After a surprising defeat in the presidential election, Hillary Clinton is reentering the political fray, declaring herself “part of the resistance.” Hillary is not the first losing Presidential nominee to refuse to fade into the electoral abyss.
Some Hillary supporters are holding out hope that she will try again for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2020. Should she attempt to mount another run, the pundocracy will likely say that she had her turn and is a voice of the past.
There are two relatively recent good examples of a losing Presidential nominee trying again for the Presidency. The first is Republican Richard M. Nixon, who marshaled an extraordinary comeback in 1968, garnering his party’s nomination and winning the Presidency. The second is Democrat Hubert Humphrey who lost a bid for renomination in 1972.
Republican Richard M. Nixon was the last losing Presidential nominee to come back and win the Presidency. Nixon lost the whisker-close1960 Presidential election to Democrat John F. Kennedy. During that election, Nixon made a deal with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the titular head of the party’s liberal wing, adding language to the GOP platform sympathetic to Rockefeller in return for his unequivocal endorsement. U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), a leading voice with conservatives, branded the agreement “the Munich of the Republican Party.” The agreement, labeled “The Treaty of Fifth Avenue,” infuriated some conservatives. Nixon lost that election in a squeaker.
Just two years later, Nixon lost a bid for the California Governorship. Many political observers wrote his political epitaph.
In 1964, the GOP nominated the steadfast conservative Barry Goldwater for President. The party lost the election in an electoral landslide. Nixon was one of the few establishment Republicans to resolutely campaign for Goldwater around the country, even delivering the nominating speech for him.
This strategy paid off for Nixon, as once skeptical conservatives rewarded him for his efforts in supporting their champion, Barry Goldwater. Concomitantly, moderates continued to support Nixon. Goldwater returned the favor, endorsing Nixon for the 1968 nomination as early as 1965.
Nixon proved his party loyalty, hitting the campaign hustings in the 1966 Congressional elections, campaigning for conservatives, moderates, and liberal Republicans. He earned chits from all three bloodlines of the Republican Party and became the consensus GOP Presidential nominee in 1968.
In the General Election, Nixon eked out a victory over Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey ‘s predicament after coming up short is similar to the situation Hillary is facing today. Humphrey’s support of the U.S. role in Vietnam turned the former liberal champion into a super villain among the party’s “new left” whose flagship issue was the U.S. egressing from Vietnam. Many had supported U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), who denounced the Vietnam War as “morally indefensibly” in his failed attempt for the nomination.
Disenchanted progressives did not come out for Humphrey in the General Election, even after Humphrey pledged to unilaterally halt the bombing of North Vietnam “as an acceptable risk for peace.” The progressives thought the nomination was stolen from them. While McCarthy’s mostly young supporters toiled in the Democratic primaries, winning delegates for their candidate, Humphrey collected the support of delegates in those states which did not hold primaries. In these states the party elite controlled the delegates. As a result of this somewhat undemocratic political process, riots ensued in front of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and anti-war liberals embarrassed Humphrey on the campaign trail, sometimes heckling him at his rallies.
Believing the nomination was purloined from their candidate, many McCarthy supporters refused to go to the polls in the General Election, which contributed to Humphrey’s nail-biting loss. In addition, the Humphrey forces were not helped when McCarthy gave a luke warm endorsement of him, telling his supporters: “I’m voting for Humphrey, and I think you should suffer with me.”
There is an eerie similitude between Humphrey’s situation and Hillary’s. Mrs. Clinton is viewed as too centrist, too Wall Street friendly, and too bellicose in foreign policy for young progressives. There has been a seismic shift from the time when those qualities were viewed as an electoral asset. Her husband, Bill Clinton, won the Presidency in 1992 by inoculating himself from charges by Republicans that he was a traditional liberal. Clinton branded himself “a New Democrat” promoting trade expansion, reforming Welfare, and using military force around the Globe, which included enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq.
After his loss, Humphrey, like Nixon, tried to prove his electoral prowess by running for political office in his home state. Humphrey handily won an open U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota. This success was used as a momentum boost and a launching pad for another try at the nomination in 1972.
Like Hillary, Humphrey’s ideology, which had been triumphant, was now anathema to the proliferating young progressives in the party. Humphrey’s support of a munificent social service regime and an interventionist foreign policy was now subservient to a policy of “Come Home America.” That was the slogan of Humphrey’s rival and the eventual Democratic nominee, U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD).
Humphrey had abandoned his past support for the Vietnam War and his hawkish military views, now averring that U.S. “military involvement in Southeast Asia should be terminated at once” and for the nation to: “reduce sharply our American military installations overseas.”
While Humphrey had the support of the old Democratic coalition, McGovern, an early critic of the war, won the nomination with his slogan: “Right From The Start.”
Like Humphrey on Vietnam, Hillary’s vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq will not be forgiven by the progressive left. Although Hillary has disavowed her vote in an attempt to neutralize the issue, it remains an albatross she cannot eradicate.
Like Humphrey, Hillary suffers from an acute distrust among the “movement left.” They view her as too close to corporations and too bellicose in foreign affairs. Many also believe Democratic Party chieftains thieved the nomination for her. In 1968, many liberals stayed home in the General Election, believing that Humphrey was too hawkish on Vietnam and that the Democratic establishmentarians stole the Democratic Presidential nomination from McCarthy.
Like the McCarthy supporters who believe the election was stolen from them by the GOP high command, many Sanders supporters believe the 2016 nomination was pilfered from them by the Democratic National Committee, citing leaked emails evincing favoritism toward Hillary.
Unlike Nixon, Hillary (69 years old) does not have the liberty of waiting out an election, campaigning for a feckless nominee, then being resurrected as a candidate who unifies all wings of her party.
Like Nixon and Humphrey, Hillary is an ambitious politician. Nixon picked the right political strategy to forge what author Pat Buchanan terms: “The Greatest Comeback.” Contrariwise, Humphrey failed to convince enough voters that his change of heart on Vietnam was genuine.
The best-case scenario for Hillary is that Republican President Donald Trump’s job approval ratings crater, and “buyer’s remorse” emerges in the body politic. The country then slides economically and/or gets enveloped in a military quagmire. Hillary campaigns around the country in the 2018 mid-term elections by euphemistically telling voters “I told you so,” collecting chits as Nixon did in 1966. Hillary would then announce a Presidential candidacy that is in vogue with the times. She would announce from the start that hers would be a peoples’ campaign Hillary would pledge not to accept any donations from lobbyists or from the Financial Services Industry.
Her best hope would be a crowded primary field, where anti-establishment candidates crowd each other out. While the left would not be enthusiastic with her, she would only need enough support from that sector of the party to garner the requisite amount of delegates needed to win the nomination.
In the General Election, Hillary would need to hold the left by crusading against large financial institutions (knowing that some voters will consider her a panderer or hypocrite), while convincing voters in the manufacturing and coal industries that Trump had failed miserably to bring back their industries and that she has a comprehensive plan to put them back to work.
It is a difficult endeavor, with a small window of opportunity, everything must go right for her. However, there is a plausible avenue for Hillary to mount a comeback and capture the Democratic presidential nomination and win the presidency in 2020.