Hillary Clinton Running Away with the Race

The 2008 runner-up has scared off all serious challengers for 2016. Why?

hillary-clinton-flag

Analyzing a spate of recent articles lamenting the lack of opposition for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Ezra Klein contends, “Hillary Clinton isn’t running unopposed. She’s just crushing the competition.

[I]n the invisible primary, when the contest is as much a draft as it is a campaign, Clinton is “opposed” by essentially every Democrat fit for the presidency. If the party’s powerbrokers didn’t want to support Clinton and instead really wanted Sen. Michael Bennet to run, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lead the field, they would be working toward that outcome. Instead, they’re lining up behind Clinton. In this telling, Clinton isn’t winning by default. She’s winning by winning. The absence of competition is the product of Clinton’s strong, successful campaign to win over Democratic Party elites.

After showing polling data demonstrating that Clinton is not only by far the most well-known potential candidate in either party but also the one with the highest net favorables, Klein continues,

This is the context for Hillary’s dominance on the Democratic side: she’s in a much stronger position not just than any Democrat going into 2016, but also than any Republican. These are early polls and the numbers can and will change, but look where Clinton is compared to Jeb Bush or Scott Walker. That’s a big deal to Democrats, and a big reason they’re supporting her rather than looking for an alternative.

[…]

[T]he Democratic Party has a bench. It’s just that Clinton is running so strongly in the invisible primary that no one on it thinks it’s worth getting in the game.

The question for the Democratic Party is whether Clinton is going to be as strong in the visible primary — and the visible election — as she is in the invisible one. The skills necessary to win over Democratic Party elites may not be the skills necessary to win the election — and if Hillary doesn’t face serious opposition in the visible primary, Democrats may not find that out until too late.

This is right as far as it goes. Why it should be, though, is beyond me.

Clinton should have been in a more dominant position in 2008, yet several big name candidates made an actual run for the nomination. Barack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, of course narrowly edged her out. But John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, was also in the race. So was perennial candidate Joe Biden. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor and former UN ambassador and Energy Secretary ran. So did veteran Senator Chris Dodd. And, yes, Dennis Kucinich and even Mike Gravel ran. Not just in the invisible primary. They actually mounted real campaigns, including participating in the debates.  Granted, all but Obama pulled out of the race by the end of January. But they at least made a go of it.

This year, ten months out from the Iowa Caucuses. Here’s the list of candidates in the race:

  • Jeff Boss, conspiracy theorist and perennial candidate from New Jersey
  • Vermin Supreme, Performance artist and perennial candidate from Massachusetts
  • Robby Wells, former Savannah State University head football coach, from North Carolina; Reform Party and Constitution Party presidential candidate in 2012

The only other known candidates even in an exploratory phase are former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb.

Why isn’t Biden running again? He clearly wants the job and his profile has certainly been raised by six years as Vice President. He’s 72 years old. It’s not as if he’ll be more viable in 2020.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    In Wisconsin Clinton is trouncing Walker 52 to 43 with 5% undecided.
    Biden and Warren both get 48 to 45 with 7% undecided.
    Those tea leaves are pretty easy to read even for a devout Republucanist like yourself. I realize you would be happy to see Democrats take action that is against their best interests. Good luck.
    I wish Clinton would go away…but the stakes are too high to shun such strong polling. If Republicans get a couple more Supreme Court Activists this country will be irreparably damaged. How many more Citizens United, or McCutcheons, or Hobby Lobby’s can this Republic take? It is critical that not be allowed to happen.
    In the meantime it appears Rubio is becoming the chosen one amongst the Republican king-makers.
    http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/koch-donors-marco-rubio-2016-114673.html?hp=t1_r
    I can see why you would rather focus on Clinton than your own party.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Try again. – The Editors

  3. James Joyner says:

    @C. Clavin: Has there ever been a primary season in which a party without an incumbent president as the shoe-in for the nomination didn’t field a major slate of candidates? It simply doesn’t happen.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    @James Joyner:
    Clearly it does happen.
    It just hasn’t happened before.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    @James Joyner:

    James, The logic used by progressives shows why there will be no serious challenge to Ms. Clinton, Progressives claim that Republicans are a massive threat to the U.S. and must be stopped at all cost. Thus, no discussion of policy, governance, or issues is allowed. What must happen is that the dominance of the Democrats must continue to grow and the the way that elections are held or that political speech is practiced must be regulated so that the Democrats cannot lose.

