Saturday 10 December 2016

Hillary focused on finally capturing the White House

Published 11/04/2015 | 02:30

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York first Lady Chirlane McCray share a laugh while they attend the early childhood development initiative “Talk to Your Baby” in Brooklyn, New Yorkmia
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York first Lady Chirlane McCray share a laugh while they attend the early childhood development initiative “Talk to Your Baby” in Brooklyn, New Yorkmia
Hillary Clinton

The prolonged prologue to Hillary Rodham Clinton's second run for the White House will reach its suspenseless conclusion tomorrow when the former US secretary of state, senator and first lady will announce that she will indeed seek the Democratic nomination for president.

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Mrs Clinton will make what might have been a momentous announcement via Twitter at noon tomorrow to be precise, while en route to Iowa for campaigning. Fatigue was beginning to set in Washington over the protracted "will she, when will she" questions.

And so: nearly 35 years after she took up residence in the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas; some 23 years since she entered the White House as first lady; nearly a decade since she won a New York senate seat; six years since she humiliatingly lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama; and only three years after quitting as US secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton is to re-enter the arena.

Lifetime in waiting

The official announcement of Mrs Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign has been pending for weeks, but as her long resumé shows, it has been a lifetime in the making: not since George H W Bush took over from Ronald Reagan has there been a presidential candidate whose career has so obviously prepared them for life in the Oval Office.

As Mrs Clinton begins the race, she does so with unprecedented advantages: in the polls she leads her nearest rival for the Democratic nomination by more than 40 points and, as a result, holds a virtual lock on the fundraising needed to run a billion-dollar-plus campaign.

Meanwhile, the electoral map favours Democrats; the economy is on the up and her Republican opponents - who have lost five of the past six popular votes in US general elections - are divided.

And yet, and yet... It is a testament to the scars that Mrs Clinton has accumulated in more than three tumultuous decades in public life that despite all this, she enters the race dogged by murmurs and misgivings.

Apply the stethoscope to Candidate Clinton and you can still hear the political arrhythmia which proved fatal to her campaign in 2008. That lack of fluency might very well not be so damaging this time around, but it will ensure her campaign is kept under constant observation, only a beat away from being placed on life support.

The furore last month over Mrs Clinton's decision to use a privately-hosted email while secretary of state, for example, provided both a window into the future and a stark reminder of Mrs Clinton's previous travails. She asked for trust, but she didn't get it.

A probing press conference that began with forced chumminess ended with Mrs Clinton typically short and scratchy - a sharp reminder of the car crash that her presidential campaign became in 2008. She has promised to "reset" with the press and yet when she came under fire for the first time in this election cycle, she still could not disguise her contempt for a media that prefers nit-picking to policy, froth to facts. Just as Kennedy adapted to television faster than Nixon, it is genuinely unclear if 67-year-old Mrs Clinton will be able to adapt to the new micro-media of the internet age faster than any opponent. Such doubts are not confined to the media. A poll of three key swing states - Colorado, Iowa, Virginia - found that all her potential Republican rivals had gained on Mrs Clinton since the email hullabaloo, while in all three states a majority of voters found her "not honest and trustworthy".

In Iowa, where Mrs Clinton will probably launch her campaign this weekend (in an attempt to connect with Democrats who painfully shunned her for Obama in 2008), some 49pc of voters thought her dishonest, compared with 43pc who did not.

These are not insurmountable numbers - a disaffected electorate dislikes most Republican politicians even more - but they point to a campaign that will leave Mrs Clinton - in the words of Teddy Roosevelt - "marred by dust and sweat and blood", even if she does eventually triumph.

Already some Republican opponents, such as Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator, are making it clear that this contest will be deeply personal.

They will question her honesty over those emails, the handling of the 2012 Benghazi consulate attacks that left a US ambassador to Libya dead on her watch, and donations to the Clinton Foundation from questionable foreign governments, all the while silently alluding to those ever-present shadows of the Clinton past... to Whitewater and Monica and Vince Foster.

None of this is in doubt. What remains fascinating and uncertain is how Mrs Clinton and her expensively-hired campaign team will respond this time around?

How will she articulate an overarching rationale for her campaign that many felt was absent in 2008? Can she connect with ordinary voters when she earns from a single $250,000 speaking engagement what a median American household makes in five years? Are her instincts too hawkish for a war-weary American public?

And with her private jets and multiple houses, is she now just too grand to bear the indignities of a dirty campaign? This is the same woman, after all, who recently admitted that she hadn't driven her own car since 1996.

And when the brickbats start to fly and the pressure begins to build, will Bill Clinton get defensive and fly off the handle, as he can do when his wife's integrity is impugned? Or will he live up to his potential value as a campaign asset? Still very much part of the Clinton team, he remains the greatest political operator on the American scene.

And the Clinton unit is now also bolstered by daughter Chelsea, these days a young mother who has developed poise and polish since 2008, and could help soften her mother's sometimes brittle image and change the dynamic with young voters.

For now, the campaign details are being kept closely guarded, but a former Clinton White House staffer says to expect Mrs Clinton to run on "the arc of recent history" - harking back to the prosperity of the Clinton years; the balanced budgets; social security reforms and the cross-party deal-making now so absent from Congress.

She will offer to take up again where the last Clinton administration left off, recovering the economic and diplomatic respectability that Democrats argue was squandered by George W Bush.

She will compare herself favourably to Barack Obama, too, presenting herself as more grounded than the man who promised the moon but came up short.

By offering a little less than the young senator did last time, Mrs Clinton will imply she can deliver more.

Above all, her campaign is likely to focus on Mrs Clinton's own ambition.

Not the self-serving kind of which she is accused by her detractors - but the drive and self-sacrifice that can take a woman from the East Wing of the White House to the West Wing. It is about a transformation earned not through any sense of entitlement, but by that hard-fought journey from first lady to New York senator to secretary of state. Presidential campaigns are indeed deeply personal. The irony is that while this could be Mrs Clinton's undoing, it is also her biggest claim to the job.

That, lest one forget, was the very narrative that the Clinton machine was trying to establish on the day of that disastrous emails press conference last month. Though hardly anyone remembers, she also spoke powerfully that day about women's rights on the 20th anniversary of a landmark 1995 speech she gave in Beijing, when she declared that "human rights are women's rights" - an ideal for which she has fought her entire professional life.

Doubtless her campaign will suggest that there is no better way to espouse that cause than for her to become the first women president of the United States. Her task over the next 18 months will be to convince the American people to put aside their doubts about her personality, to hear that message over the daily cacophony of the campaign - and truly embrace it.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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