I have seen the future of the Democratic Party and its name is Hillary Clinton.
I believe that’s a true statement even if it lacks the electricity associated with a rock star. Clinton is in Des Moines today for Senator Tom Harkin’s 37th and apparently final steak fry. It’s a testament to Harkin’s Democratic soul — along with his aid to the Clintons over the years and some persistent lobbying — that she is here.
“When Tom Harkin called and asked me to come, I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve got a few things on my mind these days” Clinton told a cheering crowd. But she promptly turned less coy and acknowledged: “It’s true that I’m thinking about it.”
The two biggest factions of the Democratic Party — let’s call them pragmatists and idealists, or Clintonites and Obamanistas — have all but acceded to her presidential nomination two years in advance, although Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and others will be testing her for weaknesses over the coming months.
The pragmatists see the benefits of her candidacy. The idealists are exhausted by six years of Republican efforts to destroy Obama and his programs. When the attacks on Clinton get vicious, as they will, Democrats will need a fresh front line of defenders.
It has been almost seven years since Clinton’s Iowa team took it on the chin, coming in third in the state’s caucuses behind Barack Obama and John Edwards. Many of those staffers have moved on to careers, relationships and obligations elsewhere. But Clinton will hardly be building from scratch. The network that she and her husband have built is immense and responsive. Many of the political veterans celebrating Tom Harkin this weekend are veterans of one Clinton campaign or another. Reunions, which began with a bar bash Friday night, also serve as recruiting and reconnaissance missions for 2016: Who is ready for another tour of duty?
Newcomers have been brought in through Ready for Hillary, a super political action committee that has been building campaign infrastructure around the nation and recruiting the kind of small donors — more than 90,000 of them so far — who powered Obama’s campaigns.
And although detractors will never understand it, Clinton continues to inspire. Ready for Hillary flew in 100 or so youthful volunteers for a conference at the Des Moines Marriott this weekend. Mostly female, donning Hillary T-shirts and sneakers, they were fired up and ready to go.
A Clinton coronation, if indeed that’s what Democrats give us, will be boring for Democrats and catastrophic for the news media. More than 200 reporters obtained credentials to get a glimpse of Clinton politicking. If she doesn’t get viable competition from Democratic opponents, she may have to invent it. Otherwise reporters will rely on internal feuds and Republican attacks to produce the kind of conflict on which campaign narratives depend.
It’s hard to believe the historically fractious and occasionally thrill-seeking — the nomination of Barack Hussein Obama was the political equivalent of magical realism — Democratic Party will surrender in toto to Clinton without at least a symbolic fight. But with each passing day, it gets even harder to believe it won’t.
[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]