The inevitable candidacy of Hillary Clinton

With no strong challengers this time around, things are looking up for Clinton.

Supporters take part in the "Ready for Hillary" rally in Manhattan, New York
Supporters take part in the 'Ready for Hillary' rally in Manhattan, New York [Reuters]

It’s little surprise to any political observer that former First Lady, US Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced she is running for the Democratic nomination for president. 

Clinton has made her intentions to run for president clear since her husband left the office in 2000. In 2008, Clinton ran as the “inevitable candidate”, and yet lost the nomination in an upset to Barack Obama who went on to become president. In a twist of political irony, Clinton’s path to the White House is clearer, safer and more predictable in 2016, and both she and her campaign team know it. Yet, she’s running as a candidate who has a lot of work to do, and trust to build, before she can get the job.

The US is a vastly different place than it was in 2008, politically, demographically, and economically, which makes Clinton’s decision to run again not only predictable, but a reflection of the times.

Heading into the 2008 election the US public was angry about the war in Iraq, the economy was in free-fall, African-American voting turnout was questionable and issues like gay marriage, and legalised marijuana were still considered fringe local concerns of the left.

Now, the economy has improved, African Americans outvoted every demographic group in the US in consecutive elections, and gay marriage along with marijuana are legal in over half of the US. The political shifts on the ground actually favour Hillary Clinton on most levels.

Her prospects

There are no serious challengers to Clinton winning the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. She’s essentially convinced liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren not to run; Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley doesn’t have enough money to pose a serious threat; and even sitting Vice President Joe Biden has been decidedly quiet about his intentions once Obama leaves the White House. So unlike 2008, Clinton will not face any surprise challengers, any raw untapped talent or potential rising stars to knock her off a clear path to winning the Democratic nomination.

Hillary Clinton announces 2016 US presidential campaign

The same more or less applies to her potential competitors. There are no Republican candidates who have the level of experience, fundraising ability or name recognition that she brings to the table. The two GOP front-runners today, Jeb Bush (brother of past president George W Bush) and Scott Walker lost to Clinton in almost every head to head poll conducted so far.

So with issues leaning in her favour, and relative advantages over both her potential Democratic and Republican competition what are the main obstacles to a Clinton presidency? Why wouldn’t she run as the “investable” candidate again?

Headwinds of history

Structurally, though the landscape is more treacherous, history is not on her side and there is more at stake. Republicans control the US House, Senate and a majority of governorships, especially in critical campaign states like Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. In addition, Clinton will be attempting multiple historic or near historic moves now that she’s launched this bid. Foremost, she’s trying to become the first woman elected president in the US, which is slightly more historic than becoming the first Democrat to be elected after a Democratic president in nearly 70 years.

Usually after two terms of one party ruling the White House, Americans are inclined to want a change regardless of the circumstances of the country. Clinton will be running against the headwinds of history as she tries to prove to Americans that three consecutive presidential elections won by Democrats is a good thing for the country.

But, beyond that, her victory in 2016 is a must for the health of the Democratic party. Republicans control the House and Senate, if they gain control of the White House in 2016 they will dismantle every single policy accomplishment of the Obama and Clinton administration in their first 100 days.

Even with all of this, Clinton still has a better than a 50/50 chance of winning. On policy issues, both domestically and abroad, Clinton offers an approach that most Americans seem to favour more than the GOP platform. She has favoured more aggressive policies towards ISIL, and she boasts a stronger relationship with Israel – certainly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – than Obama has had. Her time as secretary of state has given her the ability to draw upon vast relationships across the world to smooth over economic and diplomatic tensions that will make her seem more presidential than the rest of the field.

The upshot

Hillary Clinton, as demonstrated in her campaign launch video, is planning to win with a coalition of young people, single women, minorities, the LGBT community and its ideological allies that, when motivated, has shown an ability to carry national elections far and beyond anything Republicans have been able to build nationally. Further, she is much more popular and well-loved than ANY of her potential Republican challengers, especially Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. 

Despite the attention garnered by the press her scandals” with Benghazi and secretary of state emails has not caught hold of the American public. The Clintons, both Hillary and her husband, have been surrounded by scandal for years and it’s never kept them from winning office, and this time is no different.

The 2016 election will be the longest and most expensive in American history, and there will be twists and turns throughout the process that call into question who or what the country will want. But overall there appears to be one constant. Clinton has learned from her mistakes in 2008, she’s no longer going to take for granted that America will just sweep her into the White House. And now that her path is actually even clearer than before, this smarter, less inevitable Clinton, might finally capture the position that she’s been eyeing as her own since 1992.

Dr Jason Johnson is a professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio.

Follow him on Twitter: @DrJasonJohnson  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.