Why Hillary Rodham Clinton is probably unstoppable



A lot of journalists have been spilling a lot of ink and pixels about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, coming Sunday to everywhere near you. I want to offer some thoughts as someone who can write a bit more bluntly than most pundits, simply because almost no one cares what I think about national politics. Peel away the false balance, the muddled equivalency, and the desire for drama, the only question at this point is this: “Can anybody stop her?” And the simple truth is that it’s very, very unlikely that anyone can beat Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady, former U.S. Senator ,and Secretary of State. If you were putting honest money down right now in April of 2015, and you were a smart gambler, you’d bet Hillary. Here’s why.

The Democratic (non) primary

First, she’s running essentially unopposed in the Democratic primary, which means she’ll arrive at the general election relatively unscathed, with a full bank account and plenty of rest. It’s important to remember that this de facto coronation for someone who isn’t a sitting president is very nearly unprecedented in the history of our two-party system. She has a lot to prove to voters in the general election, sure.  But with the Democratic party faithful, she starts this ride on day one with a full-blown, golden-ticket sort of mandate. It boils down to four simple words: It’s her turn. I don’t doubt that someone on the Democratic side will challenge her. But it won’t be someone like Barack Obama. It won’t be the kind of candidate who has a serious national network, a healthy war-chest, and a very real shot at the nomination. It will be a protest candidate, a message candidate, someone most likely from the progressive wing of the party who will use the campaign to raise their profile and push their ideas into the national dialogue. And then Hillary will win, if you can even call it that, and she’ll emerge as her party’s standard bearer.

On day one of the general election, she’s one state away from winning it all
Is Senator Ted Cruz capable of slowing the Hillary train?  Photo:  "Ted Cruz by Gage Skidmore 4" by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ted_Cruz_by_Gage_Skidmore_4.jpg#/media/File:Ted_Cruz_by_Gage_Skidmore_4.jpg

Is Senator Ted Cruz capable of slowing the Hillary train? Photo: “Ted Cruz by Gage Skidmore 4” by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ted_Cruz_by_Gage_Skidmore_4.jpg#/media/File:Ted_Cruz_by_Gage_Skidmore_4.jpg

Which brings us to the general election. Here again, Hillary has a remarkable advantage. The simple weird fact in an America where conservatism often seems on the ascendant is that ever since 1992, Democrats have easily, handily, almost casually won 18 states and the District of Columbia which total 248 electoral college votes. What that means is that any Democratic candidate only needs to find 22 additional votes, somewhere, anywhere, to win the White House. Winning Florida would do it. It’s really that simple.

So before we even bother to dissect the GOP’s awkward, fractured, feuding, and ginormous slate of candidates, let’s just pause and remember that Democrats almost always begin presidential races a nose away from the finish line. If it weren’t for the U.S. Supreme Court’s intervention in 2000, it’s very likely that our last Republican president would have been the elder Mr. Bush, not the younger. Let me say this again for emphasis: If not for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to tip Florida to the Republican candidate in 2000, the electoral college system would have produced a Democratic hegemony in the White House over the last quarter century. And the demographic trends that support that systemic tilt have only grown.

To overcome that reality — to beat Hillary Rodham Clinton — the Republicans have to be almost perfect.  They have to pick up more than 170 electoral college votes. They have to somehow cobble together all the fractious, angry, isolated wings of their party. They have to take the current crock of candidates and distill them down to someone with the cheerful conservatism of a Ronald Reagan. But that’s really, really unlikely. The GOP is currently extremely good at generating powerhouse candidates who are deeply known and respected regionally or within narrow ideological niches. Think of them as Snapple or Arnold Palmer Ice Tea. Hillary, by contrast is not just like Coca Cola. She’s like Coca Cola Classic. She’s a broad, national political brand, a fixture in the national imagination since suffrage. Okay, I made that last bit up, but you know what I mean.