    In such a situation why would someone want to spend a year of their life giving speeches in Iowa or New Hampshire or fund raising when the pathway for more political power is to just wait, let the Democrats retain control of the White House in 2016, regain control of the Senate in 2016 and regain control of the House in 2022? The only thing that would stop the Democrats from waiting is for someone to be too old to wait. And if they are that old, they probably do not have the energy to spend a year campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire.

  6. Andy says:

    I still amazes me that the boomer generation produced so little in terms of political talent. Surely there must be viable alternatives to people named Clinton or Bush.

  7. JKB says:

    The Dems aren’t even running a second string to gain name recognition and OJT. Nor do they seem to want to run a low viability candidate who can field test risky, but mainstream platforms before the Hillary assumes the popular ones.

    And there is always the bus. Between now and election day, Hillary could get hit by a bus, literally or figuratively, and there will be a scramble in the minors. Tomorrow is promised to no one. It’s not like they could roll out the grieving widower to take up the banner of name recognition. Maybe they’ll have Chelsea in the wings?

    Daniel Greenfield wrote a piece on how this right now is looking like a nostalgia election on both sides. The people just want life like it was before Obama, a Clinton or a Bush in the White House. I doubt that will last till Nov 2016 though.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @superdestroyer:

    The logic used by progressives shows why there will be no serious challenge to Ms. Clinton, Progressives claim that Republicans are a massive threat to the U.S. and must be stopped at all cost. Thus, no discussion of policy, governance, or issues is allowed.

    That . . . doesn’t make sense.

    Both parties and polarized and think putting the other side in charge would be a disaster. Yet both parties have rather strong internal debates all the time. Elizabeth Warren and others are attacking Obama and Clinton from the left, even while seemingly supporting her run. Certainly, many, including Biden, disagree with Clinton on foreign affairs. Is she really that much more prohibitive a favorite than she was in 2008?

  9. Midwestern Dad says:

    Hillary will run (unless she a significant health issue) and will win the Democratic nomination.

    There are no other significant candidates who appear to be running. Biden has a stereotype as a goof (see the numerous onion articles) but is and was an effective politician. He was right about the aftermath of Iraq (divide them into three states) and negotiated deals with Congress when their were difficulties. He is on the older end and can read polls. I like Warren a lot but I don’t know where she stands on certain issues, especially on foreign policy. She has only said that she is not running about 50 times. The other options don’t excite me. Hillary has such a big lead, other candidates are having trouble raising money (See the NPR article about Sen. Sanders).

    Hillary will likely win the presidency. I know its very early and a lot of things can happen but it should happen.

    Given the political breakdown of the states, Democrats seem to have a structural advantage that should be only getting better. To me, Hillary is a moderate and I think she has learned and positioned herself to win. Hillary would be the first woman president and I expect there to be excitement and a bump in votes from that. A certain portion of the electorate hates her; she will not get and does not need their votes. She stands on the liberal side as to civil rights, equality for gay and lesbian citizens and as a moderate on foreign policy, the economy, and regulation of big business. Moderates to liberals want her there to select the next few Supreme Court justices.

    I am a moderate in favor of her but democrats are coalescing around her. Nothing excites me about the republican options but I could hold my nose if a couple are elected. I prefer her to the other viable options. I don’t post much so I don’t have a pedigree on this site; I am a strongly leaning democratic independent. I vote for more democrats but do vote for republicans if they are, in my opinion, the best candidate.

