Sunday 18 February 2018

Does Hillary Clinton's Twitter debut mean she's now serious about the presidency?

There are several signs that the former US president's wife has set her sights on the White House, and some observers believe her new online persona is the final piece of the puzzle. Caitriona Palmer reports from Washington

To the world over she is known simply as Hillary, but to her half-a-million Twitter followers she is an "author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker" – and a potential presidential candidate.

Hillary Clinton's brand new Twitter account has reignited the 'will she/won't she' debate with a pithy biography that begins with describing the former first lady as a "wife, mom, lawyer, woman and kids advocate" and ends with the intriguing teaser "TBD" (to be determined).

The 65-year-old has kept a relatively low profile since hanging up her boots as US Secretary of State in February, but observers say that behind the scenes there is fervent activity that suggests a potential presidential bid.

Inside a nondescript office building on Washington's busy Connecticut Avenue, the world's most famous retiree has set up an unmarked "transition office", staffed by half-a-dozen workers who are helping their boss with the exhaustive task of simply being Hillary.

This week, prominent Democrat Claire McCaskill became the first member of congress to publicly back a group, Ready for Hillary, which is urging the former first lady to run in 2016. Last week, in her first public speech since leaving office, Hillary drew applause and cheers when she said: "When women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society."

While she works with husband Bill and daughter Chelsea to champion early childhood development and to promote economic development for women, Hillary is also at work on a new memoir that is expected to be published, with massive fanfare, in June 2014.

Despite a drop in her popularity ratings in recent weeks, current polls show that if Hillary was pitted right now in a presidential election against her two top Republican rivals – former governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio – the former first lady would romp home over 10 points ahead.

Despite the endless guessing game in the halls of Congress and on Capitol Hill, Clinton herself has remained steadfastly coy whenever talk of her future ambitions comes up.

Having visited an astonishing 112 countries, logged in nearly one million miles and eaten 570 stodgy airplane meals during her four-year tenure as Secretary of State, nearly everyone – Republicans included – are in agreement that the only pressing item on Clinton's agenda right now is a well-deserved rest.

During her lengthy and very public run up to her departure from the State Department, Clinton said repeatedly that her main priorities were to catch up on over 20 years of sleep, to clean out her closets and to fulfill her promise to make it to the gym once in a while.

"I am so looking forward to next year," she said last November during an overnight flight back to Washington from Peru. "I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven't done it for 20 years."

"Maybe I'll get a decorating show," she mused to reporters on the plane, a nod to her favourite television show, 'Love It or List It' – in which a couple fed up with their current home flirt with buying another while a decorator spruces up their house.

When directly asked whether she is nurturing presidential ambitions for 2016, Clinton is always ready with a reply – "I have no idea what I'm going to do next," or "Oh, I've ruled it out but you know me."

But there has yet to be a definitive "no". And so the obsession in Washington continues.

I sat next to a friend of Hillary's at a Washington dinner party late last year, a person who worked with her nearly 40 years ago in Washington. Was Hillary going to run in 2016, I asked? "Definitely," the friend told me. (Although I have lived in this town long enough to take pronouncements from "close" friends of senior political figures with a grain of salt).

"There's this kind of, 'I'm telling you a secret that she told me secretly', but there's no secret to tell," Mrs Clinton's longtime aide, Philippe Reines, told the 'New York Times' recently. "Everyone's gotten way ahead of themselves, and, most importantly, they have gotten way ahead of her."

Hillary's transformation in the last 20 years – from controversial first lady, to feisty New York senator, to potential presidential candidate, and finally beloved international icon – has been remarkable. Along the way there have been terrible lows – Whitewater, Gennifer Flowers, a failed healthcare initiative, Monica, and the jokes about her pantsuits.

Lesser mortals would have slinked off the public stage by now, content to hide at home, do some charitable good works and write a book. But not Hillary. At 65, the woman who may one day become America's first female president seems finally to have come into her own.

It is, in her own words, a life story that has yet... TBD.

"There's a certain consistency to who I am and what I do, and I think people have finally said, 'Well, you know, I kinda get her now,'" she said recently.

Irish Independent

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