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Lincoln Mitchell Headshot

Hillary Clinton's Outsider Insider Candidacy

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Hillary Clinton will probably run for president in 2016, and will probably be her party's nominee in the general election, and the country's next president. Nothing in politics can be assumed, and Clinton is not guaranteed anything, but there is no politician in the country who is more likely to be the next president. Nonetheless, there is nothing inevitable about another Clinton presidency and many ways the campaign could get off track in the primary or general election.

Clinton's candidacy is intriguing, but not without paradoxes that will need to be resolved. Clinton is, by a large margin, the resume candidate. No likely Democratic candidate, except possibly Joe Biden can match Clinton's experience. As a former US Senator and Secretary of State, Clinton has extensive experience in the legislative and executive branch of government. Clinton is also the establishment candidate. No other Democratic, or for that matter Republican, politician is as closely tied to the political establishment as Clinton. She has been a national figure for over twenty years and has strong ties to political, media, governmental and Democratic Party leaders across the country. Moreover, her political views reflect the mainstream of the Democratic Party and, particularly on foreign policy, the political establishment as well. Clinton is so closely tied to the current and previous Democratic administrations, that she will be seen as running for not just a continuation of the Obama presidency, but of the Clinton presidency as well. This could make her even tougher to beat in a primary, but may not be so helpful in a general election.

In a year when, even more than most, the Democratic Party, and indeed the country, may be looking for an outsider, Clinton is about as far from being an outside as possible, except for one thing. Clinton would have a real chance at being the first woman president. That alone makes her different from every other previous president as well as every other nominee from a major political party. Thus, Clinton is a consummate insider with one very substantial outsider credential. That alone may not be enough, but it is something on which Clinton can build a successful campaign.

As the establishment candidate in 2016, similarly to 2008, Clinton will start out with several advantages, she will have more money, endorsements and name recognition than any other Democrat. Given all these advantages, it is very possible that no serious primary opponent for 2016 will emerge, but if one does, these advantages may, as was the case in 2012, not be enough.

Clinton, therefore, needs to provide a rationale not just for her candidacy but for the urgency of her candidacy. If not, the rationale for her candidacy will be default to a variation on her having paid her dues or that it is her turn. This is the precise message and rationale which is least likely to resonate with an electorate that is less than enamored to the political establishment at the moment. Voters do not, and should not, care whose turn it is or who has paid their dues. These are insider issues that have no bearing on the real problems and concerns that most voters have. Clinton's approach, therefore, should be to build upon, rather than rest upon her strong credentials, and to find a way to allow the history making potential of her campaign come to the fore.

There are many good rationales for a Hillary Clinton presidency not least are that she would likely be an effective and competent president, albeit one who would also likely be risk averse and well within the mainstream of centrist political thought. Additionally, and for many voters more importantly, the options on the Republican side are likely to vary from well spoken ultra-conservatives like Marco Rubio to somewhat wacky sounding ultra-conservatives like Ted Cruz. Nonetheless, Clinton needs to articulate the rationale for her campaign in a way that is genuinely compelling, rather than simply cool and reasonable.

Although the election is almost two years away, the first primary is only slightly more than a year away. This is not a long time, particularly for candidates who, unlike Hillary Clinton, will have to work hard to raise enough money. By postponing her decision, Clinton is not creating any problems for herself, but is making it tougher for other potential Democratic candidates. There is, however, a downside to this strategy. A candidate who begins to build a campaign soon, seeking to secure guarantees of support from donors and politicians should Clinton not run will be in a very strong position. If that candidate shows any movement in the polls or picks up any support, it will push Clinton into a position of asserting the nomination is something she deserves. This is exactly where Clinton should not want to be. Clinton is still the strong frontrunner, but her candidacy is not without pitfalls and possible big picture mistakes of framing and positioning.