On Monday, Hillary Clinton ruled out – once and for all – running for president for a third time in 2020.
“I’m not running, but I’m going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe,” she told CNN affiliate News 12 in Westchester, New York. “I want to be sure that people understand I’m going to keep speaking out. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Spoke to someone close with Clinton in contact with her today. They say she wasn’t trying to be emphatic and close the door on running when she spoke to a local reporter yesterday, and that she was surprised by how definitively it played. The person also says she is extremely unlikely to run, but that she remains bothered that she’s expected to close the door on it when, say, John Kerry isn’t. She has told her team she is waiting at least to see the Mueller report.”
The question Clinton answered, by the way, was this: “I know you said you can’t envision a scenario where you run again for a third time … but can you tell me now standing here that you’ve 100% ruled it out?”
It’s hard to see the forest through the trees here, but my read on all of this is: Clinton has zero plans to run again for president. But she also doesn’t want to close the door and walk away more than 18 months before an election – and with a giant possible Sword of Damocles (in the form of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report) hanging over the incumbent president.
If, say, the Mueller report says that Trump or his senior leadership team colluded with the Russians to help him and hurt Clinton, there’s a case to be made that Clinton could run on a sort of I-told-you-so campaign in 2020. (Obviously that wouldn’t be the overt message; it would be more centered on the idea of buyer’s remorse.)
That desire to leave the door cracked even slightly is also combined in Clinton’s mind – as Maggie notes – with a frustration that she is being asked to definitively rule out the race when others – mostly men – in similar positions are not.
I’m not sure that comparison – between Clinton and Kerry or Clinton and Joe Biden – is entirely fair. My friend and colleague Harry Enten explained that difference nicely.
“Pretty simple,” he tweeted. “Biden remains popular nationally, while Kerry and Clinton don’t. Biden has never lost a general presidential election. Kerry and Clinton have. This isn’t really that hard, imho.”
Polling bears that out. In a February CNN-SSRS poll more than three-quarters of Democratic voters said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to support Biden if he ran for president. That was significantly higher than any other Democrat running or thinking about running in 2020. (Bernie Sanders was second, with 65% saying they would support him if he ran.)
That same poll showed that Democrats want Biden to run. Two-thirds (63%) said they’d like to see him get into the race, while just 27% said he should stay out.
While neither Clinton nor Kerry was tested in that poll, there’s other data that bears Harry’s point out.
A September 2018 Gallup poll showed just 36% of people approved of her, matching the record low in that poll – which was set in November 2017. “Clinton’s image remains in a rut nearly two years after she lost the presidential contest in 2016,” wrote Gallup’s Andrew Dugan.
There’s very limited polling of any recent vintage on Kerry. But in an August 2015 Gallup poll, 48% had a favorable opinion of the 2004 presidential nominee while 38% had an unfavorable view of him.
Put all that polling aside, however, and we are left with this: Clinton isn’t likely to run, but she hasn’t made that decision for a final time just yet. And she believes she is entitled to operating on her own timeline to make that decision.
That’s where we are right now. I think.