Wednesday, May 7, 2008

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Some final thoughts on Hillary Clinton

In the wake of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign being declared effectively dead by one and all, it is worth reflecting on what she gained by staying in the race for the past two months and change.

Primarily, she managed to graft Bill Clinton's reputation as the indefatigable fighter who can always come back from the dead onto herself. There's also the working class hero thing, though I suspect that will fade. Finally, she's managed the rare reverse Greenhouse Effect, earning Strange New Respect from Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Patrick Buchanan.

These are not insignificant gifts. When her political fortunes are discussed from here on out, they will frame the media's perception of her. She will always be painted as someone who should not be ruled out in a political fight, and it will surprise no one if she mounts another presidential candidacy.

There's a more important reason why these past six weeks have helped her immeasurably. Had she dropped out of the race back in early March, the narrative frame would have been how Hillary Clinton blew the nomination in spectacular fashion.

Stepping back, it's hard to overstate the advantages she brought to the primary race. She possessed unbelievable name recognition, a well-oiled fund-raising machine, a strong association with the most successful Democratic president of the past 50 years, an, er, Clintonian grasp of policy detail, strong ties to the women's vote and (until very late in this electoral cycle) the African-American vote, and tight connections with the Democratic party establishment. In the aftermath of New Hampshire, she could claim, plausibly and simultaneously, to be the most experienced candidate and a candidate that would represent a real change from the staus quo. With no appreciable domestic policy differences among the Democratic candidates, there was every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton was going to win.

Despite all this, Hillary Clinton did not win the nomination. Her failure to win says less about her defects than Barack Obama's strengths. But if nothing else, her performance over the past few months has managed to shift perceptions about her in ways that salvage her reputation as a politician of national standing.

posted by Dan on 05.07.08 at 10:36 AM


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