No, I don’t mean the Pennsylvania Democratic primary on Tuesday. I mean the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination this year.
This thought came to me as I was talking with my brother earlier today. He thinks Mrs. Clinton knows she’s not going to win the Democratic nomination this year, but is setting the stage for another bid in 2012. I countered that no one will take her seriously four years hence should she lose this year.
She had a unique opportunity this year, going into the election the presumed frontrunner, based more on the standing her husband enjoyed in their party than on her own accomplishments. Ironically, largely because of his wife’s campaign, he has lost that standing. As Noemie Emery writes*:
If she fails to win, which seems likely, the Clintons’ joint reputation will not recover. The party’s first couple has been pushed off its pedestal.
With that pedestal gone, Hillary won’t be able to run from as strong a position in 2012 as she did when this year’s campaign began.
After all, despite her repeated claims of three-and-one-half decades of experience, she doesn’t have many accomplishments to show for all that time in public life. All she has is her marriage to “the most successful Democrat of the last half century and their first two-term president since 1945” and the prominence that union allowed. Oh, and the feminists (and related leftists) who swooned all over an outspoken First Lady.
Take away the Clinton aura of invincibility and the former First Lady is just a mediocre Senator who happens to possess above-average intelligence and have befriended colleagues on both sides of the political aisle. But lacking significant legislative accomplishments, a record of leadership and a personality which commands attention and inspires multitudes.
This campaign represents Hillary’s last stand for the White House. And methinks she knows it. That’s why, I believe, she’s is this race to win it. And given her Democratic opponent’s many recent missteps, she still has a chance, though not as a big a chance as she once had.
Should she lose this year, she’ll have a hard time convincing Democratic voters she should bear their standard in 2012. If she couldn’t win this year when she had the early fundraising advantage, a solid organization and her husband’s status in the party, how could win with that organization proven vincible and that status diminished.
* Emery echoes a theory I put forward in this post, writing that at the outset of the campaign:
Hillary Clinton seemed poised to glide to her coronation, all but untested by real competition. She then would be free to start tacking back toward the center for her general-election campaign. She apparently made no plans to fight Democrats past Super Tuesday (February 5).