The Unlikelihood of President Hillary

Posted: Dec 09, 2012 12:01 AM
The Unlikelihood of President Hillary
The votes have been cast, the count has been completed, and we all know the winner of the presidential election. So now it's just a matter of letting the Electoral College meet to make the outcome official. Then we can get along with planning the inauguration of Hillary Clinton.

True, it's still four years away. But by now it's clear that Republicans needn't bother putting up a nominee. They may as well save their money and candidates for 2024, when Hillary will be ready to leave Washington and become a judge on "The Voice."

The secretary of state is currently more popular than ice cream in August. Matched by Public Policy Polling against a field of other possible contenders for the 2016 Democratic nomination, she got 61 percent among primary voters -- well ahead of second-place Joe Biden, with 12 percent.

Polling analyst Harry Enten of the British newspaper The Guardian says no previous non-incumbent in recent history has reached that level. And each of the ones who came remotely close -- Al Gore, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush -- got his party's nomination.

In May, a Gallup survey found that 66 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of her. Only 29 percent didn't like her. Let's face it, you could probably find that many people who don't like Kermit the Frog.

She has plenty of assets going for her if she decides to run. There are the fond memories of the pacific, profitable 1990s. There is her game willingness to go to work for the guy who beat her in 2008. There is the fact that voters may be ready to make history by electing a woman. She'd also get some campaign assistance from a famous native of Hope, Ark.

But she won't have the smooth, flower-strewn path to the Oval Office that all this suggests. During her husband's presidency, she was widely disliked for her hectoring manner, her more-liberal-than-Bill views and her often chilly personality. Not for nothing was she known in her college days as "Sister Frigidaire."

It's easy to forget that she was the architect of a major health insurance overhaul that ended in crashing failure. It's easy to forget that when the Monica Lewinsky affair broke, she dismissed the allegations as slanders from a "vast right-wing conspiracy" trying to "undo the results of two elections." It's easy to forget that she was the most unpopular first lady on record.

If she enters the race, we would be reminded of the strife and scandal of the Clinton presidency. We would also be reminded that electing Hillary would mean bringing back Bill, with his notorious appetites and unpredictable impulses.

One or two bimbo eruptions could be fatal -- and did you see that story the other day that Gennifer Flowers said he tried to renew their trysts?

The public seems to like Hillary a lot better when she's far removed from the presidency. The closer she gets the more distrust she evokes. When she ran in 2008, her popularity sagged. That's how she managed to lose a nomination that most people assumed was hers for the taking.

She is easier for people to take in the role of diplomat than politician. When she lectures dictators at the UN, voters tend to approve. When she lectures audiences in Iowa, they tend to bristle.

Being secretary of state lets her look serious and diligent, which she is, while sparing her from close daily scrutiny. Running for president would put her back under the microscope, where she doesn't look so appealing.

There are other things working against her. One is that it's very hard for a party to win three consecutive presidential elections. Except for 1988, it hasn't happened since Harry Truman's day. The Clinton good times, remember, were not enough to deliver Gore to the White House.

Nor is it clear that Hillary is such a great candidate. Maybe she learned invaluable lessons from the last try. But then, so did Mitt Romney. Alas, the same shortcomings that kept him from getting the nomination that time kept him from winning the election this time.

We had a chance to elect Hillary president in 2008, in a year made to order for her, and it didn't come to pass. Don't be surprised if it never does.