Editor’s Note: Bradley Honan is the CEO of Insights & Strategy, a Democratic polling and analytics firm. He was formerly a senior executive at the political consulting and polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyHonan. Arick Wierson is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and former senior media adviser to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He currently advises political and corporate clients in the United States, Africa and Latin America. You can follow him on Twitter @ArickWierson. The views expressed in this commentary are their own.
It was bound to happen.
Somehow, some way, sooner or later – we all knew it was coming. Hillary Clinton’s name was going to re-emerge as a possible presidential contender for 2020.
A recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “Hillary Will Run Again,” by Mark Penn, Clinton’s former longtime pollster, and Andrew Stein, former president of the New York City Council, sent the media into a bit of a frenzy over the weekend. They argued that the former first lady, senator and secretary of state would definitely be back in the 2020 mix – perhaps not initially – but certainly by the time the primaries are in full swing. Voters, they suggest, should not be surprised to see Clinton announcing her candidacy around the time of the Iowa caucuses, just as the candidate field is beginning to separate the wheat from the chaff.
As the news of the op-ed spread up and down the Acela Corridor, many Democratic insiders found themselves silently burying their heads in their hands. Penn’s presage struck a chord among rank-and-file DNC staffers who still maintain a hardened belief that 2016 wasn’t about a Trump victory, but a Clinton loss – a defeat in a most spectacular fashion, brought on by her campaign’s hubris.
Meanwhile, the news that Hillary may run again suddenly put a skip in the step of some Republicans. Until Saturday, many had been hanging their heads low as the reality of the blue wave of the midterm elections, which reclaimed the House for the Democrats, sunk in.
“Dear God, please, yes,” tweeted Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway upon hearing the news.
All of the emotions and excitement may be jumping the gun, however. Keep in mind that Mark Penn is not Hillary’s spokesman, nor is Andy Stein. Their words should not be taken as any sort of announcement on behalf of Clinton.
It’s also possible that the op-ed could be some sort of trial balloon, sanctioned by the Clintons, simply to take America’s temperature and calculate the odds of one last hurrah before riding off into the sunset. Or it could be a canard – a carefully placed article meant to throw off Republican strategists, forcing them to prepare for a possibility that they had all but written off.
The most likely scenario, however, is that the Wall Street Journal piece was simply the oeuvre of a pair of provocateurs – two old partisans from the 1990s who are simply seeking to reclaim their space, and relevance – in the current political environment.
For the good of the country and the Democratic party, we can only hope that Penn and Stein are just grandstanding, and that nothing more comes of this talk of Hillary in 2020.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza gave a perfectly honed accounting of all the reasons why, if you are a Democrat, or even a Republican or Independent who can’t stand Donald Trump, the last thing you should be rooting for is a Hillary 2020 presidential campaign. We agree, but we think the Hillary question is bigger than just 2020 and the Democrats’ shot at dethroning President Trump; we believe that her re-emergence onto the national stage has the very real potential to drive a schism so deep within the Democratic Party that Democrats would not only come up short in 2020, the party might also be irrevocably fractured in two. Clinton’s candidacy would divide the it in a way that would make the current distance between the traditional free-trade wing of the GOP and Trump’s base of loyalists seem like next door neighbors.
In 2018, we saw the progressive, Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party and the more centrist factions, previously marshaled by Hillary Clinton, temporarily band-aid over their differences that were on full display in 2016 for the common good.
By agreeing to play nice with one another, they were able to take back the House and a handful of governor’s mansions, providing the first real check on the Trump White House. But Hillary resurfacing as a presidential candidate would pick off that ugly scab, creating a toxic intramural dynamic that would infect the outcome of 2020 and well beyond.
We have also seen the demographic divide of the party come into clear view with the recent midterm elections. Women, people of color, LGBT people, and young candidates were elected at historic levels. It’s clear that Hillary’s election loss and Trump’s divisive, us-versus-them leadership style helped, in part, unleash this trend – which makes it all the more difficult to imagine Democrats turning back to her as their pick for 2020.
Moreover, how could the party, which has been at the forefront of the #MeToo movement over the past year, possibly reconcile its role as champion of women with its endorsement of a candidate who many feel whitewashed her husband’s womanizing?
If there is one takeaway from midterm election night, it’s that the face of the new Democratic party is increasingly female, more diverse and, yes, younger.
We can’t predict who will ultimately make a serious run for the Democratic nomination in 2020, nor who is most likely to come out on top. Yet, while Democrats should be encouraged by the midterm election results, it’s clear that they are a long way away from identifying the right strategy and message to successfully oppose Donald Trump; losses in places like Ohio and Missouri suggest that the electoral college math will still be a tough nut to crack.
Democrats will need to not only find a better messenger, but develop a better message that is deeper than “I am not Trump.” If Clinton runs, many Americans will only see her candidacy as a personal vendetta or quest for redemption, not a move with the best interests of Democrats at heart.
So please, Hillary, don’t do it.