Hillary Clinton Is No Mitt Romney

David Frum has generally become an interesting writer offering fresh perspectives–not least on the GOP to which he remains tenuously connected–but his CNN column on why Democrats should not “settle” for Hillary Clinton in 2016 via some “next-in-line” psychology is really flawed.

Democrats seem poised to choose their next presidential nominee the way Republicans often choose theirs: according to the principle of “next in line.”

Hillary Clinton came second in the nomination fight of 2008. If she were a Republican, that would make her a near-certainty to be nominated in 2016. Five of the past six Republican nominees had finished second in the previous round of primaries. (The sixth was George W. Bush, son of the most recent Republican president.)

Democrats, by contrast, prefer newcomers. Six of their eight nominees since 1972 had never sought national office before.

Obviously, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Democrats chose the next guy in line in 2000 — Vice President Al Gore — and they may well do so again. But speaking from across the aisle, it’s just this one observer’s opinion that Democrats would be poorly served by following the Republican example when President Obama’s term ends.

I’ve always thought the “next-in-line” explanation for Republican presidential politics was a considerable over-simplification, and actually wrong if it was used to suggest ideology matters less to conservatives than we’ve been led to believe. But even if you buy it entirely, comparing HRC to such next-in-line Republican pols as Poppy Bush in 1988, John McCain in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012 just doesn’t pass the smell test.

The three Republicans just mentioned never had overwhelming grassroots support in their own party and eventually prevailed over weak fields after relentlessly repositioning themselves to the Right. Both McCain and Romney, in particular, survived what can only be described as demolition derbies, and had to spend precious general-election resources pandering to the party “base.”

HRC’s immensely popular among grass-roots Democrats, not just because she is the last candidate not named Barack Obama who ran an effective presidential nomination contest, but because of the personal capital she’s built up over the years, her performance as a very popular Secretary of State, and the widely shared belief among progressives that it’s far past time for a woman to serve as president. Plus she is crushing every named Republican in early general-election trial heats.

Frum argues that an HRC nomination will inhibit the rise of fresh talent in the Donkey Party, and inhibit helpful intra-party debates. I’m all for fresh talent and helpful intra-party debates, but I’d say what Democrats probably want and need most is a 2016 victory to consolidate the policy achievements of the Obama administration while perhaps convincing Republicans the vicious obstructionism they’ve been exhibiting since 2009 is a dead end. Any way you slice it, though, treating HRC as another Mitt Romney is just laughable.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.