The vast majority of Democrats and Independents want a robust Democratic primary, but Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight said that this is merely due to our culture. “We’re Americans; we like choices,” he wrote. Democrats may want a challenge, but they want Hillary to win:
In the 2000 contest, Al Gore, the only candidate with a comparable lead to what Clinton has now, was wiping the floor with Bill Bradley in the Democratic primary. Yet, in a July 1999 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 65 percent of Democrats said Bradley’s campaign was “a good thing for the Democratic Party because it will create a healthy debate within the party and because it gives Democrats a choice.”
You know what happened to Bradley? He won zero primaries and held Gore under 50 percent just once (in New Hampshire). Gore, meanwhile, won the highest percentage of the national primary vote for a non-incumbent in modern history.
Gore isn’t the only previous example, either. According to the Pew Research Center, a surprisingly high 66 percent of Democrats wanted incumbent President Bill Clinton to be challenged after the 1994 midterm elections. If this question is meant to get at vulnerability, somebody forgot to tell Clinton’s fellow Democrats. Not a single semi-serious challenger emerged.
Heck, Democrats were split evenly on whether they wanted President Obama to face a serious challenge for the nomination in 2012. There was, as Ed Kilgore pointed out at the time, almost no chance that was going to happen. Obama, of course, cruised to the nomination.
Still, that doesn’t mean Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, or, yes, Vice President Joe Biden can toss their hats in the ring. He’s fallen off the radar, but former Virginia Senator Jim Webb announced his exploratory committee eons ago. Yet, if you just look at the list of endorsements/ campaign machine Hillary has amassed, one would have to seriously consider taking the plunge at all. Then again, all four of these guys have little to lose; maybe shaping the debate, albeit for 10 seconds is worth it. Sanders will never be beaten in Vermont; Webb isn’t running for any other political office, O’Malley was term-limited in Maryland, and Joe Biden will go the way of most vice presidents: sliding into obscurity. Why not go for it?
Enten also wrote the O’Malley shouldn’t try to “out-liberal” Clinton since he has no signature issue to run on, amongst other foundations critical to a national campaign (i.e. fundraising):
Never mind that Dean lost the 2004 campaign or that he now endorses Clinton for president, the O’Malley-Dean comparison falls flat for another key reason: O’Malley has no signature issue to run to Clinton’s left on. Where Dean had the Iraq War (like Obama four years later), O’Malley has a giant question mark. Maybe it’s Wall Street reform, which O’Malley has been talking up recently in light of Clinton’s supposedly cozy connections with the financial sector?
Remember, 36 percent of Democratic voters thought the Iraq War was the biggest problem at this point 12 years ago. By the summer of 2003, 62 percent of them opposed the invasion. Today, 56 percent of Democrats have heard little to nothing about the Occupy Wall Street movement, which at its heart is about the government’s connection to the financial sector. Most Democrats either don’t support its general goals or have no feeling toward it, let alone believe it’s the most important issue.
Well, for any of these possible 2016 challengers to Hillary (yeah, I know it’s a weak field), could they highlight Clinton’s shaky stand for labor union rights? The International Business Times reported on how Clinton, while serving as Secretary of State, had a change of heart on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement once oil money began to flow into the Foundation. The main reservation from the left was the alleged abuse being inflicted on labor unions. In fact, Obama and Clinton campaigned against the deal in 2008. Afterwards, both changed their positions, but for Hillary; it seems the shift came when Canadian financier Frank Giustra wrote some checks to the Foundation. Guistra is the the founder of the oil company Pacific Rubiales and sits on the Board of Directors at the Clinton Foundation. It’s been alleged that the Colombian military forced workers, who were on strike at Pacific, from their picket lines at gunpoint.
Even after the Labor Action Plan was passed–a provision added to the agreement to ensure Colombia respected workers’ rights–continued allegations of abuse against workers were met with silence at State. IBT also reported that a separate bill tied foreign and military funding to Colombia based on State signing off that the nation was honoring its commitment to human and workers’ rights. Clinton did for every year she was Secretary of State, before leaving in early 2013.
While labor union strength is at its lowest levels in a century, it’s still a cornerstone of the Democratic Party. Of course, this won’t ruin Hillary’s chances in winning the 2016 Democratic nomination, but it’s a signature issue on the left in which a challenger can spar with her, and still lose. Yet, who gets into these things just to be the sacrificial lamb when it’s not really necessary?
David Corn of Mother Jones thinks that the best person to mount a challenge against Clinton is Martin O’Malley:
A primary battle—even a limited one—introduces risk into the equation. It's not hard to imagine Clinton and her strategists yearning for less uncertainty than more. (What if O'Malleymentum takes off?) And the Clintonites may not have a say in whether O'Malley enters the ring. Yet a primary fight that makes Clinton earn—not inherit—the nomination would cast her in a different role. She'd be a fighter, not a dynastic queen. The press and the public would have something to ponder beyond just Clinton herself. And all politics is relative; candidates usually look better when compared to another candidate rather than to a nonexistent ideal or even themselves. So perhaps Team Hillary should welcome the upstart Marylander into the contest. A slam-dunk is more impressive when waged against a competitor, and even the Harlem Globetrotters needed the Washington Generals.
Yet, looking as if she inherited the nomination is probably the least of Clinton’s problems.
Correction: The original post has described Mr. Guistra as an oilman, he's actually a financier who founded the oil company Pacific Rubiales. The post has been updated to clarify that point. We apologize for the error.