Did Hillary Clinton become a candidate for the Democratic nomination on Tuesday? Not officially, but I’m pretty damned certain she’s in it now just the same, hoping for a confluence of circumstances that can catapult her to the office she has so spectacularly failed to obtain.
Notwithstanding last week’s media-amped kerfuffle over what Bernie Sanders did or did not say to Elizabeth Warren about women becoming president, the lines of this primary season have been pretty starkly drawn to this point in the exercise.
The eve-of-Iowa crowd of frontrunners — Sanders, Warren, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg — have fallen into two distinct polarities: Sanders and Warren represent the progressive end, while Biden, Klobuchar and Buttigieg scrap for the establishment-candidate crown.
To date, the establishment wing has failed to shrug off a robust challenge from the progressives in the race. With the notable exception of last week, Sanders and Warren have deliberately maintained their delicate nonaggression pact to avoid creating a rift on the left that would all but guarantee Biden’s nomination.
On the establishment end of things, Klobuchar and Buttigieg continue to follow behind Biden, gobbling up Biden-worried “centrist” supporters where they can like fish swimming in the wake of an old, hungry shark.
It was a shaky arrangement on both ends that never promised to hold for very long, but I don’t think anyone suspected it would be Hillary Clinton who would rumble in and blow it all to hell. That, however, is exactly what appears to have happened.
On Tuesday Morning, Hollywood Reporter published its latest cover story about Hillary, a four-hour Sundance documentary series on Clinton’s political career that is set to debut in March. The hood ornament for the article is a Clinton quote from the film about Bernie Sanders. It is the primary-season equivalent of throwing a live hand grenade into a vat of kerosene:
“He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”
I could spend a week pulling this gob of deliberately vomited bile apart. Coming from a former staffer for Nelson Rockefeller’s Republican presidential campaign, a former first lady of Arkansas, a former first lady of the United States, a former senator from New York, a former secretary of state, and a twice-failed presidential candidate, Clinton’s bit about Sanders being “a career politician” rises to the level of pure performative hypocrisy.
As for “he got nothing done,” that is clearly inaccurate, but probably the last person I’d ask about it is the career politician who voted for the PATRIOT Act, voted for the Iraq War, promoted fracking from the secretary of state’s office and has the worst Wall Street brigands in the world on speed dial. I guess “accomplishment” is in the eye of the beholder.
The interview and (I assume) the documentary series should not be dismissed out of hand as merely a budget of self-serving nonsense, however, especially before the series is aired. By dint of experience and duration, Hillary Clinton is among the most impactful politicians of the age, and perhaps the most impactful woman politician in U.S. history.
While my policy disagreements with Clinton could fill a seafaring barge, there is no denying that a preponderance of the venom hurled her way over the last three decades was inspired by the fact of her gender, and that she dared step where only men had tread. A woman will become president, perhaps as soon as next year, and when they do, they will owe Clinton a debt of gratitude for absorbing the punishment that always comes for the ones who try to be first.
That being properly and fairly said, there is a vast reservoir of self-service involved in this project. The timing of it specifically serves one person — Hillary Clinton — and the vividly failed neoliberal ideology she represents.
In the interview, Clinton is asked if she has considered jumping into the 2020 presidential race. “I have had so many people [urge me to],” she replied. “Every day. And I’m grateful for people’s confidence, but I did think it was right for me to step back. I’ll do anything I can to defeat the current incumbent, and to reverse a lot of his damaging policies. Thankfully, I still have a voice and a following.”
I can’t simply dismiss this as another example of a politician who doesn’t know when to recede. I don’t believe this is just Clinton acting out because Iowa can’t throw a party without inviting her. This interview, and that pointedly vicious quote about Sanders, will explode the rift between the progressive candidates and the establishment candidates on the doorstep of the season’s first caucus. It will exacerbate the tensions already in place to a clamorous degree.
I believe it is deliberate on two levels. First, this is the establishment standard-bearer jumping into the fray in a moment when the establishment is conspicuously worried about the campaigns of Sanders and Warren. I have been nursing a fear that the Democratic Party might prefer a Trump victory over losing control of the party, and this sudden broadside from Clinton has only exacerbated those concerns.
Second, Hillary is slated for release in March, an enormously important month that will see 29 primaries and caucuses take place in both the states and the territories. Super Tuesday falls on March 3, and will include make-or-break primary votes in California, Texas, Virginia, Michigan, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio.
The race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is widely expected to be a bitter, protracted slog, and March will be the proving ground for many, if not most, of the candidates. The possibility of a brokered convention this summer looms large, and the potential for a divisive political conflagration is all too real.
… and here comes the Clinton documentary parachuting right into the middle of it, slagging Sanders and the progressive wing of the party while painting Clintonism in the grandest and most nostalgic light. This, after blowing up the Iowa caucus and putting Clinton’s name out there in the loudest way possible.
There are no accidents in politics, and the timing of this speaks for itself: Hillary Clinton seems to be hoping for a brokered Democratic convention so she can offer herself up as the “reasonable” compromise candidate. I believe her efforts to this end began with her explosive Hollywood Reporter interview, and will be further underscored during a brawling primary-stuffed March, potentially coming to full bloom at the convention in Wisconsin, where exhausted delegates — terrified by another potential loss in November — might just take the bait.
I could be wrong, and if I am, this will only go down as one of the most gruesomely timed interviews in political history … but I don’t think I’m wrong. A wild election season just got positively bats.