Why Hillary Won't Run for President

by Jo Freeman

Published in Vox Pop, Vol. 24, No. 2, Fall 2005, pp. 1-2.

Even though the next Presidential election is still more than three years away already there is much talk about Sen. Hillary Clinton as the most likely Democratic candidate.

All this talk is coming from Republicans, not Democrats.

Republicans want Hillary to run. Democrats ˜ at least those in hi-level positions ˜ don't.

Realistically, Hillary can't win. She and the Democrats know that. That's why she can't run.

On the surface Hillary has many of the characteristics necessary to run and win. She has very high name recognition. She's smart and articulate. She's a skilled politician and a sophisticated policy wonk. She has lots of experience under the microscope of public scrutiny. She's positioned herself on issues slightly to the right of the Democratic Party's center. She's a woman, which presumably brings in the left of center Democrats who might not like all of her issue stands. With the help of her famous husband, she can raise a lot of money.

But she can't win.

There are three reasons Hillary can't win.

First, she has a characteristic unique among all the potential candidates. Hillary is a political wife. However qualified she might be, her rise in the Democratic Party and her name recognition came from her husband. Traditionally, political wives only ran for public office after their husbands died -- when they became political widows.

As a political wife, Hillary Clinton carries all the baggage of Bill Clinton, good and bad. Political widows usually keep the name recognition and goodwill garnered by their husbands, while losing the negatives. Political wives keep it all.

There is a vein of people in this country who truly hate Bill Clinton. They will do almost anything to keep him from ever stepping foot in the White House again, even as first husband. The mere thought that Hillary might become President, and bring Bill back, causes apoplexy. The Republicans play to these strong emotions when they talk about Hillary being the Democratic candidate. They know that mere talk of another Clinton in the White House mobilizes the Republican base. It doesn't mobilize the Democratic base.

Second, Hillary is a Senator from New York. She chose to run from New York, a state with which she had no personal connection, because there was an opening and because she could win. New York is a very liberal state. In order to win in New York one must take positions on issues which make one unelectable in most of the rest of the country. If Republicans George Pataki and Rudolph Giuliani haven't found this out yet, they will if they run in the Republican primaries. Other states -- e.g. Massachusetts -- whose officials lead from the left side of the Democratic Party also lose when they run for national office. While Hillary is positioning herself as more centrist than most New Yorkers, she still has to represent New York.

Third, while prejudice against women in public office has declined greatly in the last 40 years, it's not gone. Women running for major executive positions still have to prove themselves in ways that men do not. Men are assumed to be competent until they prove themselves incompetent. Women are assumed to be incompetent until they prove themselves competent. That's why the first woman to win a major party's nomination for President will most likely be a big state governor ˜ the best available proof of competency. (An exception would be a sitting Vice-President succeeding a successful President).

For Hillary to successfully pursue the Democratic nomination for President, she first has to be elected Governor of New York; govern so conservatively that she probably couldn't be re-elected; and Bill has to die.

What are the odds of all these things happening? Certainly not by 2008, and probably not at all.

Hillary knows this. The Democratic leadership knows this. That's why the only public people touting her candidacy are Republicans. But Hillary won't take a Sherman position on the Presidency because all this talk enhances her power in the Senate and her fund raising ability for fellow Democrats. And the Democrats won't publicly disown one of their best fundraisers. So the talk will continue. The Republicans need the Clinton haters among the voters and the party workers to believe that Hillary will run in order to keep them working hard for Republicans and not get distracted by such issues as the enormous federal debt and the Iraq occupation. As for the Democrats, well they may not like the talk, but they do like the money.

Copyright © 2005 by Jo Freeman