  10. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Andy: It’s not all that strange. While George W. Bush quickly jumped to front-runner status in the 2000 race for the GOP nomination, he was up against folks (e.g., Lamar Alexander, Liddy Dole) whose records of accomplishment were superior to his own; but he had locked up so much support from his daddy’s Rolodex that it sucked the oxygen out of the room. A great irony if the Dems wind up in the same position for 2016.

  11. humanoid.panda says:

    @James Joyner: The GOP in 2,000 came very close: McCain becoming media darling is the only thing that created a simulcarum of a race.

  12. humanoid.panda says:

    @JKB:

    nd there is always the bus. Between now and election day, Hillary could get hit by a bus, literally or figuratively, and there will be a scramble in the minors. Tomorrow is promised to no one. It’s not like they could roll out the grieving widower to take up the banner of name recognition.

    There is something to it, but the Democratic field in mid-1991 was full of no ones, including the governor of Arkansas best known for giving a terrible speech in the 1988 DNC. Opportunity creates the reputation, not the other way around.

    The people just want life like it was before Obama, a Clinton or a Bush in the White House. I doubt that will last till Nov 2016 though.

    I am pretty sure that the reason that Clinton is right now running away in the polls (and I know that’s early and they are predictive) is that because people want to go back to how it was WHEN there was a Clinton in the WH. Remember, Obama’s single best night in 2012 was the second day of the DNC ,when Clinton vouched for him.

  13. humanoid.panda says:

    @James Joyner: A simpler version of that SD’s theory, without the paranoia and the one party state tropes, is that running for President requires a lot of money. Any Democratic nominee will have enough money, but to beat a candidate that is genuinely liked by most of the rank and file, and has access to insane donor networks, requires more fund-raising than any left wing candidate is able to get. So, there is a vicious circle: people won’t run because Clinton is so powerful, and Clinton might very well be so powerful because no one reminding the ways in which she is out of tune with the rank and file.

  14. humanoid.panda says:

    @James Joyner:

    Is she really that much more prohibitive a favorite than she was in 2008?

    Yes. Absolutely. In 2007, she never hit 50% in national polling, and ran behind Edwards in Iowa. At the same time, lots of party elites (Reid and Pelosi and Harkin, for example) were lobbying Obama to run against her. None of that is evident now, and her support is at worst at high 50s.

  15. James Joyner says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: @humanoid.panda: But that was the out party desperate to get back in power after eight years of Clinton. And, as you note, McCain did mount a pretty major run.

    @humanoid.panda: I do think that’s the bigger issue. Fundraising is more central to the game than ever, and by leaps and bounds. Clinton may simply be the only one who can raise the cash.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    @James Joyner:

    I doubt that there is any issue that splits the Democrats the way that immigration has split the Republicans. There are many issues to include foreign affairs where there is much more disagreement among Republicans (those in and out of office) than splits the Democrats.

    If Senator Warren wants to really affect banking and financial regulations, it would make much more sense for her to wait until January 2017 and try to become the chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking Committee. Then she would be in a much strong position to write the legislation that she wants rather than spending months travelling around Iowa or New Hampshire and having to bone up on issues such as entitlements, education, criminal justice, or foreign affairs. The differences on financial regulation among all of the Democrats in the Senate is much smaller than the differences among the Republican Senate members on immigration, foreign affairs, or even pork barrel spending.

    Of course, one of the main issues with any Democratic candidate outside of Ms. Clinton is how do they distinguish themselves when there is almost no difference in their views on issues and the only difference would be on like-ability?

  17. superdestroyer says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    Money is the most over-rated issue in politics. Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers and the rest of the establishment conservative PACS spent a ton of money in 2012 (and 2008) and got nothing for their money. Virtually every candidate backed by the big Republican donors lost in 2012. Of course, when there is no difference in view points of almost all issues, then personal connections and money become more important.

    Given that Iowa and New Hampsire basically determine the winner and the money will flow to anyone who wins both of them, it is possible to run a winning campaign by spending a massive amount of time and and some money in those two states. But what is the point of doing all of that campaigning when no difference in view point is really allowed in the Democratic Party?

