Nov 11, 2014

    Can Team Hillary pull it off in 2016?

    THE Democrats' drubbing in the midterm elections simplified one of Hillary Clinton's challenges: She can now strike some distance from United States President Barack Obama. Everybody else is doing it.

    The former secretary of state, who is almost certain to run for president, has the luxury of time to elaborate her strategy. There will be matters beyond her control: relentless attacks, including some from the left.

    But it's mainly the political right and Republicans who will work tirelessly to dig up dirt on the expected 2016 Democratic nominee. For all the talk of empowered congressional Republicans investigating every facet of the Obama administration, they won't miss any opportunity to look into Mrs Clinton.

    She's tough, resilient and likely to be prepared for this predictable onslaught. More instructive is whether she's prepared for matters within her control. These include defining her candidacy and possible presidency. It won't be sufficient to run on competence, breadth of experience and reminders that, by the way, my husband's White House years were the salad days for the United States economy.

    Her foreign policy credentials are fodder for champions and critics alike. But there is no domestic centrepiece. She needs an innovative, even bold approach - this is a cautious politician - to dealing with middle-class economic stagnation and income inequality.

    That requires choices and trade-offs. She has a good and lucrative association with Goldman Sachs. She also praises the liberal Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren: "I love watching Elizabeth give it to those who deserve to get it," she said last month at a campaign rally in Massachusetts. One of the institutions Ms Warren likes to "give it to" is Goldman Sachs.

    Can Mrs Clinton put together an efficient, functioning campaign? In the 2007-2008 cycle, the Clinton camp was rife with infighting, warring clans as the many elements of Clintonland weighed in, sometimes not helpfully. Especially controversial was top strategist Mark Penn, who had to step down late in the campaign when it was disclosed that he was simultaneously working for the government of Colombia.

    It's expected that former president Bill Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, will assume the role of chief executive in the 2016 campaign. It would be a widely praised selection. He is an adult who, as a strategist, understands the nexus of politics and policy as well as anyone since Jim Baker, the legendary Republican who served in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations.

    Other names being considered for top positions include Democratic operatives and Clinton campaign alumni such as Robby Mook, who won every primary he directed for her in 2008, and Guy Cecil, who has run the Democrats' national Senate campaign committee.

    There also are prominent women such as Stephanie Schriock, who has managed successful Senate candidates and now runs Emily's List, which tries to elect pro-choice Democratic women to political office. (And Mr Penn, who was on the outs, is reportedly talking to the Clintons.) Mrs Clinton is also reaching out for advice outside her political circle, most notably from David Plouffe, who ran Mr Obama's presidential campaigns.

    And unlike 2008, she'll get the crucial technology and data right this time.

    The big question is whether she will assemble a coherent team that holds at bay some of the more disruptive elements of the far-reaching Clinton constellation.

    Will there be a Bill problem? The former president's indelicate comments caused her some anxiety in 2008. He was rusty then, having been out of the campaigning limelight for a while. In 2012 and during this year's midterm congressional elections, he's shown he's back - easily America's best stump campaigner as well as the most popular politician.

    Like everyone else, she pales next to him on the campaign trail. He also possesses superb political instincts; she doesn't and is more methodical. Unfavourable comparisons will be made; she can't let that get to her.

    The former secretary of state's book and promotional tour earlier this year fell flat. Yet she won raves for her campaign appearances this autumn.

    In modern American politics, there has never been such a prohibitive front runner who wasn't the incumbent president. No one, in either party, can boast of such odds of winning. Yet Mrs Clinton's path will be full of unforeseen changes, and more than a few ugly moments.

    How she prepares in the next few months may well determine how she weathers the storms.