Hillary’s weaknesses that aren’t really weaknesses

So what could bring her down? What could trip her up? First, let’s dispense with what derailed her in 2008. It wasn’t that she was too conservative. It wasn’t her husband Bill. It wasn’t that she was arrogant or secretive or that she had irritated Maureen Dowd one too many times. What tripped her up was that Barack Obama’s team found a brilliant way to manipulate the math in the Democratic primary system. Hillary’s team basically campaigned in the traditional way, working to win all the big Democratic states that make up the party’s foundation. Obama, meanwhile, brilliantly crafted a stealth campaign to hoover up all the essentially uncontested primary votes in places like Alabama, Alaska, and South Carolina. Hillary went for home runs in big stadiums, while Obama racked up singles out in cow towns. And he won.

This time that won’t happen. Hillary’s brain trust will make sure that no Democratic challenger has an “end run” path to victory. Anyone wanting to topple her and claim the role of standard bearer will have to do it directly. They’ll have to attack her head-on. They’ll have to challenge the family that remains — even after eight years of the Obamas — the First Family of the Democratic movement. So far, there’s simply no one in her party willing to do that.

So what weaknesses remain? Again, let me dispense with some things that won’t matter. Her emails won’t matter. Her addiction to secrecy won’t matter. Her family’s sometimes controversial and icky personal history won’t matter. Benghazi won’t matter. The fact that she and her husband have too much money in their war chests won’t matter. The fact that a lot of deep-blue liberals don’t like her won’t matter. Again, this is Coca Cola Classic were talking about here. We all know that there are things about Coca Cola that are kind of unsavory. But the brand is solid and safe and it still outsells everything else on the market, which means a lot of us keep guzzling it down.

But does she stand for anything?
Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention (Source:  DNC)

Bill Clinton will be a powerful force pushing Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy.  But does she have a message of her own?  (Source: DNC)

Which brings us to the one thing that actually matters, the thing that could be Hillary’s Achilles heel:  Her message. I know this seems quaint and almost 19th century, but even in the age of Super-duper PACs and Koch Brother gilded age shenanigans, it actually means something for a candidate to mean something. And there’s a real danger that Hillary could confuse inevitability with relevance. This isn’t the 1990s. And the fact that she’s linked closely with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, two of the most dominant politicians of the modern era, doesn’t mean she is anything like their equal as a candidate voters can embrace.

If Hillary runs as a kind of organic extension of the Clinton-Obama administrations, that will be plenty to capture the Democratic nomination. But matched against a reasonably passionate, articulate, and well-funded Republican? One with a compelling and hopeful vision for America? All the systemic advantages in the world might not be enough if Clinton can’t offer a fresh, compelling road map for where she wants to take the country.
Frankly, I don’t expect Hillary to make that blunder. The truth is, she is actually a very capable campaigner with good instincts. I watched her at close quarters in the run-up to the New York Senate race. I saw her work rooms and give speeches and slog through the back roads of upstate New York. Is she Bill Clinton? Hell, no. But she’s certainly better than, say, Mitt Romney or John Kerry. Add on top of her basic competence the rock star “first woman president” cachet and you’ve got a seriously tough messenger — if she actually has a message to deliver. So that’s the test on Sunday. Does she tell a great, believable story about where she hopes to take us as a society? If Hillary pulls that off, and especially if she offers up a stem-winder, 2016 may emerge as one of the most boring election cycles in U.S. history. Remember the year Hillary won the White House? Ho-hum. First woman president? What a shocker.” But if she falters, or sounds entitled, or too old and tired, or like she doesn’t have anything new to offer, then I’ll start to buy the idea that this campaign is for real.

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70 Comments on “Why Hillary Rodham Clinton is probably unstoppable”

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  1. Paul says:

    Brian, you give too many reasons. The only one that maters is the money question. The player with the most money always wins at this game now. It work for president Obama and it is likely to work for her.

  2. Be careful. She was a “shoe-in” in 2008 as well.

    She does have many advantages. The GOP is like to either nominate a right-wing extremist or have the field of right-wing extremists push a candidate who’s merely fairly conservative further to the fringe. And although liberal Democrats will whine and cry about Hillary being a corporate tool, most will still pull the lever for her rather than have guts and vote for a smaller party candidate.

