Hillary Clinton is the 2012 Mitt Romney of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The parallels are uncanny. Both have previously run for president on strong political backgrounds. Both are Ivy League-educated lawyers who clear more than $1 million each year. Both have crafted moderate platforms that appeal to independents. Clinton is as inevitable in 2016 as Romney was in 2012. Does this mean the results in November will be the same?
Obviously there are a few key differences between Clinton and Romney. Clinton has more foreign policy experience and the most charismatic spouse in history. Romney alienated female voters, while Clinton could make history as the first female president. Romney faced more than a dozen primary competitors while Clinton is currently standing alone. However, the similarities may prove fatal for the Clinton camp.
On Sunday, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (unofficially) let everybody know he’s running for president when he said, “The presidency … is not some crown to be passed between two families.” Shots fired, guys. O’Malley has long been seen as a potential Democratic contender for 2016. Along with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, O’Malley is the only remarkable competition for Clinton in the 2016 primary season.
There is a clear undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Clinton’s inevitability among the more liberal and progressive arms of the Democratic Party. In Boston, we’re probably more aware of it than the rest of the country. Last week, The Boston Globe’s Editorial Board called for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren to challenge Clinton in the Democratic primary season. This was the latest and most prominent attempt to draft Warren into the 2016 race. Groups such as “Ready for Warren,” “Run Warren Run” and MoveOn.org have all put together early grassroots campaigns on behalf of Warren. Unfortunately for everyone, myself included, Warren has repeatedly stated that she will not run.
Warren, who, along with Liz Lemon and Olivia Pope, is one of my role models, is a symptom of a larger problem within the Democratic Party. Very few people are excited about Hillary Clinton. She’s not new to the political stage, and I think most people know what they’re going to get with her. She has already run for president once. The challenge for Clinton will be to create an evolved persona that addresses the fatal flaws in 2008 Clinton.
Conversely, Warren is exciting. She’s new and outspoken. She’s pissing off the big banks and not pulling any punches. She’s the populist underdog the left wing has been begging for. She has made a name for herself nationally by crafting a resonating message. She brands herself as a champion of the middle class and has lived up to expectations. Naturally, tension would arise between the liberal darling and the inevitable nominee. Maybe we’re only noticing this unresolved tension because it’s in our backyards. Warren may have a national presence, but she isn’t nearly as recognizable as Clinton.
While O’Malley and Biden are sizeable opponents, they’re nothing compared to the Mitt Romney-esque Clinton. If you remember the 2012 presidential election, there was a clown car’s worth of Republican candidates. It felt like there was a new frontrunner every week. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann all stepped onto center stage, if only for a moment. These candidates took some of the heat off Romney, until the GOP eventually settled on the former Massachusetts governor.
One of Hillary’s problems is the definitive lack of competition. Warren isn’t running. O’Malley and Biden aren’t viable options to challenge her or even gain short-term momentum. While the GOP had time to mull over all the candidates before finally supporting the inevitable, the Democratic Party doesn’t have this opportunity. Most people are just expecting Clinton to breeze through the primary season like an incumbent president. This is almost worse than Romney in 2012. The Republicans will have the opportunity to take shots at the Democratic frontrunner while her own party doesn’t challenge her.
Clinton will declare in the next few weeks, and her campaign will likely be more coronation than competition. With few viable alternatives, Dems will support the former secretary of state through the primary season and onto the general. However, if she fails to energize the liberal base, she’ll likely end up like Romney three years ago.
Hillary Clinton is her own woman, and I’m excited to watch her vie for the presidency. She is an experienced leader with a proven track record. However, she also can’t be the candidate we settle for. She needs viable challengers that force her to fight for the nomination. She has spent eight years preparing for this battle. Just because she is inevitable does not mean she should coast through the fight. Romney had an easy primary season that led to his defeat in November. Without serious primary competition, Clinton could face the same results.