Has Hillary Clinton already clinched the Democratic nomination for President in 2016? Can Senator Elizabeth Warren – or anyone else – snatch the prize away? Will Hillary be America’s first female President? Probably, unlikely, and more likely than not. Here’s our take.
She is Running
First of all, she’s running. The Clintons have been playing the long game in politics for more than 30 years. They understand the path to power (and I guess this is as good a time as any to say keep your eye on Chelsea; they didn’t rename the foundation the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation for nothing). Somewhat quietly, largely under the radar, Hillary is traveling the country and making strategic speeches. At the Center for American Progress’s 10th Anniversary gala she wowed the crowd of 1,000 DC movers and shakers. At the Mexican American Leadership Initiative, she connected with key Latino leaders from across the country. In San Francisco, she and Chelsea were joined by actors Patrick Dempsey (McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy) and Rashida Jones (NBC’s “Parks and Rec”) as they established street cred with the Millennial Generation at a Millennium Network evening. That itinerary is not accidental.
Further under the radar, her friends and supporters are laying the foundation and building the infrastructure necessary for a Presidential bid. The SuperPAC Ready for Hillary is holding organizing meetings of donors across the country. David Brock of Media Matters is building a powerful rapid response operation, and individual friends of Hillary are quietly encouraging donors and bundlers to get ready. It is quite clear that Hillary 2016 is already underway.
She Will Win
Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. . .It is best to win without fighting.” That is what is happening with Hillary. Without asking, they are locking up key endorsements of top elected officials. Nancy Pelosi and 16 female U.S. Senators have publicly urged Hillary to run. The Clinton money machine is kicking into gear already with test runs of its power coming in the form of generating support for Clinton Foundation projects and the Ready for Hillary SuperPAC. And the highest profile operatives are falling into line, as evidenced by Clinton confidante John Podesta and Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina teaming up to co-chair the Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA.
In addition to the mechanics of a campaign, a successful Presidential campaign must tap into the larger zeitgeist of the moment. Just as 2008 was the culmination of the African American-led Civil Rights Movement, offering a powerful moment of national catharsis for our scarred racial history, 2016 will also be a meta-moment. 2016 will be the Year of the Woman. The prominence of the struggle for women’s equality has become ascendant in recent years from the defeat of Neanderthal, rape-excusing Senate candidates to the mainstream acknowledgement of gender discrimination promoted by high profile corporate executives such as Sheryl Sandberg and Warren Buffet. We’ve reached a threshold in America now where there are enough women in positions of influence in enough sectors of society where the demand for breaking the final political glass ceiling will be overwhelming by 2016. Furthermore, after eight years of our first Black President, many people (myself included) want to be part of making history again. This underlying reality will shape, if not dominate, the 2016 election.
Can She Be Stopped?
Lest we forget, Hillary was supposed to be the “inevitable” nominee in 2008, so we rush to judgment at our peril. And given how unpredictable politics (and life) is, anything can happen. Hillary’s march to the nomination could be derailed, but only by a limited pool of potential challengers who align with the macro trends in our society.
Younger, Inspiring, Next Generation, New Majority Candidates
People love products that are “new,” forward-looking, inspiring, and full of promise for a better future (in Nicaragua in the ‘80s, the Sandinistas once campaigned on a slogan of “Everything will be better”). There are a handful of rising star candidates who could pose a potentially formidable challenge to Clinton.
- Cory Booker – Cory Booker 2013 is Barack Obama 2005. But Cory has a bigger national network of supporters and donors, a higher national profile, and 1.1 million Twitter followers (Twitter didn’t even exist in 2005). Booker, however, is on record as saying he’s not running for President in 2016. Now, Vice President is another matter entirely. . .
- The Castro Brothers – In terms of demographic waves, the Latino wave is next up, and with the proper leadership, it could propel the right person to national prominence, if not the White House. Twin brothers Mayor Julian and Congressman Joaquin Castro are the most prominent Democratic leaders from that community, thanks to the Democratic Keynote address last year. Both are energetically traveling the country doing speaking engagements and making ties (you can cover so much more territory when you’re twins, and people can’t remember which one is which), but they are both fairly cautious in terms of their careers, and the smart money is that they are making a play for the Vice Presidency;
- Kamala Harris – California’s Attorney General has the national buzz, profile, and networks to be considered a political powerhouse, and her role in the national foreclosure settlement cemented her place as a force to be reckoned with. Kamala once told me, “I feel sorry for these other people who have to jockey and position. I actually like my job.” From all appearances, Kamala is focused on re-election as Attorney General, and many (myself included) are hoping she’ll then run for Governor in 2018. Unless Obama appoints her to the Supreme Court. . .
A Different Woman
On paper, it’s not inconceivable that a candidate other than Hillary could catch the women’s wave and ride it to the White House. But, given the organizational and financial mountain that is a Presidential campaign, the pool of potential female challengers is small.
- Elizabeth Warren - There has been some recent speculation that Elizabeth Warren could challenge, and possibly defeat, Hillary in 2016. Warren’s populist appeal and clarity do speak to another of the overarching realities of these times – widespread economic inequality. And she showed last year real fundraising prowess by raking in $40 million. However Warren has said, repeatedly, that she is not running, and she’s a signatory to a letter urging Hillary to run. In keeping with that, she has taken no steps towards a candidacy, and her inner circle has reaffirmed that she’s not running.
- Kirsten Gillibrand – Gillibrand is, more than likely, running for President, just not in 2016. She has methodically and quietly built a very impressive national donor base that includes not just givers but potential bundlers. A close review of her donor list reveals the attention that has been paid to building real strength in the fundraising motherlodes of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. That’s not an accident. Plus, her high-profile advocacy on the issue of sexual assault in the military has raised her profile as a serious leader. Like Warren, Gillibrand is also publicly committed to Hillary for 2016.
The Boring White Men
There is one type of candidate who will definitely NOT stop Hillary – the boring White men. New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and Vice President Joe Biden would all like to be President. But coming off the first Black President and with the possibility of electing the first female President, a traditional, safe Caucasian man will do little to stir the passions of the electorate. Some speculate that an economic populist such as Howard Dean could make a run, but there are few credible populist leaders in this country, and the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon showed the difficulty in sustaining that kind of momentum.
We’ll save the 2016 General Election for another time, but let’s just say at the outset that a bombastic, insult-hurling New Jersey Governor may not be the right profile for Republicans in the Year of the Woman.
From where I sit, the only thing that could stop Hillary would be her health. And if her health did prevent her from running, then all of the above names (and more) come into play. One way or the other, there will be a woman on the Democratic ticket in 2016, and it’s more likely than not that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic standard-bearer. America is not done making history.