Though it's unsettling to imagine such a scenario, both the republic and the Democratic Party would likely survive if Hillary Clinton were not to become president.
Now, if the Clintons have proved anything over the years, it's that they are resilient in the face of scandal. So in all likelihood, Hillary hangs tight on the State Department email fiasco and waits for Democrats to rally behind her. And judging from the trial balloons—"if you were a man today, would all this fuss being made be made?"—I imagine it ends with liberals generating a political melodrama that casts Hillary as the victim of the hyper-partisan He-Man Women Haters Club.
It's nearly unthinkable that after all this time, work, and scheming, Hillary would simply abandon her quest—unless some unforeseen wrongdoing emerges that makes her unpalatable for Democrats. But if we suspend our disbelief for a moment and imagine that unethical behavior could catch up with her, the result would hardly be the tragedy many liberals would envision or the boon many conservatives would anticipate.
Many Democrats probably feel as if there's no other viable choice. But despite the generous treatment she's received from the media, Hillary has never been an especially electrifying or potent political power. She badly fumbled her first preordained presidential nomination to Barack Obama—falling into every trap imaginable along the way. Nearly every high-profile project she took on during her husband's administration turned into a disaster. Her time as secretary of state is now riddled with questions. And she has never effectively rallied grass-roots activists to her cause—probably because her only real cause is Hillary.
Or put it this way: Even Martin O'Malley would be a better candidate than Hillary Clinton.
The fact that Hillary has been running in an open election as if she were the incumbent is fairly unprecedented in modern politics. Considering her history, it's astonishing that no one has primaried the former first lady. One problem with coronations is that candidates are not tested. (Obama improved during his own primary.) The other problem is that sometimes you coronate the wrong person. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton emerged with relatively low name recognition and slim chances to win. For a party, it can also be tremendously risky, especially when the lucky candidate comes with serious ethical struggles, which can pop up at any time.
In a recent Gallup poll, Americans say the most positive thing about a second Clinton presidency would be having the first female president. Hillary, it should be noted, is not the only woman in America. She's not even close to being the most competent woman in America. Or let's just say: Elizabeth Warren would surely be a candidate who would represent the concerns of liberals far better than Hillary Clinton.
In some ways, Hillary is the Mitt Romney of the Democratic Party. And without an idealistic core, she will be a significant political downgrade from Obama, whose oratory skills worked at a historically opportune moment for leftist populism. That moment is gone. And his legacy, like it or not, is packed with executive and regulatory controls that can be undone. This project needs to be managed. With her propensity to swing to the most expedient positions, do progressives believe she's the one to do it?
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 86 percent of Democratic primary voters say they can envision themselves voting for Hillary. What choice do they really have? For those who believe only Clinton can win, it might be pointed out that Democrats have a "structural" Electoral College advantage. Mark Warner would probably end up relatively high on that map simply by being a Democrat.
The unease among many of Washington's politicos, especially after this latest peek into what a Clinton presidency would look like, is growing. The Washington Post reports that a number of senior Democrats are beginning to fret that Clinton may not be ready to run for president, fearing that the "clumsy and insular handling" of the email scandal portends things to come.
Many Democrats who want Clinton to succeed lament that she has stepped back into the political arena in a defensive posture, reminding voters of what they disliked about the Clinton scandals of the 1990s. "This begins her campaign in a bad place. It's the gateway drug to her past," said one Democratic strategist and presidential campaign veteran, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Hillary may well win the presidency for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with her charisma or acumen. But the next four to eight years would be about the drama surrounding Hillary. She's not even officially running yet, and it's already all about Hillary. (Even much of the liberal punditry has acknowledged that her troubles are mostly self-inflicted.) It would almost surely be four to eight years of putting out fires that have nothing to do with policy. Democrats may ask themselves whether that could work. What they should be asking themselves is whether it would be worth it.
Just as in 2008, activists and donors wouldn't find it difficult to support and fund more idealistic or competent alternatives if they emerged. There are many ambitious senators and governors in this country. November 2016 is a long way off. Do it.