    Liberals like to think that anyone who criticizes Obama must be an inveterate racist and that anyone who criticizes Hillary must be a sexist; there are many who are (and Jon Stewart acts like this is the only source of opposition to these two) but many who are not. This is both an advantage and disadvantage. There are many people who feel it’s past time for a woman president but many others who resent being called sexist merely because they disagree with her on policy or her being a corporate tool.

    I’d like for the latter to support a woman actually worthy of our vote (the Greens’ likely candidate Jill Stein) but there’s also a risk that many of these will not vote at all out of disgust. That’s the risk for her. Especially if he runs against Jeb Bush where the public sees it as a dynastic coronation of one sort or another.

  3. I’m also not convinced that avoiding a primary is necessarily an advantage. Yes, you save money but there is value to going out and meeting voters and being battle tested and fine tune your organization. And you don’t get nearly the media attention if your primary is uncontested (or decreed so by the media… Hillary does have one opponent already) and the other major party primary is contested. I think this fact served Elise Stefanik well in the recent Congressional race and Aaron Woolf poorly come general election time.

  4. bill shaver says:

    This election should be about getting medicare for all through via the sect 1332 clause of the aca( notwithstanding clause), first and formost as that clause comes into effect coincedentaly jan1, 2017, smae month they swear in new govt. Then abot pensions, involving the general public in the THRIFT SAVING PLAN, Tuition free post secondary schooling & university, ( they’ll pay it back in taxes when working) its called federal & state withholing taxes off wages, we all pay them, that should support heathcare for all too. then imigration & finally forign policy, as of late not important…THE WHOLE WORLD SEES THIS & IS WATCHING not because we are the USA…but hoping we finnally get our house in order, federal defisit not a big issue….remember look out for those aspiring to cry wolf and envoke a smear campaign…yep we in usa will have the ROBO CALLS…Maby from pierre poutine…just like in Canada…they’ve afall election too….can see mr Trudeaus son walking away with it…maby even a majority house too…everyone there is fed up with HARPO , the liar ,& fear mongerer. TRUELY NOT A BORING ELECTION….Maby even Bernie Sanders will throgh his

  5. bill shaver says:

    Maby Bernie Sander will through his hat in the ring too, anyhow will be watching…dont touch that dial, stay tuned folks bound to get interesting…this election anyways so much for optimism, skeptics…ha!

  6. bill shaver says:

    Maby Bernie Sanders will through his hat in the ring too, anyhow will be watching…dont touch that dial, stay tuned folks bound to get interesting…this election anyways so much for optimism, skeptics…ha!

  7. Mr. Kent says:


    I say it is irrelevant because no one who might oppose her can claim anything of note they have done. Who can say they have done more? They can only run by saying what they ” would do if they were made King of the Forrest.” I would ask you to show what has ever been done by any possible opponent. I can think of nothing, perhaps you can, and that is why it is a non issue.
    The last two elections were more about the candidacies of President Obama’s opponents being nothing more than electing them would be a ” bad idea.”
    McCain ” bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran” and Sarah ” I can see Russia from my window” Palin, and Willard ” “I love this state. Um, the trees are the right height.” Romney were poor candidates with tired messages promising to return to failed policies of the GOP.

  8. NYS Capitol reporter Nick Reisman has a good tweet on this.


  9. bill shaver says:

    what ever happens Mrs Clinton will move all through the diatribes & character smear from all & will be elected….and the GOP 500 NASCAR RACE….will wreck as alwyas…party of no, nothing & never its become.

  10. Justin says:

    “four simple words: It’s her turn.”
    1 2 3

    Hm. I don’t trust your analysis.

  11. bill shaver says:

    however Bernie Sanders would be a reasonable contender…and give Mrs Clinton a run for the money…..after all he talks about REAL ISSUES and does not DRIVE AROUND IN A SCOOBY DOO MYSTERY MACHINE!