  18. Paul Hooson says:

    Despite any flaws she has, she is a very much a take charge authoritarian leader who could well manage this country right now compared to the weak leadership from this current White House. Of all candidates running, she is far away the best possible leader of the bunch. The country could easily do worse than this former conservative Barry Goldwater Republican turned centrist-liberal here. She has all the right leadership qualities to be a strong leader and excellent president.

  19. Tyrell says:

    @Andy: There is something definitely to that. Think back several years ago: Johnson, Humphrey, John Connally, Kennedy, Dirksen, Nunn, Baker, Carter, Fulbright, Mansfield, Ford, Nixon, Rockefeller, Russell, Lodge, Haig. These were leaders and statesmen. A big difference in what we have today. I am not sure why, maybe because most had served in the military, many had served in WW II. There is a lesson there somewhere.

  20. JKB says:

    @Paul Hooson:

    What difference, at this point, does it make?

  21. michael reynolds says:

    Democrats have other candidates, we just don’t have any other female candidates other than Elizabeth Warren who seems sincerely not to want to run.

    Mr. Obama got 55% of the female vote in the last general. Hillary will probably bump that to closer to 60%. That’s almost insurmountable for Republicans all by itself. Add in the African-American vote, the gay vote, the youth vote, and the Latino vote that Republicans seem to insist on pushing our way, and then look at the electoral map, and it’s a tough haul for any Republican.

    And that’s before the country has had a chance to see Jeb Bush or Scott Walker debate with the likes of Ben Carson and Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal.

    We want to win; Republicans want to win. . . kind of. Mostly Republicans want to express their endless, endless hate for Obama.

  22. walt moffett says:

    makes me wonder if we’ll see the eventual death of party primaries and to the return of the smoke free back room wheeling and dealing to select candidates.

  23. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer:

    heldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers and the rest of the establishment conservative PACS spent a ton of money in 2012 (and 2008) and got nothing for their money. Virtually every candidate backed by the big Republican donors lost in 2012.

    Money is overrated in general elections, as I said. Yet, it is absolutely crucial in presidential primaries, and low profile elections. You really think that Mitt Romney becomes GOP nominee without his cash advantage?

  24. michael reynolds says:

    This poll is about six weeks old, but it’s a pretty good indicator of the GOP’s problem. These are three potential swing states.

    FLORIDA: Clinton 44 – Bush 43
    OHIO: Clinton 47 – Bush 36
    PENNSYLVANIA: Clinton 50 – Christie 39

    Hillary tied with Jeb in Jeb’s home state. 11 points ahead in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And as @C.Clavin points out, a 9 point edge in Wisconsin against a favorite son.

    Republicans have zero chance of winning without Ohio and Wisconsin. We on the other hand, can give away Florida and still win. But we won’t lose Florida.

  25. wr says:

    @humanoid.panda: “I am pretty sure that the reason that Clinton is right now running away in the polls (and I know that’s early and they are predictive) is that because people want to go back to how it was WHEN there was a Clinton in the WH”

    I don’t get why anyone is confused about HRC’s popularity. 2008 was the only primary I can remember where there were two candidates almost everyone liked. For once, the choice was not between the lesser of two evils, but between two appealing prospects. And HRC went on to serve honorably in Obama’s administration, so there’s no bad will anywhere. People who would have been happiy to vote for her in 2008 — but were happier still to go with Obama — are delighted to have a second chance.

    (And yes, I know there was some bitterness between the two camps towards the end of the primaries, but that was the heat of the comptetion more than anything else…)

  26. Pch101 says:

    This is right as far as it goes. Why it should be, though, is beyond me.

    In 2008, the president was a two-term president who was (a) a member of the opposing party and (b) unpopular. Those factors favored the Democrats.

    For 2016, the president is a two-term president in the same party, who may be unpopular by election time. All things being equal, those factors favor the Republicans.

