If there’s anybody who still buys into the argument that Hillary Clinton is in a political situation today similar to where she was at this point in the 2008 cycle, a reading of Nate Cohn’s analysis of that proposition at The Upshot today should pretty much take care of that myth once and for all.
Whenever I mention that Hillary Clinton is an overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination — and would be even if Senator Elizabeth Warren ran — the conversation usually comes back to 2008. “She was supposed to be inevitable last time,” the refrain goes, “and she lost.”
I get it. I remember that Mrs. Clinton was “inevitable,” and I see why today’s discussions of Mrs. Clinton’s strength sound familiar.
But there is no equivalence between Mrs. Clinton’s strength then and now. She was never inevitable eight years ago. If a candidate has ever been inevitable — for the nomination — it is Mrs. Clinton today.
A lot of the false analogy depends on faulty memories of the 2008 cycle. Yes, HRC was for a good while the perceived front-runner. But she was never the front-runner in Iowa, and the fragility of her coalition–which depended heavily on strong support from African-Americans–became obvious the moment Barack Obama entered the race, which was, lest we forget, on February 10, 2007.
Yes, she held an impressive 40 percent or so of the Democratic vote in national polls, leading Senator Barack Obama by 15 points. That, however, is not inevitability….
If anything, in the 2008 cycle the national polls overstated Mrs. Clinton’s strength. She trailed in Iowa polls from the very start. She led in New Hampshire and South Carolina only by single digits, making it easy to imagine how the winner of Iowa could gain momentum and go on to defeat her in following contests.
Her vulnerabilities were obvious. Her vote to authorize the war in Iraq was a serious liability; so were reservations about another Clinton in the White House. Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Gore or Mr. Dole, Mrs. Clinton faced two top-tier challengers, the former vice-presidential nominee John Edwards and Mr. Obama, a rising star thanks in part to his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Mr. Obama had already declared his candidacy by this time in 2007. He had surged to 25 percent in the polls. Enthusiastic crowds showed up to early rallies in Austin, Tex., and Oakland, Calif. He matched Mrs. Clinton in fund-raising in the first quarter, demonstrating strong support in the so-called invisible primary — the behind-the-scenes competition for the resources and credibility necessary to win the nomination.
She was also running against a bevy of competent, second-tier candidates like Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and the current vice president, Joe Biden, then a Delaware senator. The decision of these candidates to run was a telling indication that they considered Mrs. Clinton to be far more vulnerable than the inevitability narrative suggested.
Today HRC is at 60 percent in the polls of self-identified Democrats, and no one, much less rivals as formidable as Obama and (yes) Edwards and even Biden and Richardson and Dodd were in 2008, has jumped into the race. And lest we forget, for all her issues in 2008, Clinton damn near pulled off a nomination victory anyway. If she had spent a little less money in Iowa and a little more in caucus states, it could have happened.
In any event, this does not mean Clinton has already won the nomination. As Cohn notes, Gerald Ford in 1976 had an early public opinion profile as strong as hers today, and he nearly lost; and Ted Kennedy did lose in 1980 with very strong numbers. But they both faced titanic rivals: the leader of the conservative movement and an incumbent President of the United States. Even the most avid fans of Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley–none of whom, BTW, has really committed to a race with time now beginning to run out–would compare any of them to Reagan in 1976 or Carter in 1980. And Elizabeth Warren would have to make a pretty dramatic political U-turn to run for president after so many denials.
So yeah, HRC is “inevitable,” and not just because people like me are saying so; the burden is now definitely on anyone doubting she will be the nominee to make the case otherwise. And you can take “she was inevitable in 2008, too” off the table as an argument against her prospects now.