New Ideas?

04.06.13

On Hillary: Why Do Democrats Want to Become the Party of Stagnant Ideas?

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages ()

At the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis seconds - and at the Daily Beast, Robert Shrum rebuts - my column last week about the flaws of a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy.

Both are considerably more polite than Dave Weigel, who called my column, "Hopefully the Worst Column Anyone Will Write About Hillary Clinton During This Slow News Week"

Yet none of the three chose to deal with the central - and I thought most important - point in my column. Unlike the 69 year old Ronald Reagan's campaign in 1980, a 69 year old Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 will not be a campaign of ideas. Ideas are always risky, and a Hillary 2016 campaign will be a massively risk-averse campaign. It will instead rely on name ID, big money, and sense of entitlement: like Hillary 2008, only much, much more so.

Such a glide path to nomination will be delightful for the nominee, but dangerous for the party. A party that has held the White House for eight years needs some sort of renewal if it is to accomplish the very difficult feat of winning a third successive mandate. The elder Bush did this in 1988 with his convention call for a "kinder, gentler" America - and by working over the previous two years to replace the most ideological figures in the Reagan administration with his own preferred, prepositioned favorites.

Franklin Roosevelt had his renewal handed to him in 1940 by Adolph Hitler and the fall of France. It was in 1940, not 1941, that FDR pivoted from Dr. New Deal to Dr. Win the War, gaining congressional approval for conscription and huge increases in defense spending.

This kind of renewal was what Al Gore in 2000 and John McCain in 2008 failed to accomplish. But will Hillary Clinton even know to try? She'll look at her high polls, which mean much less than people think, her swelling bank account, the endorsements extracted from potential rivals who give up the contest in advance as hopeless, and then decide that the only message she'll need will be, "Hillary!"

It may even just work, at least through the election year. As I'll argue in tomorrow's CNN column, the Republican party seems bent on repeating in 2016 every fatal mistake of the 2012 cycle. But the failure to update and retool inherent in a Hillary Clinton nomination - and enabled only by the self-chosen weakness of the Republican party - will end in bad governance and worse politics.