Opinion

Hillary 2020? No. No. No.

Hillary 2020 would be a total disaster. But do Democrats have anyone better?

House Democrats went on their annual caucus retreat over the weekend. It's normally a time for strategizing the path to achieve legislative and electoral goals in the coming year. But this time around, that presents a challenge. Thanks to a series of electoral disasters over the past four cycles, Democrats have lost control of the House, the Senate, the White House, and a record number of state legislatures. And so, their weekend agenda looked backward, too, including an "autopsy" of the disastrous 2016 election.

Unlike the Republican autopsy after the 2012 election, the Democrats' report has not yet been made public. It's a safe bet, though, that it doesn't include putting Hillary Clinton back on the ticket and returning to the political establishment that produced disastrous 2016 results for Democrats. And yet, per Politico contributor and George W. Bush administration veteran Matt Latimer, that may be precisely what Democrats get.

Latimer stresses that he has no specific insider information, but that circumstantial evidence allows him to "prove" that Clinton will run for president again. The Clintons have curtailed their Clinton Global Initiative, the vehicle that created the appearance of pay-for-play during Clinton's tenure at the State Department. She has signed a new book deal with Simon & Schuster despite disappointing sales from her second memoir, Hard Choices, and her campaign tome, Stronger Together. She has continued to engage on issues emerging during the new Trump administration, including needling the White House on the unanimous decision at the Ninth Circuit that denied the administration a stay on the injunction against its executive order on immigration.

"Barring some calamity," Latimer concludes, "Clinton is running." Furthermore, Latimer stresses, "Not only will Clinton run again, she has an excellent shot at getting the Democratic Party nomination again."

Does that prove that the woman who came up short in 2008 and 2016 will test whether the third time's the charm? The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza remains unconvinced, mainly because nothing has changed from her first two failed attempts. The same issues that torpedoed her 2008 primary bid and especially her 2016 general-election campaign still exist, and would return in 2020. Besides, as last year proved, Clinton simply doesn't have the political skills to overcome her baggage. "Had she been able to do so," Cillizza points out, "she would have already done it in time for the 2016 race!"

Democrats obviously aren't clamoring for Clinton 2020. But they have a related problem: There are few obvious alternatives.

Thanks to the decimation of their gubernatorial seats and the failure to recapture control of the Senate, the Democratic bench is awfully thin. Bernie Sanders? He'll be 79 on Election Day in 2020. Joe Biden? He'll be just a couple weeks shy of 78. Like it or not, they are both simply too old to win.

Progressives may favor Elizabeth Warren, but that's a tough sell to many moderates. Her Senate colleague Cory Booker made a play for the 2020 spotlight by testifying against Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the latter's supposed hostility to civil rights, but Booker hasn't done much in the Senate since arriving in 2013. Indeed, many critics view him as a cynical political opportunist in the Clinton mold.

Who else is there? The answer ought to worry Democrats: There isn't anyone. And that's why it's not crazy to think that Clinton might indeed be in line for the nomination by default.

That would create a huge problem for Democrats. There is no way they concluded in their autopsy that the best option would be to exhume the body. Donald Trump won the election by connecting with Rust Belt voters. Hillary Clinton almost willfully ignored them. She never set foot in Wisconsin during the general election and almost purposefully neglected Michigan and Pennsylvania while throwing resources into Arizona and Georgia. Her campaign ignored the model perfected by Barack Obama and wound up adopting the same top-down, national messaging model that lost Mitt Romney the election in 2012.

An almost relentless focus on identity politics, especially on Clinton's status as the first woman to get a major-party presidential nomination, fell utterly flat. Clinton only scored slightly better (54/41) among women than Obama in 2012 (55/44), and did worse among men (41/52) than Obama (45/52). As Jim Webb told NBC's Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this weekend, Clinton and Democrats "lost a key part of their base" with this obsession over identity politics.

That turned out to be true across the board. Not only did this campaign messaging fail to lift Clinton to victory despite initial Electoral College advantages, it also failed to deliver the expected return of Senate control to Democrats. Republicans had to defend 13 more seats than Democrats in 2016, and the loss of just five of those seats would have shifted power. Instead, Democrats only flipped two seats, losing in two races where popular retired Senate Democrats vied for their old seats (in Wisconsin and Indiana). Democrats overwhelmingly lost the House again, and continued to lose seats in state legislatures, too.

American voters have made up their minds about Hillary Clinton. They don't want her to be president. So if Democrats want to learn a lesson with their autopsy, here's the first: Bury the dead. That's the only way you can figure out how to rejoin the living.

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