It has been said of the fierce competition that comes with presidential primaries that steel sharpens steel. If true, Hillary Clinton is going to be one dull blade if she gets to the general election.
The scandal involving Clinton’s State Department emails, as well as the foreign donations to her family foundation, have provided plenty of fodder for her potential Republican challengers. But on the left, it’s a different story.
Despite deepening divides between the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the more Wall Street-friendly, hawkish side typically associated with Clinton, her potential challengers have avoided attacking her—brushing off questions or simply pleading ignorance.
After the oh-so Clinton press conference on Tuesday, it could be said that they are just waiting for her to self-destruct. After all, if you’re opponent is drowning, why throw them an oar?
Or maybe something else is holding them back.
“It sure looks to me like Governor O’Malley and some of the others are keeping their options open,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former communications director for Senator Harry Reid. “Whether it’s out of respect or fear, I don’t see any of these guys going on the offense any time soon because they know the Republicans are going to do that.”
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley has been the most aggressive of the passive field. Yet on Wednesday, during his speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., he almost defended Clinton after a series of questions about email-gate.
“Oh my god,” he said in response to a question about whether officials should use their work accounts when they are conducting government business. “I’m not an expert on federal requirements or state requirements and frankly I’m a little sick of the email drama.”
He added, “In our state, whether you use a personal email or a carrier pigeon it was all a public record.”
Oh, and he missed the press conference yesterday: “I was working.”
And then he jabbed her. Sure, it was the most boring, non-assertive jab possible, but a jab nonetheless.
It came after Bill Galston, a Brookings politics expert and former adviser to Bill Clinton, asked about a swipe O’Malley took at the Clintons last month in which he said, “Triangulation is not a strategy that will move America forward. History celebrates profiles in courage, not profiles in convenience.”
“Is it your view that the country did that, the country did not move forward during Bill Clinton’s two terms?” Galston asked.
O’Malley responded, “My view is that our country can only move forward now on the power of our principles as a people, and whether you are talking about foreign policy leadership, we should always be leading with our principles rather than expediency.”
Here it comes.
“When it comes to the need for continued reform on Wall Street, instead of offering up Dodd-Frank Light so as not to offend any Democratic Party loyalists in Manhattan, I think we need to continue this job and we need to do it on the principles that unite us as a people,” he said.
From there the challenges simply disappear.
There’s Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), a Marine and former Secretary of the Navy, who insists he’s thinking about a presidential campaign.
“Oops sorry just saw this. No comment on that,” Craig Crawford, a spokesman for Webb, said when asked questions about whether Clinton’s use of a private email address could have put national security at risk.
Webb also missed the press conference, Crawford said in another email.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is considering running to the left of Clinton, said he was tired of being asked about her when Bloomberg’s David Weigel approached him last week
“You’re not going to be the sixteenth writer who asks me about Hillary, are you?” he asked. “I know you would not do that. You want to ask me about the state of the economy, unemployment, poverty. You would not ask me about my views on Hillary Clinton.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren—who has said she is not running for president (but we aren’t listening!)—has dodged reporters entirely.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee—one of the groups supporting a competitive Democratic primary—also took a pass.
“We’re focused on what Clinton has to say about big ideas that will impact millions of people’s lives—like expanding Social Security benefits, reforming Wall Street, and establishing a national goal of debt-free college at public universities,” said co-founder Adam Green. “We’ll let others spat about smaller stuff that doesn’t rise to that level.”
And while some Clinton supporters were wringing their hands after Tuesday’s press conference at the United Nations, some Democrats believe that the lack of early competition won’t hurt her at all.
“While some progressives may want her to be challenged, I have to ask, exactly how much more progressive can she be?” said Democratic strategist Jimmy Williams. “Name a social issue she’s not with us on. Name an environmental issue—you can’t. Clinton is squarely in the mainstream of our party and, for that matter, the American people. She’s also electable. Find me a poll that says otherwise.”