There was a time – and it was a loooooong time – when Bill Clinton was the most sought-after surrogate in the Democratic Party.
The former president could go to almost any congressional district in the country – urban/rural, Republican/Democrat – and be an asset to a candidate or congressman. His charisma, brain and speaking abilities ensured that people would leave the town hall/fundraiser/meet-and-greet wowed by him.
Those days appear to have come to an end.
These two paragraphs – from a terrific story by The New York Times’ Alex Burns and Matt Flegenheimer – are devastating.
“Mrs. Clinton’s husband appears far less welcome on the trail, with his unpopularity among Republicans compounded by new skepticism on the left about his treatment of women and allegations of sexual assault.
“Mr. Clinton is said to remain passionately angry about the 2016 election – more so than his wife – raising concerns that he could go wildly off message in campaign settings, several people who have spoken with Mr. Clinton said.”
That is tough stuff. But it reflects a broader reality, which is that Bill Clinton is simply a man out of this current time and place in politics. His past sexual indiscretions make him a ripe target in our #MeToo moment. His ongoing bitterness toward, among others, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is not only backward looking, but politically problematic due to Sanders’ hero status among liberals within the party.
Clinton’s sidelining is an especially humbling pill to swallow for someone who is not only widely acknowledged – by Democrats and Republicans – as the brightest political talent of his generation but also someone who lives and breathes politics like few others.
Clinton is, of course, nothing if not resilient – having ridden the waves of public opinion through a series of ups and downs beginning in the 1970s. His own past history suggests that the self-proclaimed “Comeback Kid” should never be counted out entirely.
But, but, but. Clinton’s diminished role – internally and externally – within his own party marks a moment for Democrats. No figure – and certainly no family – in recent memory has been so closely associated with the Democratic Party as Bill Clinton. That he is largely an undesirable figure to the new faces of the party speaks volumes.
The Point: The 2020 Democratic primary fight will be the true marker of what a party that has put Clintonism entirely behind it will look like. At the moment, the energy among Democrats appears to be almost entirely among liberals, while the Third Way/centrist path trod by Clinton feels almost entirely discarded.