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Hillary Clinton and the End of the Presidential Campaign

The “perpetual campaign” is a term we have accustomed ourselves to using while it is still a bit of an exaggeration, except in the case of a first-term president consumed by winning a second term. In all other cases, the speculation about who will run for president precedes the actual campaign. But that actual campaign’s start date keeps getting earlier, while the speculation has become perpetual. What happens when the two finally overlap? A tear in the time-space continuum? Nope, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

That’s one of the takeaways buried in Maggie Haberman’s profile of Hillary Clinton’s “shadow campaign.” Haberman writes about Clinton’s meeting with party strategists about a presidential run last year, and about the bevy of outside groups, super-PACs, Obama campaign veterans, and others who have created “a virtual campaign in waiting” for her, at once demonstrating her potential strength as a candidate and the personality-cult politics that have the Democrats so desperate to avoid any internal conflict over the 2016 nomination.

The effort to scare off potential rivals includes language that is already seeping into news stories. Haberman tells us that these groups sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete “to prepare a final career act for the former senator and secretary of state, whose legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a dubious assertion at best. (More powerful, already, than Edith Wilson? Absurd.) But Haberman does discuss the fact that there are some close to Clinton who would prefer she not run:

Among their concerns: Why put herself through the campaign pulverizer again and risk ending her groundbreaking career on a low note? She could still wield plenty of influence from the outside ­— and enjoy a normal, fulfilling family life for the first time in who knows how long. People insist her health is not a worry, but it was just a year ago that she suffered a blood clot in her head after fainting.

Chief among those in the “no” camp is Clinton’s chief of staff at the State Department, Cheryl Mills, according to several people familiar with her thinking. Another close Clinton confidante, Maggie Williams, who took the helm of the 2008 campaign after a staff shake-up, is also said to have reservations for the same reason — the DNA-altering experience of a modern presidential campaign in which nothing is guaranteed.

All reasonable concerns. Then we learn this:

Several sources said in interviews that her team is discussing how she will weigh in on policy debates over the course of the next year. She is working closely with clusters of aides on different policy initiatives — one involves child development, and Clinton is also being advised to address income inequality. Her memoir about her time at the State Department, initially expected for June, is likely to be out later in the summer, putting a book tour closer to the time when she would campaign for candidates in the midterms. That’s also closer to when she’s likely to announce her plans, after the November election.

She’s going to announce her plans after the November (2014!) midterms? Of course, Haberman doesn’t say–because no one knows–how far after the early-November elections. But the formulation is a funny one to use if it’s far after those elections and into 2015. Even if she doesn’t formally announce, it appears that she will make it abundantly clear–not just to her inner circle but to anyone paying attention–whether she’ll run right around the time of those midterms.

That means we’ll finally have, in actuality, the perpetual campaign, which in turn means we won’t really have a presidential “campaign” at all. The prospect is horrifying, though since Republicans are less worshipful of their candidates (they can’t nominate Zombie Reagan, after all), perhaps they’ll put the breaks on the process. But if Clinton appears to gain from the gamble, it won’t be so easy.

Additionally, some of those who might try to convince Clinton not to run are going to need better arguments. Specifically, those who don’t want Clinton to “risk ending her groundbreaking career on a low note” are missing the point of her “groundbreaking career.” The Clintons are the ultimate political power couple because of their single-minded pursuit of political power. After leaving the White House Hillary was offered a Senate seat, so she took it. Then she was offered the job as secretary of state, despite a total lack of relevant experience, so she took it.

And her term as secretary of state was famous for her refusal to get involved in serious efforts that could fail, thus haunting her presidential ambitions. She wasn’t a senator or secretary of state for its own sake–though in fairness she wasn’t the first nor will she be the last political personality driven by an ambition for power and always reaching for the next rung on the ladder. What she wanted, and what she presumably still wants, is to be president of the United States. An advisor or friend seeking to persuade her not to run will need more of an argument than “Hey, you had a good run.”


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