Are the dueling Hillary Clinton narratives correct?

Hillary Clinton looks like the person to beat for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination, and any Republican who could get the GOP nomination can't defeat her in a general election. She is also a flawed and overhyped candidate who carries enough baggage to overwhelm several TSA inspectors, and she'd be vulnerable due to Bush and Clinton fatigue, not to mention her age.

Welcome to dueling narratives about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 2016 Presidential chances. Each narrative is stated with great certainty by analysts. The reality is more complex.

What's certain is this has been a bad few weeks for the former Secretary of State.

First, she got testy in an interview with NPR's Terry Gross when asked about how she changed her position on gay marriage. She later offered a slicker answer in a different interview. Next, in promoting her new book, she said she and Bill Clinton left the White House "dead broke," sparking late night jokes, partisan derision and reports about how much money they had when they left (in debt) and made later (a ton). The two Clintons spent time defending her remark. Then critics had a field day questioning her commitment to women when her 1975 role in defending a rapist became an issue.

But these issues will recede by 2016. The larger issue: have the Clintons learned from their 2008 mistakes?

Will the highly-popular-in-polls Bill Clinton stumble politically as he did in 2008, and (again) give the impression that he dreams of a backdoor Bill Clinton Restoration? Will Hillary Clinton manage a campaign organization that isn't chaotic and dogged by bitter internal political wars? Can she come across as she did during the final part of her 2008 campaign and as Secretary of State as a tough, sincere fighter, and a thoughtful policymaker?

She started the 2008 campaign as the person to beat, but then Barack Obama came out of the blue. Can that happen again?

Vermont's independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist whom Salon calls "every liberal's favorite radical," has made noises about challenging her from the left. He'd apparently run as an "independent Democrat" and wasn't considered coincidental when he headed to primary-state New Hampshire for a speaking engagement. He recently raised eyebrows in an interview with The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman by suggesting Clinton might be like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whose primary night loss at the hands of Tea Partiers shocked everyone.

Political wildcards have destroyed prevailing media narratives before. Could Sanders become the Eugene McCarthy of the 2016 Democratic nomination race, making a good showing by painting Clinton as a corporatist Democratic establishment centrist not sufficiently dedicated to help working families? Most likely possibility: he wouldn't get her to jettison her positions, he wouldn't win, he'd weaken her, and some angry Democrats who supported him wouldn't vote for her in November if she did head the ticket. At best, he'd be a spoiler.

Her gender and age? America remains in the Fred Flintstone era compared to many countries (Israel, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, India, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Sri Lanka) who have had women in the top job. Many countries also had older leaders -- and you might recall that an attempt to use age against a certain California Governor who became President failed miserably. America is long overdue in joining the world's t-w-e-n-t-i-e-t-h century.

If she runs, Clinton would have the "Clinton machine," plus a virtual army of supporters who still feel she was more qualified in 2008 than Obama, whose message of hope, change, positioning to her left in the Democratic Party, and appeal as an African-American who could win the White House kept her from shattering the "glass ceiling" in her Oval Office bid.

Throughout her public career Hillary Clinton has consistently been blessed by being underestimated, by the passion of her supporters -- and by how the foaming-at-the-mouth-rhetoric of her political foes and haters consolidated her support in the country's center and solidified her image as a serious political figure. The betting? If she gets the Democratic Presidential nod, these three factors will kick in again.

A shoo-in? Nope. Highly formidable? Yep.

©2014 Joe Gandelman


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