    Hillary Clinton polls strongly, so she may prove to be an exception to the third-term turnover rule. But no other Democrat can make that claim.

    Hillary may as well run because of the aforementioned poll numbers (plus, this is probably her lost shot, given her age.) But the last thing that any other Democrat who is serious about the presidency would want to do is to run and lose — the others are better off waiting.

    As for Joe Biden, he’s an affable version of Dan Quayle. He has no chance — I can’t imagine that he could even raise enough funds to get out of the gate, let alone go the distance.

  27. superdestroyer says:

    @Pch101:

    There is a floor for the unfavorable poll number that President Obama could ever experience that is much higher than the unfavorable floor for President GW Bush (or any other Repubican). It is virtually impossible for President Obama (or any Democrat) to go below 40% given the demographic and political situation of the U.S. cite

    The Blue Wall cite is at 242 electoral votes. The number of states that the Republicans have no chance of winning continues to grow. The Democrats only have to win a couple of swing states to win in 2016 when turnout is much greater than in off year elections. Also, the population is less white with each passing year and whites are the only demographic group that votes more than 50% for Republicans. Also, when one looks at declining private sector work force participation, that less than 50% of the children in public schools are whites, that more than 50% of the children in public schools are on free or reduced lunch, and that the percentage of white women who ever marry continues to go down, there is no reason to believe that the fortunes of the Republicans will improve in the future.

    Hillary Clinton is in a much stronger position than GHW Bush was in 1988 given that Bush I actually face real opposition during that election. Also, Bush I was seen as the closest that the U.S. could get to a third Reagan term. However, since Obama did not bother to develop proteges, the Democrats are left with Hillary Clinton as the closest that they can come to a third Obama term.

    You are correct about many of the Democrats decideding to wait but since so many Democrats have concentrated on only a few issues such as Senators Warren and S. Brown, there is little reason to believe that they are focused on being president. Implementing their pet issues will be much easier when they become Senate Committee chairs in January 2017.

  28. Pch101 says:

    @superdestroyer:

    I understand the “blue wall” concept.

    Please note the nuance of my point: I didn’t say that the Democrats could not win, I said that the history of third-term turnover goes against them.

    A would-be Democratic contender has to deal with this, plus Hillary Clinton’s fundraising advantage. (Betting on demographic inevitability is always a risk.) Not the ideal time for any Democrat who isn’t Hillary to run.

  29. Tony W says:

    @superdestroyer:

    less than 50% of the children in public schools are whites, that more than 50% of the children in public schools are on free or reduced lunch, and that the percentage of white women who ever marry continues to go down, there is no reason to believe that the fortunes of the Republicans will improve in the future.

    Yes, we get it – the old white guys are not in charge anymore and you’re upset about change. Change is hard, particularly when you like things the way they are/were.

    The good news for you is that most liberals behave very differently from your average Archie Bunker Republican. We’re into facts, we change our minds about things when the facts change, we will denounce those who go too far off one end or another (even if they are wearing the same “D” jersey as us) and we are super nice people – every one of us!

    Don’t worry so much SuperD – the world did not end with Carroll O’Connor’s passing back in 2001. There’s a bright future for everyone!

  30. superdestroyer says:

    @Tony W:

    Considering how much progressives write about the collapse of the middle class, the loss of earning power by the middle class, and wealth disparities in the U.S., it can be argued that the future will be better for some demographic groups in the future but that also means that it will not be as good for others.

    The real question for the future is who will be the winners and who will be the losers. That is why I always joke that the future will be better for the freelance writers in Burlington, VT and for the underclass, both of those groups will receive more entitlements in the future. However, for most of the middle class, there is little reason to believe that they have much of a chance in the future.

  31. Tyrell says:

    This is interesting: NORAD Commander Gortney warns of Russian threat, return of Cold War days !
    ISIL, Iran, Islamic terrorists, North Korea: now this. Hillary is going to have a full plate of foreign problems to deal with. I went through the Cold War one time, that was enough. The last few years the Russian bear has climbed out of hibernation and is roaming around at will.

