunately, no one quite knows how to stop her, and she and her husband apparently haven’t absorbed just how far out of the establishment power circle they actually are.

Democrats are likely hoping Clinton will contain her urges to compare herself with the nominee they anoint in July, and refrain from such comments until at least after November. As they take on a stronger Trump than she did, they would like 2020 to be as free of the stench of the 2016 defeat as possible. Clinton may not allow it.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 

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