HRC’s Vulnerability Redux

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Hillary Clinton deliberately placed herself “to the right” of the President’s foreign policy in the famous Atlantic interview (I obviously don’t think so, but we’re “arguing in the alternative” here), or that she will do so in the future, as a lot of people who basically don’t like her and/or don’t like Democrats seem to hope for various reasons. Would that give the great chimera of a left-bent primary challenge to HRC the kind of specific impetus it needs to materialize?

Nate Silver takes a look at the idea of HRC’s left-flank vulnerability and finds no there there. She’s very popular with self-described Democratic liberals. And to those who say “yeah, but she was ‘inevitable’ going into 2008, too,” he responds that her overall positioning is much stronger now:

It’s extremely rare to see a non-incumbent candidate poll so strongly so early. In the earliest stages of the 2008 Democratic nomination race, Clinton was polling between 25 percent and 40 percent of the vote — not between 60 percent and 70 percent, as she is now. Clinton could lose quite a bit of Democratic support and still be in a strong position.

But suppose you see those polls as a lagging indicator. Another early measure of a candidate’s strength that can have predictive power is the amount of support she receives from elites in her party, as measured by endorsements from elected officials. Clinton, despite not having declared her candidacy, has already picked up 60 endorsements from Democrats in Congress. As far as I can tell, there isn’t any precedent for something like this. A database of primary endorsements we compiled in 2012 found only a handful of endorsements of a presidential candidate so early in the race.

Now Nate issues all the usual disclaimers about strange things sometimes happening betwixt the lip and the cup, and it’s all true; it’s still very “early” and all. But on the other hand, we’re just seventeen months away from the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, and every day that passes makes the task of knocking off a heavy front-runner there more daunting. At just a few weeks after this point eight years ago, Barack Obama was headlining the Harkin Steak Fry. John Edwards had basically never stopped campaigning in Iowa after running a close second there in 2004. As her deputy campaign manager Mike Henry famously (if unsuccessfully) argued in the spring of 2007, Clinton was walking into a big trap in Iowa, one that snared her fatally (not just because she lost the Caucuses, but because of the vast resources she expended while losing). If there are any such storm clouds on the horizon now, I don’t see them.

Now: if Clinton woke up one fine morning and decided to make a speech on Wall Street celebrating her “close friends in the financial sector,” things could definitely change; then David Paul Kuhn’s scenario for a successful Elizabeth Warren challenge might become more realistic.

I suspect those who (again, for varying reasons) want to see a competitive Democratic nominating contest in 2016 know time’s running out, and are contributing to the media din over Stuffgate in an effort to shake things up. Good luck with that.

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.