The Hillary in Our Future

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Martine Franck/Magnum Photos
Bill and Hillary Clinton at the Midwestern Ball after his inauguration, Washington, D.C., January 1993

As Hillary Rodham Clinton pursues the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, we face a situation that is wholly without precedent in modern American electoral history. There have been presumptive nominees before, usually sitting vice-presidents—Al Gore in 2000, George H.W. Bush in 1988, and Hubert Humphrey in 1968, to name three. But even they faced competition from candidates who were certainly from the “first tier”—Bill Bradley, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Bobby Kennedy, and Gene McCarthy.

Clinton faces no such opposition within her party. It’s good that Senator Bernie Sanders has decided to enter the race. Clinton will have to debate him, and his mere presence will force her to take positions she could otherwise get away with not taking. But it’s rather unlikely that a socialist from Vermont can capture a major-party nomination. Similarly, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley probably doesn’t arouse much concern at Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters. He has a solid record of achievement in Annapolis and intriguing credentials as a Catholic committed to social justice. But he comes with baggage, too—the extremely incompetent implementation of Obamacare in his state and, now, the mere fact that he was once the mayor of the sad, segregated city of Baltimore, perpetually suspended in a kind of bitter aspic of deindustrialization, disinvestment, and broken promises. Sometimes governors exude clear presidential potential, as did Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. O’Malley, so far anyway, does not.

And that’s about it. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is out; she plainly does not want to be president. Although she’s been active in opposing Obama’s proposed Pacific trade agreement, she’s never shown a deep interest in foreign policy, which is a rather important part of any president’s job, particularly so at this point in history. Short of incapacitating illness or a scandal of enormous proportions, Clinton will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee.

This puts her in a strong position, but it also places a special burden on her. It means that the nation’s liberals and Democrats, millions of people who usually have a choice to make, in essence don’t have one here. There is much at stake in next year’s election. For a start, a new president who serves two terms may well nominate three or even four justices to the Supreme Court, meaning either that the Court’s conservative majority will be solidified and enlarged, with more allies of Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, or that it will be reversed, giving the country a liberal Supreme Court majority for the first time since the 1980s. Such a Court could spend a generation or two reversing the precedents set by the Courts of William Rehnquist and John Roberts.

So Clinton, who leads in national polls and will benefit from an Electoral College map that favors any Democratic candidate, has a…


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