  32. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @wr: I think this is an important point to take heed of.

    Decision making between alternatives has two stages. The first stage is “Is this alternative acceptable?” Once the pool of acceptable alternatives has been set, the second stage is “Which alternative is preferable?”

    Both Obama and Clinton easily passed the first stage in 2008. Once Edwards proved to be unacceptable, the content was then a contest of preference for the vast majority of Democratic primary voters. Just because more voters chose Option O doesn’t mean that would not have solidified around Option C.

    What I find interesting is that, in many ways, the Democrats are doing what the Republicans almost always (within recent memory) do – go for the person who came in second last time. Which makes their befuddlement rather odd, from an objective standpoint.

  33. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Reynolds nails it by pointing out the obvious. While money and the Clinton machine matter, I think just about every Democrat is thinking “We elected a black guy. We probably ought to elect a woman.”

    Even when the entire Republican establishment lined up behind Bush the younger, other people at least made an effort to run. I don’t think you can explain the unwillingness to even try to raise one’s political profile without factoring in some sort of herd mentality.

    Mike

  34. An Interested Party says:

    That is why I always joke that the future will be better for the freelance writers in Burlington, VT and for the underclass, both of those groups will receive more entitlements in the future.

    Yeah, it’s a real shame that white plutocrats, who, by the way, also receive entitlements, won’t be as favored as they have been…

    However, for most of the middle class, there is little reason to believe that they have much of a chance in the future.

    Horse$hit…exactly how do Republican policies favor the middle class more than Democratic polices…

  35. anjin-san says:

    Here’s an interesting story about GOP flavor of the month Scott Walker:

    Library Curator Disputes Scott Walker’s Story About Holding Reagan’s Bible

    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s tale of how he came to hold the family Bible that President Ronald Reagan used when taking the oath of office doesn’t match the memory of the presidential library curator charged with caring for the book.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/scott-walker-reagan-bible-curator

    I mean, he’s making up a story about Reagan’s mothers Bible. He really looks like a guy who is in way over his head as soon as he gets above double A ball.

  36. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tyrell: You’re absolutely right, it’s not like it was in the old days–and as a coworker used to say it wasn’t like that then either.

  37. Hal_10000 says:

    Polls taken 20 months before an election don’t mean anything. Even polls taken within a few months of an election are of marginal interest. Eight years ago, we were supposed to have Giuliani v. Clinton for the 2008 election. McCain was supposed to be the nominee in 2000. Wake me a year from now. Then we might now something about where the 2016 election is going.

  38. stonetools says:

    @MBunge:

    Even when the entire Republican establishment lined up behind Bush the younger, other people at least made an effort to run. I don’t think you can explain the unwillingness to even try to raise one’s political profile without factoring in some sort of herd mentality.

    Mike

    I think another point is that the Democrats understand just how crucial holding the Presidency is in 2016 and they don’t want to eff things up with vanity candidates, etc. It’s a rare example of liberals thinking strategically.

  39. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    It’s a rare example of liberals thinking strategically.

    It’s taken the Republican House to unite Democrats in the certainty that we cannot let Republicans wield power.

  40. An Interested Party says:

    It’s taken the Republican House to unite Democrats in the certainty that we cannot let Republicans wield power.

    Well, to be fair, the Republican Senate has also added to that lesson, based on that lovely letter most of them sent to Iran recently…

  41. Paul Hooson says:

    @michael reynolds: This is exactly correct. Tell me who wins Ohio in 2016, and I’ll tell you the winner of the election…

  42. MBunge says:

    @anjin-san: Here’s an interesting story about GOP flavor of the month Scott Walker

    The one excuse I will always make for Palin is that she was dropped, with absolutely no preparation, into the last few months of a Presidential campaign and plenty of folks in politics would have made complete asses of themselves in the same situation.

    Mike

  43. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: Doesn’t that depend on Jeb Bush becoming the Republican nominee?

    Somehow I don’t think Walker would have equivalent pulling power in Florida.