Hillary Clinton is almost certainly moving up her announcement date because of money.
It is a daunting challenge to raise the close to $2 billion she will need to run a competitive race in 2016, and there is little time to waste.
Moreover, she has raised as much as she probably can from the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, considering the revelations of the last few weeks about the role foreign governments have played in providing funds to the Clinton Foundation during and after her term as Secretary of State.
And with the last major New York event now complete—a Wednesday night benefit featuring all three Clintons and singer/songwriter Carole King—the time to turn to presidential politics, and presidential politics alone, has come for the putative Democratic front-runner.
And not a moment too soon.
Mrs. Clinton faces an array of challenges that are daunting by any calculation—challenges that may have become more substantial with the revelation that she apparently used her private email account exclusively while Secretary of State. While it isn’t yet clear if she violated federal regulations, there may very well be security issues with her use of a private email account both to those within the government and people outside. Furthermore, these emails may not be recoverable, raising questions and leaving potential black holes of content, which we may never fill. The result will inevitably be an uneasy and untrustworthy fact finding mission.
But Mrs. Clinton’s problems are not limited to just political and foundation fundraising and now, potentially, missing emails.
Her larger, and more long range problems concern her political posture vis-a-vis the left wing of the Democratic Party, all the while recognizing the need to stay close to the center of the political spectrum as she carves out a distinctive political identity, separate and apart from President Obama and his administration.
Indeed, her challenges begin most fundamentally with keeping Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren from jumping in the race.
So said Elizabeth Warren last week, in an email to her supporters, on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s latest attempt to mollify the left wing of the Democratic Party. In a speech about economic fairness in Silicon Valley, Clinton pledged, among other things, to “crack every last glass ceiling,” whether it be on Wall Street or in corporate America.
Warren’s email seemingly hinted at a presidential run, all the while firing another shot across Clinton’s bow. In fact, she had only meant to suggest (at least for the time being) that she was prepared to lead the battle against the Republican agenda. Warren has previously said that she will not be a presidential candidate in 2016.
But you can’t help wonder whether Warren is reconsidering, especially bearing in mind the noncommittal answer she gave recently when asked about Clinton’s candidacy. “I want to hear what she wants to run on and what she says she wants to do,” she said of Hillary on Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show. “That’s what campaigns are supposed to be about.”
Clinton’s struggle reflects her ongoing effort to win over a party dominated, and arguably controlled, by forces that believe that economic leadership in America singularly means redistribution, more regulation, and avowed use of the levers of government to provide equality of income (and indeed, outcome).
She’ll need to accommodate the Warren wing of the Democratic Party, not just because she needs to win over progressive voters, but also because she must keep a substantial segment of the Democratic Party in her camp—a segment that remains deeply suspicious of her.
She also has to distance herself from President Obama, who is trying through his administration to persuade his former Secretary of State to run on his still-unpopular economic agenda.
“America is coming back,” the President told members of the Democratic National Committee recently. But some Democratic governors weren’t buying. “I think it would be a mistake for somebody to be running on, ‘It’s great guns; we just have to keep doing what we’re doing,’” said Delaware Governor Jack Markell. “It ought to be, ‘In a changing world, here are the things we need to do differently.’” And Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper offered, “In many parts of the country, we are seeing increasing momentum in terms of recovery, but in almost every state, and certainly in parts of Colorado, we are still struggling to get the unemployment down and most importantly the wages still haven’t started rising.” Indeed, in Colorado, 58 percent said they want the next president to take a different approach to policy from Obama.
Clinton should listen to voices like Markell and Hickenlooper: she needs to offer something different from what we’ve seen from President Obama these past six years. Despite Obama’s confident words, his approval rating hovers around 45 percent, with an economic approval rating of 40 percent, according to the latest YouGov/Economist poll. More than 60 percent of Americans say that they want the country to go in a different direction, a number that has not materially been reduced in the last year.
Even more substantially, Clinton cannot run on the platform of the left wing of the Democratic Party. While zealous, these voters represent no more than a quarter of the electorate. She must position herself as a convincing centrist for what will be a very competitive general election, making a clear break with the Obama administration’s approach without running afoul of former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s concern that she take great pains to avoid “triangulating” as her husband did in the run up to the successful 1996 re-election campaign.
She can broaden her appeal by embracing practical policies in key areas that represent a clear break with the Obama administration’s approach:
1. Articulate an inclusive, pro-growth agenda that creates jobs, expands the workforce, and provides competitive wages for young people and other workers.
2. Address income inequality through policies that emphasize economic mobility and advancement for the lower and middle classes. Clinton should embrace empowerment zones, entrepreneurship, asset ownership, and smart tax reform to generate opportunity.
3. Push for debt and deficit reduction. Clinton will have to make tough spending choices and should support an updated Simpson-Bowles plan that cuts spending in a balanced way, reforms our outdated tax code, and makes necessary entitlement reforms.
4. Support big-bank regulation. Regulatory simplification is badly needed in the U.S. banking system. Clinton should get behind Janet Yellen’s proposal to require banks to hold higher levels of capital. She could also stand with Warren on her opposition to a provision in the latest spending bill allowing banks to “push out” some of their derivatives business into separate non-FDIC entities.
5. Reform Obamacare. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in its big Obamacare case this June, Clinton should get behind specific reforms—ranging from tort reform to opening up insurance markets across state lines to ensuring that those who benefited from federal subsidies can keep their insurance.
6. Support two-part immigration reform. Clinton should first promise to secure the United States border and then—and only then—create a pathway to citizenship. Without a secure border, majorities of Americans won’t support citizenship.
7. Advocate muscular multilateralism. Clinton’s more muscular view of America and its role in the world is much closer to that of the American public than Obama’s withdrawn and deferent foreign policy, which is now crumbling around the world.
Given this tough road ahead for Mrs. Clinton and the prospect of raising close to $2 billion for her campaign, it shouldn’t be surprising that the former secretary has changed directions again and decided she needs to announce her candidacy expeditiously, as early as next month, to blunt these ever growing threats and obstacles to her candidacy.