  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Justin, “it’s” is a contraction for “it is” therefore:
    “It is her turn”
    1 2 3 4

  13. Paul says:

    Charles Krauthammer summed it up well in his most recent opinion piece on the Post:

    “So brace yourself for a glorious Republican punch-up, punctuated by endless meta-coverage of the Democrats’ coronation march. After which, we shall decide the future of our country. Just the way the Founders drew it up.”

  14. bill shaver says:

    well,well…Bernie Sanders awaits…..Mrs Clinton…look out!

  15. Brian Mann says:

    Mitch – I know I’ll sound stubborn contesting a far more credible pundit and his views on the race, but I think Silver’s analysis at 538 is pretty suspect – based not on his strength (detailed statistical analysis) but on a bunch of pretty sketchy tea leaf reading.

    Here’s what I mean:

    1. Silver equates Republican views about “Democrats not winning three presidential elections in a row” with the existence of the “big blue wall.” But one of those things is a demonstrated political reality. The big blue wall represents states that have voted Democratic every year since 1992. The other is simply Tarot card stuff.

    2. Silver mistakenly describes the Big Blue Wall as an Obama era phenomenon. But those states have been Democratic since Clinton’s era. They stayed Democratic through the Bush years, and they remained Democratic through Obama’s two elections. Something may happen to change that dynamic – but Silver doesn’t offer an explanation for what that might be.

    3. Silver’s skepticism about the ’emerging Democratic majority’ is probably well-founded. But Clinton doesn’t need an emerging Demoratic majority to win. She needs to win the states that every Democrat has won since 1992 and she needs to pick up one or two additional states.

    My theory about Silver (and so much else that’s been written about this race) is pretty simple. It’s hard for guys who spend two full years covering an election to state the obvious: At this point, Clinton has several huge, demonstrable measurable advantages. It’s not much of a race – yet.

    Again, if a Republican can emerge who does everything just right, unifying the party, winning more of the Hispanic and the black vote, grabbing back some younger voters, attracting independents and women without alienating men and evangelical conservatives, running the table of the up-for-grab states while also picking off one or two safe Democratic states, then it’ll be a real contest.

    But that’s a HUGE order.

    Right now the candidate on the GOP side who arguably has the best shot at doing that, Marco Rubio, seems more or less boxed in, struggling to compete in Iowa and New Hampshire while tea party folks snipe at him. So…unless something significant happens to change the dynamic of the race, I still say Clinton is the clear favorite to win.

    That may be putting it too strongly. But to suggest that it’s 50-50 at this point? I just don’t buy it.

    –Brian, NCPR

  16. bill shaver says:

    what an election…on one side the GOP 500 NACAR RACE…RICKY BOBBY WANNA BE…GO FAST & THE SCOOBY DOO MYSTERY MACHINE…WHO BERNIE SANDERS WILL TAKE OVER…..BECAUSE THEY BOTH HAVE NO PLATFORM & MR SANDERS DOES…..its about the people of usa, healthcare, funded by revenues collected, pensions, infastructure, education tuition covered by revenues collected …imigration policy with teeth to it….etc, etc…all neded to put usa back to work…a tall drink indeed.On the QT & HUSSHH HUSSHHH

  17. SMB says:

    Not unstoppable…my family, hardcore NY Democrats are warning everyone to run. I would rather vote for the horse farrier or a Republican than have those drama queens back in the White House.

  18. Mervel says:

    Is the Foundation Scandal relevant at this point?

    One of the points Brian mentioned was an unknown major scandal, I think this could turn into that, particularly if she was using her position as Secretary of State to benefit their family. That type of scandal is usually more damaging than a sex scandal or anything about Benghazi.

    The Republicans have an uphill battle from day one, no doubt about that regardless of the candidate. The median voter has moved away from them, the demographics are very tough. When you have states like Colorado, New Mexico and North Carolina, reliably voting Democratic, this is a huge change. If Texas ever flips, and it is likely it will within the next 30 years, its all over for national politics for them unless they radically change the messages.

  19. Mervel says:

    Don’t underestimate Rubio. I have heard him several times on NPR interviews, I didn’t always agree with him, but unlike Cruz or Rand Paul he sounded reasonable and articulate. Not a carnival barker.

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