Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “The Hunting of Hillary” and co-author, with Peter Eisner, of the book “High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
All it took was a bit of speculation from a guy who isn’t especially close to the most famous people in Chappaqua, New York, for the arrow on the “love-Hillary Clinton-or-hate-her” meter to start swinging wildly once again.
Suddenly, the Boston Herald declared the idea of Hillary Clinton running for president in 2024 “a nightmare scenario.” But at The Hill, writer Joe Concha looked at the other Democrats who could run and asked, “If those are the options, why not Hillary?”
While the mere mention of the Clintons in the context of another presidential campaign offends some and inspires others, everyone in the political world has a reason to be excited by the prospect. Among her supporters, there must be millions who have recovered from the heartbreak of 2016 and are ready to back her again. Among those who oppose her, the chance to resume battle against the woman they love to hate must surely send hearts racing.
To be clear, Hillary Clinton hasn’t indicated she’s running for anything – and a political comeback by the former secretary of state seems unlikely. This recent speculation began with Doug Schoen, the polling and consulting firm founder who worked for former President Bill Clinton. Schoen, along with co-author Andrew Stein, wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece outlining the Democrats’ current struggles – an unpopular president and VP; party infighting; and looming midterm challenges – while making the case for Hillary as a “change candidate” who, at 74, is still younger than President Joe Biden.
Except for the fact that she’s not Biden, I would disagree where the idea of “change” is concerned; both Clinton and Biden are middle-of-the-road Democrats of the same generation. But whether Schoen is right or wrong about Clinton’s prospects, the most telling thing about a potential Hillary run in ’24 can be found in the reaction that followed his article.
While the political pros may jostle for work – some fantasizing about a future Clinton campaign, some using the buzz to make a pitch for other would-be candidates – conservative media is already cashing in.
From the New York Post to Fox News to Sky News Australia, the Clinton talk revved engines across Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Big names at Fox are dragging Hillary on the air, and at the Post a columnist mused over her “inevitable loss.” According to a Sky News headline, “loser” Hillary Clinton is “obsessed with the presidency.”
But study these reactions closely and you might detect the Murdoch stars and others salivating over the prospect of Hillary Clinton’s return to public life. For decades, certain media outlets and personalities have used Clinton as a bogeyman to excite viewers and readers – and this time is no different.
In 1994, it was radio host Rush Limbaugh repeating false claims that White House lawyer Vince Foster, who died by suicide in a park, “was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton.” In 2016, it was writer Dinesh D’Souza’s suggesting she “orchestrated” her husband’s infidelities. (With Foster’s death, there have been repeated investigations that ruled it as a suicide. And as for any infidelities, friends have said that Clinton didn’t condone them.)
As I discovered researching my 2020 book “The Hunting of Hillary,” Clinton became a target for gratuitous media criticism and conspiracy theory attacks as soon as she entered public life in Arkansas. In Little Rock in the late 1970s, she wasn’t just the state’s first lady; she was a symbol of the changing status of women in America and a repository for all the anxieties, anger and confusion felt by those who didn’t welcome the change.
Young Hillary’s desire to work, use her own name – Rodham – and delay childbearing irritated many. All these issues were raised in a 1979 TV interview: “Does it concern you,” asked the host, “that maybe other people feel that you don’t fit the image that we have created for the governor’s wife in Arkansas?”
In the years that followed, as Clinton resisted the gendered limits placed on her, the questions and critiques morphed into conspiracy theories.
By 1994, televangelist Jerry Falwell was using his broadcasts to sell a video called “The Clinton Chronicles” in which Hillary and her husband were not just ambitious but dangerous. The film even falsely implicated both Hillary and Bill in various murders.
At the 1992 GOP convention, presidential candidate Pat Buchanan used his nationally broadcast opening-night speech to declare a “culture war” and place Hillary in his crosshairs. After twisting her record as an attorney, he accused her of “radical feminism” and declared her one of God’s opponents “in the struggle for the soul of America.”
Ambition has always been one of Hillary Clinton’s supposed sins, which may be why Sky News Australia would run a headline today claiming Hillary is “obsessed with the presidency.”
Yet if she is ambitious, this would make her like other politicians – Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the first president Bush – who lost either primary or general elections and came back to win the White House. They won because voters deemed them most qualified. Given her experience as First Lady, a United States senator, and Secretary of State, Hillary is one of the most qualified potential presidents in the land.
Add to her qualifications the resilience she has shown under pressure: so many books have taken aim at her that it’s hard to keep track. A burst of titles emerged in 1999, with one book alleging that “in scandal after scandal all roads lead to Hillary.” Another had the on-the-nose title, “The Case Against Hillary Clinton.” Many more attack books followed. Four were published in 2016 alone.
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Despite the onslaught, which continued when Republicans feared she might actually win the presidency, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 by roughly 2.9 million. Yet Donald Trump reached the White House thanks to the curious institution known as the Electoral College.
In the aftermath of her loss, Clinton recovered at her home in Chappaqua and only recently began returning to public life. It is this resilience that energizes her critics and her supporters at the mere mention of a comeback.
Never the monster they tried to make her, Hillary Clinton is instead a leader who – like others before her, including President Biden – only becomes more compelling and powerful with experiences that would have defeated others.