There's no question that Hillary Clinton's presidential aspirations—perhaps expectations is the better word—are in serious trouble. Even before this week's bombshells about loosey-goosey relations between Clinton, her family's Global Initiative, and various far-flung autocrats, there was precious little "Hillary Fever" in the air. Last summer's book tour for her ironically titled Hard Choices was a flop, the only millennial who seems to care about her is her daughter (who's on the family payroll), and her recent trip to Chipotle was a bust.
No wonder her campaign is stammering over the allegations, as outlined in The New York Times and elsewhere, in Peter Schweizer's forthcoming Clinton Cash book.
Think of it this way: Clinton still won't say whether she'd vote for the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project that's been talked to death since the Rutherford B. Hayes administration. She's on a "listening tour" of America because she's only been on the national stage since the early 1990s and needs to get out to, what, "touch Indians" like Albert Brooks in Lost in America or see the real America like Billy and Wyatt in Easy Rider? If memory serves, neither of those pictures ended well for their protagonists.
Sure, part of what she is doing is what Politico's Jack Shafer calls "unrunning" for president. Given her lack of serious competition within the Democratic Party and a pandemic of chronic fatigue syndrome with her family (really, can't Roger Clinton drop in from his never-ending tour of North Korea to change up the storyline a bit?), Clinton really can't start any sort of serious pressing of the flesh for months or maybe even until early next year.
Yet things are so bad that even reliable Democratic partisans in the press such as New York's Jonathan Chait are writing thing such as this:
The best-case scenario is bad enough: The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy.
Indeed. About the only thing missing so far is a cameo appearance of Sandy Berger stuffing uranium in his socks (you can almost hear him bluster in his defense: "Sorry, I thought they were classified documents").
Discussing "The Disastrous Clinton Post-Presidency," Chait says,
The Clinton campaign is batting down the darkest and most conspiratorial interpretation of these stories, and where this all leads remains to be seen. But the most positive interpretation is not exactly good.
When you are a power couple consisting of a former president and a current secretary of State and likely presidential candidate, you have the ability to raise a lot of money for charitable purposes that can do a lot of good. But some of the potential sources of donations will be looking to get something in return for their money other than moral satisfaction or the chance to hobnob with celebrities. Some of them want preferential treatment from the State Department, and others want access to a potential future Clinton administration. To run a private operation where Bill Clinton will deliver a speech for a (huge) fee and a charity that raises money from some of the same clients is a difficult situation to navigate. To overlay that fraught situation onto Hillary's ongoing and likely future government service makes it all much harder….
The Obama administration wanted Hillary Clinton to use official government email. She didn't. The Obama administration also demanded that the Clinton Foundation disclose all its donors while she served as Secretary of State. It didn't comply with that request, either.
That's from somebody who wants a Democrat, any Democrat, to win over any Republican in 2016.
I think it's far from clear what the ultimate damage to Hillary Clinton will be. Yes, it all looks awful and for most people simply having to deal with the fallout and recriminations from real and imagined sins and crimes for the rest of your public life would be enough to toss in your badge and retire to a remote mountaintop somewhere.
But the Clintons aren't most people and if the last time one of them was president is any indication, Hillary is uniquely equipped to live with a neverending, ongoing set of "scandals" that would fell virtually any other candidiate.
As Charles Paul Freund wrote in the April 2000 cover story for Reason, "Secrets of the Clinton Spectacle,"
How did [Bill Clinton] do it? How did he keep rising from the mat to revel in high public opinion numbers?… Clinton ignored traditional Washington wisdom for dealing with exploding scandal and instead used the capital's notorious scandal machine against itself. Scandal is unlikely ever to be the same. Bill Clinton's long-sought Legacy turns out to be a guide on how to rise from the dead.
Lest we forget, Bill Clinton is every bit as much invested in seeing his wife become president as she is. This is a guy who wants it all, baby, and what could be more incredible from a historical perspective than his wife becoming the first presidential spouse to occupy the Oval Office and the first female president? It should surprise no one if Hillary Clinton not only survives all this but flourishes despite an absolutely abysmal record as secretary of state, a so-so record as a senator, and a checkered, unconvincing record as a best-selling "author."
What I'm at least as interested in is how the emerging Clinton scandal—remember, Schweizer's book isn't on sale until early May—Republican presidential hopefuls respond to this opening.
At least since the 2000 campaign, when George W. Bush squeaked into office with an affirmative vision of a "humble foreign policy" and the promise of "compassionate conservatism," it has been years since the Republican Party's nominee has offered up any sort of positive, sweeping vision for the country. Running on the anti-terror status quo and free money for seniors, as Bush did in 2004, or simply as anti-Democrats, as John McCain and Mitt Romney did in 2008 and 2012, isn't enough to get the country's backing (as Matt Welch likes to point out, while railing against out of control spending, Romney refused to name a single significant program he would cut, a reluctance re-enacted by John Boehner just weeks before he assumed the speakership in 2011). Perhaps it's because it fashions itself as the party of the religious, but the GOP seems to always rely on the political equivalent of Hail Mary passes (anyone else remember Bob Dole's sad declaration that he would only serve one term if elected in 1996?). Some terrible revelation, or a tide of disgust with the Democrats, or a late-breaking news story, will fell the Democrats rather than a serious discussion of the country's finances and special interests. What do you know? Sometimes that works out just swell for Republicans.
But disliking the team in office isn't affirmation. As J.D. Tuccille noted here a couple of days ago, just 3 percent of Americans trust the government to do the right thing "just about always." Another 20 percent trust the government "most of the time." Republicans would do well to treat the latest Clinton scandal as a gift to serious political discourse, but not as a sign that they will take the White House no matter what (remember guys, your party was a shoo-in in 2012).
The early stages of the Republican race for the White House have been incredibly disappointing to date, with virtually all of the announced and unannounced candidates sounding like mimeographed copies of one another. With the exception of Sen. Rand Paul, who sounds seriously different notes on foreign policy, privacy, civil liberties, and, for the most part, overall levels of speding, none of the "top tier" candidates has advanced much beyond the "I'm not Obama and I pledge to be even tougher on defense than the president who bombed Libya, threatened to bomb Syria, and brought us back to Iraq." Beyond failing to advance true alternatives to Obamacare—indeed, the GOP Senate leadership is pushing to maintain health-care exchange subsidies through 2017 no matter what the Supreme Court decides this year—the Republican Party has been content to capitalize on the long, slow collapse of the Democratic Party under Barack Obama.
That's enough to win Congressional majorities and historic levels of state legislatures. But it won't be enough to win the White House in 2016 and, far more importantly, it won't be enough to move America forward into the 21st century. What's needed now more than ever is a governing vision that accords with the growing libertarian sensibilities of the country—record levels of people want a government that does less in the economic and moral spheres—not the go-to Republican response of, "Hey, we're not the other guy."