2015-03-27 / View From Here


Hillary Clinton As Frontrunner

This is written aboard the plane back from Vegas, where Robert's 21st birthday was duly celebrated. I think we both enjoyed the trip. We had some great food and adult beverages, now legal for Robert. While we didn't take home the casinos, we did reasonably well in our NCAA betting, with a number of very close decisions both ways. After this winter, it was also very nice to enjoy 80 degree weather.

Ok, back to politics. Whether Republicans like it or not, if the 2016 election were held today and Hillary Clinton were the Democratic nominee, polls show that she would almost certainly be elected President, irrespective of which candidate is the Republican nominee. Most surveys give her margins in the upper single digits against leading GOP candidates, although a CNN poll this week of adults (not registered voters) gave her a 15 point margin.

Now, of course, it is a long way until November, 2016, but Ms. Clinton's lead in the polls may seem surprising in light of the seemingly bumpy runup to her expected announcement of her candidacy. The bumps have included a not very successful book tour and a controversy about contributions by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation. And there is the continuing debate following the revelation that Ms. Clinton, rather than storing her State Department emails on a government computer, elected to use a server at her home and then, after numerous deletions, to have her lawyer decide which emails should be made public.

But lead she does. Of course, Ms. Clinton has a few built in advantages. She has virtual universal name recognition, an important factor at a time when most voters are not locked in on politics. Like President Obama, Ms. Clinton can point to the historic nature of her candidacy. Because of the relatively short supply of alternative Democratic candidates (largely due to blowout Democratic losses in both 2010 and 2014), it is very likely that most members of her party are likely to stand behind her in any controversy. And her supporters will point to her long record of service as First Lady, senator from New York, presidential candidate in 2008 and then Secretary of State.

However, I believe that a good part of Ms. Clinton's margin likely is likely derivative from good feelings toward her husband, former President Bill Clinton, whose overall favorability rating towers far above that of any contemporary politician, left or right.

Some of Mr. Clinton's continuing popularity stems from his personal charm and consummate skill as a politician, and indeed his persona as something of a charming rogue. But another portion is related to a nostalgic view of Mr. Clinton's presidency. Viewed through the lens of recent years filled with overseas wars, frequent terrorist attacks, an economic crisis and slow recovery, the nineties start to look good. Bill Clinton's term can be viewed as a time of peace, prosperity and balanced budgets, when the biggest thing we had to worry about was Monica Lewinsky's blue dress. While I think that this view is too kind to Mr. Clinton (for example, the prosperity was largely the product of technological innovation; the balanced budget largely created by the Republican Congress; there was insufficient attention to the terrorist threat), there are not a few voters who would like a restoration of the nineties.

Whether Ms. Clinton can continue to ride her built in advantages as well as nostalgia for the nineties under sustained attack from the Republican candidate very much remains to be seen. Of course, she had some but not all of her current advantages in 2008, but managed to lose the nomination to President Obama. And she will have to fight a traditional eight year itch in politics, where voters tend to favor the party out of power after two terms in the White House. Still, Ms. Clinton could well be a formidable candidate that Republicans underestimate at their peril.

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