But that doesn’t mean she won’t end up as the Democrats’ standard-bearer yet again.
Clinton’s lingering ambition and a deeply divided party that is likely to split among a plethora of has-beens and relative unknowns could leave an opening for the former First Lady. She won’t actively seek the nomination, but she may allow herself to be drafted — and even quietly encourage it — should the need arise.
There is good reason to think that it might.
First, consider the rest of the field. Former vice president Joe Biden, who might have run in 2016 and wrested the nomination from Hillary, enjoys a strong reservoir of support — but he’s nearly 80. He also looks far better on paper than on the stump. His past two runs were singularly impressive. He still gives a good, occasionally rousing speech but seems to fade away on the campaign trail. And that was true when he still had his youthful vigor.
And Liz Warren? To some, she’s the “darling” of the left. But her combative and often screeching vocal style seems far better suited to the Senate than in the Oval Office. She has no executive experience and no track record on a host of policy issues — especially national security — that rightly preoccupy voters looking for a sturdy commander-in-chief. And her veracity is becoming increasingly suspect.
And then, of course, there’s Bernie Sanders, the old socialist grouch who gave Hillary a run for her money but then threw it all away when he punted on the email issue that dogged her entire campaign. Sanders has managed to consolidate a hold on parts of the party that endorse a sweeping moratorium on just about every form of debt imaginable. Many of Bernie’s hardest core supporters are drowning in student debt and, despite his unelectability, seem willing to drown with him, too.
Against these tired diehards, a plethora of up-and-comers could well make their mark in 2020 — but they are barely known outside their state. New Jersey senator Corey Booker and California senator Kamala Harris are African-Americans and can rightly position themselves as heirs to the Obama legacy — far more than Hillary can.
There’s also former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who implemented health care policies that foreshadowed Obamacare. Obama himself has suggested Patrick as a natural successor and, at one point, pledged to campaign for him, though of late, he seems to be touting Harris, who has already been dubbed the “female Obama” by even her most steadfast supporters.
And these are just the better known quasi-declared candidates. When you add some possible dark horses or just plain wannabes — everyone from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Howard Schultz of Starbucks — the Democratic stable could grow even larger and even more manageable.
Like Trump, these candidates have their own vast financial resources which might sustain them in the field well beyond their “natural” lifespan.
And that’s precisely the point: With so many candidates potentially in play, there is a real likelihood that no one candidate will amass anything resembling a commanding plurality, much less a majority.
In 2016, Sanders, Biden and Clinton divided the party in three. In 2020, it is quite possible that the party could be fragmented still further. Even with some likely eventual mergers — for example, Sanders and Warren might easily form a united front — Clinton with her loyal following among baby boomer feminists could still end up with the largest single bloc of party activists.
Clinton, like her husband, remains something of a shape-shifter — or flip-flopper, depending on your point of view. But what seemed like a liability in 2016 could prove to be an asset in 2020.
With the party so divided, Clinton could plausibly reach out to different factions better than anyone else. It doesn’t hurt that the DNC chair, Tom Perez, who almost became her running mate in 2016, is a loyal ally and would likely do his best to favor her party-bridging role, too. Ohio’s Tim Ryan, who led the charge to dump Nancy Pelosi as party leader, also has close ties to Clinton.
In fact, despite her demurrals, there are unmistakable signs that Clinton plans to play the role of party power broker — if not party standard-bearer. In recent weeks, she’s begun promoting her Super PAC and raising money off of every new Trump policy controversy. Her group’s home page says it “is dedicated to advancing the vision that earned nearly 66 million votes in the last election.” In other words, the vision that Clinton herself still lays claim to.
Clinton may have the lowest approval ratings of her political career. But the passage of time and the Democrats utter desperation to get rid of Trump could propel her forward yet again. Consider the most recent poll: Biden at 32 percent is the most favorable candidate at the moment. But look who’s number 2: Clinton at 18 percent, with Sanders trailing in third at 16 percent. The others barely register.
The calls for Clinton to go gently into the night will persist. But she isn’t going anywhere, which may be very good news for Trump and the GOP.
Stewart Lawrence is a consultant and policy analyst.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.