Hillary Clinton ‘Unrunning’ For President
The press corps is already bored.
Jack Shafer‘s “Hillary Clinton Can’t Run for President” is an interesting take on the strange relationship between candidates and the press corps.
If the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination were a Little League baseball game, the party would have already recognized Clinton’s insurmountable lead and invoked the mercy rule to give the victory to her. By unrunning, she avoids the intense political debate that would only call attention to her underfunded, unannounced and relatively unknown rivals, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee and Joe Biden, all of whom are un-unrunning at various paces.
With nine months until the first presidential primary, Clinton can’t afford to actively run for president. Indeed, if she had her druthers, she probably wouldn’t even be unrunning now. She was pressured by the constant press attention about when she was going to announce and the email controversy. That sort of press attention was positive media attention she couldn’t control, and only by announcing could she dial it down. The email controversy was negative media attention she couldn’t control without the attention-deflecting machinery of a campaign. Indeed, she may be the first politician to announce for the presidency in order to decrease attention in her candidacy.
She’s succeeded wildly. Her coffees, roundtables, discussions and “spontaneous” meetings with voters have immersed her campaign into a box of dry ice and slowed it to the lowest metabolic levels. Suspended animation would look vigorous compared to what Clinton is now doing. This is smart. Steady coverage on the inside of newspapers is exactly what she wants. I buy what Team Clinton stalwart Donna Brazile recently told BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer about the campaign’s pacing (“There’s a rhythm. She’s starting off like Beethoven, with melodies and chords that people understand. But she’s got to end up like Beyoncé”) except to my ears early Clinton sounds more like a hobbled version of the Beatles’ “Within You Without You” than Beethoven.
Actively running for president at this point would be too politically damaging for Clinton. By actively running, she would have to declare herself for or against the current administration, something she doesn’t want to do until it presents some advantage. By unrunning, she can blend passively into the background, where she can be there but not here. Depending on how suggestible the audience that is listening with her, Clinton unrunning looks like a continuation of the Clinton and Obama legacy without explicitly saying so.
For months, if not years, Clinton has been running for president while denying she was running for president. Now, she’s announced that she’s running for president but not really doing anything different than when she was running for president by not running for president. Which, understandably, is rather annoying for political reporters, who have to file constant stories about the campaign that she’s not running.
So, what’s a reporter to do when a candidate won’t run?
Having gotten what they wished for, an official Clinton candidacy, the press must now cover the Clinton 2016 slow lane the best they can. The press already knows almost everything about her, and she’s not going to voluntarily serve any fresh meat, so reporters and editors will have to go to the freezer and the landfills where her past is stored. That’s one reason behind the press excitement over Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. Even if there’s nothing damning in the book, reporters can grind out hundreds of column inches on the subject and make it relevant to the campaign. The only alternative until the campaign awakens from dormancy will be profiles of the 24-year-old staff wizards (I’m sure they exist) who are vitalizing the Clinton campaign. I shudder.
Unless and until a real candidate emerges to put up at least a token challenge to Clinton’s walk to the nomination, I’m not even sure what it is she should be doing that she’s not doing. The burgeoning Republican field have to position themselves against one another while taking shots at Clinton and the Obama presidency. Absent shots that draw blood, there’s no reason for Clinton to shoot back. And it’s way too early for her to draw distinctions between herself and the president she served—especially since his approval numbers are starting to move in the right direction.