Thursday, June 20, 2013

Yes, 2016 is closer than you think -- June 20, 2013 column


In his first summer as a lame duck president, Barack Obama has something in common with George W. Bush.

Obama’s job approval rating is only slightly higher than Bush’s 46 percent at this point in his presidency, June 2005. Obama’s popularity has been shaken by reports of the National Security Agency’s phone call tracking, which began in Bush’s term, and of IRS’s targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny, a scandal the Obama administration owns.   

Iowa’s presidential caucuses are still 30 months away, but potential candidates and party operatives are already moving to the next presidential contest. Eight years ago, Democrats were aching to regain the White House; now it’s the Republicans’ turn.

Among possible GOP candidates, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Mitt Romney’s running mate last year, rates highest among Republican voters, while Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., and Sen. Mark Rubio, R-Fla., get higher marks from the general public, Gallup reports. Christie has had weight-loss surgery – for his physical, not his political, health, he insists.  

Democrats are talking enthusiastically about Hillary Clinton as the first woman president, just as they did eight years ago. Therein lies a cautionary tale.

Back in Summer 2005, Clinton was seen as formidable, if not yet inevitable. When Hillary Clinton appeared with Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa at a meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council, she stole the show. The DLC was a centrist group that had boosted Bill Clinton’s prospects for the White House, and Hillary Clinton was trying to squeeze her liberal foot into a moderate shoe.

Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, had spoken eloquently at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, but Clinton and her fans thought him too inexperienced to win just four years later. Voters had other opinions.   

The country is even more polarized these days. Tea partiers push Republicans to the right, and Democrats drift left. The DLC closed its doors in 2011.

This time around, Vice President Joe Biden has Senate as well as one-heartbeat-away experience to be president. Clinton and her fans should recognize his potential vote-getting power.  

At the same time, the historical significance of the first woman president is huge. Clinton has distinguished herself as a loyal member of the Obama team and as the nation’s top diplomat. Republicans treat her like a frontrunner by attempting to tarnish her sterling reputation with questions about her role in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which cost four American lives.

Clinton is 65 but she’s hardly ready to retire. Her next memoir is due out next June, and like her husband, she’s on the talk circuit.

When she spoke to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Mich., last Monday night, about 50 supporters outside waved “I’m Ready for Hillary” signs and chanted “Hill-a-ry, 20-16. Hill-a-ry, 20-16.” 

The Grand Rapids Press also reported that Clinton offered five rules for life in her speech, including:  “You can’t win if you don’t show up.” She was referring to the need to demonstrate to countries large and small that the United States values their friendship. But of course her remark added to the buzz about whether she will show up in 2016. Clinton hasn’t announced her plans, but almost everyone assumes she’s in.

The Ready for Hillary super PAC is hard at work building a grassroots draft movement. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., became the first member of Congress to jump on the Hillary bandwagon. McCaskill supported Obama early on for 2008. No fan of Bill Clinton, she said in 2006 she wouldn’t want him near her daughter. That was then.

Hillary Clinton could follow her husband’s lead and make money. Bill Clinton brought home $17 million in speaking fees from mid-January 2012 to mid-January 2013. He made 73 speeches at an average rate of $195,000 per speech, a CNN analysis of financial reports found. The former president has made a whopping $106 million in speaking fees since he left the White House.

Hillary Clinton has a new Twitter account. Her profile: “wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD…” Humor is good.

Practically overnight, she attracted more than half a million followers, with more every minute.  

But Iowa is a long way off. Sometimes you don’t see trouble coming.     

© 2013 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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