Hillary Clinton’s status as the Democrats’ seemingly inevitable and overwhelming front-runner in the 2016 presidential race has some in the party fearing she’s “too big to fail.”
That description was used by The New York Times in a story published on Wednesday where several Democrats expressed concern that, if Clinton goes down, she’ll take the party with her.
“There is no one else — she’s the whole plan,” Sarah Kovner, a top Democratic fundraiser, told the paper. “She is by far the most experienced and qualified person we could possibly nominate. Not even on the horizon but on the far horizon.”
These worries have been amplified by Clinton’s recent stumbles as she faces the growing controversy over her use of a private email address while she was secretary of state.
“Anytime you have all your eggs in one basket, it is a concern,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) told The Times.
The concerns are not just based on Clinton’s controversial actions, but her operation’s reaction to them as well. Her camp has been careening from one strategy to another since last week, when it was revealed she exclusively used a personal email address as secretary of state, reportedly breaking federal rules and leaving sensitive communications vulnerable to hackers.
Clinton advisers initially insisted they would remain silent before relenting and holding a chaotic press conference at the United Nations with little advance notice. This response caused many many observers to conclude that her political operation is not “ready for prime time” and had at least one anonymous White House aide griping to The Times about her lack of rapid response. Indeed, The Washington Post reported Wednesday that “senior Democrats” are growing increasingly concerned about whether Clinton is ready to be their party’s standard-bearer in 2016.
“Had this story been responded to in two or three days instead of in eight days, it would not be as big,” Robert Gibbs, a former Obama spokesman, told The Post. “They are the ones who put air in this balloon in a way that was not necessary at all. … It’s clear they lack an apparatus. She’s a candidate without a campaign.”
One potential Clinton rival, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), questioned the premise of The Times story. Asked about it on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday, O’Malley questioned the idea Clinton is the party’s only viable option by pointing to her 2008 presidential bid, in which she was often branded as “inevitable” before losing to then-Sen. Barack Obama.
“Well maybe that’s the way it is today,” he said. “Most years, there’s the ‘inevitable front-runner.’ And that ‘inevitable front-runner’ is inevitable right up until he or she is no longer inevitable. So I think you’re going to see a robust conversation in the Democratic Party.”
However, Clinton was far more vulnerable electorally in 2008 than she is today. In polls, fundraising, and top-tier supporters, Obama and even former Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina), the party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee, were much better positioned to challenge Clinton then than any Democrat is now. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), who said she’s not going to run but would arguably be the most credible non-Clinton contender, trails Clinton by more than 40 points.
For their part, Republicans are clearly relishing the Democrats’ Clinton dilemma.
“I am struck by the vast difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates,” Cody Hoefert, co-chair of the Iowa Republican Party, remarked in February. “Republicans have a vibrant field of candidates with diverse strengths and backgrounds. The Democrats have only one real candidate.”
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