Of Course Democrats–and Republicans–Are Worried About 2016

So let’s do one of those “which one of these statements is unlike the others” exercises with several things National Review‘s John Fund tells us he heard from prominent Democrats at the White House Correspondents Dinner:

“It’s not that she’s too old — she just can’t relate to younger generations.”

“A couple more scandals, and you’ll wonder if they will start to define her campaign.”

“Younger women know a female will become president in their lifetime; many of them don’t think it has to be or even should be Hillary.”

“How can she possibly distance herself from the Obama administration she served for four years, but whose policies increasingly alienate independent voters she needs?”

I’d say it’s the last one, which sounds a lot more like a Republican talking point than anything I’ve ever heard a Democrat say. And so naturally, it’s the assertion he makes the foundation for the rest of his column, entitled “Are Democratic Insiders Starting to Panic About Hillary?”

That’s why so many Democrats hope Hillary Clinton will be challenged by a more formidable rival than the former governors or senators who are currently lining up to oppose her: Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb. Senator Elizabeth Warren, an economic populist to the left of Hillary, has steadfastly declined to run for president. But each new scandal or Hillary campaign stumble could fuel the pressure for her to enter the race. Most Democratic strategists believe that only a woman could seize the nomination from Mrs. Clinton, given Hillary’s name ID and campaign war chest. In 2008, Barack Obama would have had no hope against Hillary, despite his formidable campaign skills, if he hadn’t also had a history-making card to play as the first African-American man with a realistic chance of becoming president.

What Democrats really worry about is that no one will beat the Clinton Machine for the Democratic nomination — it will survive and go on to become an inviting target for Republicans in the general-election battle.

That, my friends, is how you make some vaguely relevant observations about the neurotic fears people in both parties have about their candidates and then leap to the unsupported conclusion that “Democrats” want a nominee other than HRC. Don’t you think Republicans at the same dinner are “worried” that Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or Rand Paul or Ted Cruz will make “an inviting target” for Democrats in the general election? They’re really stupid if they’re not “worried,” which is not the same as being defeatist or even pessimistic.

If Hillary Clinton were to withdraw from the presidential campaign tomorrow, and Elizabeth Warren announced her own candidacy, Democrats would exchange their worries about HRC for a different set of worries about Warren. For many reasons, we are likely to have a close presidential election next year, so of course partisans will “worry.” I don’t know of any measurement of elite or rank-and-file Democratic opinion that suggests an overpowering sentiment to dump HRC; if there were, it would happen, or at least become a lot more feasible than it appears right now. A lot of Democrats want Clinton to be challenged for various reasons, but there’s nothing like a majority at any level that wants to replace her.

That’s one of the many things that makes me crazy about the Nerd Prom. It enables attendees to dress up their opinions with the supposedly rarified gleanings they gained at this celebration of self-esteem.

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.