The list of America's sins is long. But that doesn't mean the country deserves to endure the spectacle of a rematch between President Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2020.
It's hard to imagine any scenario that would do more damage to the nation's already battered and bruised civic culture. That's why I can't get myself to believe it will happen. No matter what former Clinton pollster Mark Penn says (with co-author Andrew Stein) in his latest bid for attention.
But then there are those Hillary 2020 trial balloons that seem traceable to Clinton herself. Could it be that after losing her party's nomination in 2008 to a largely untested upstart, after facing a potent left-populist challenge from Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries, and after losing the general election to a transparent know-nothing demagogue-huckster, Hillary Clinton actually thinks the third time's bound to be a charm?
And then it hits me: Of course she could! She's a Clinton. She thinks she's owed the presidency, destined to be the first woman in the White House. The honor was supposed to be hers. She was robbed by a conspiracy so vast, so immense, so Russian ...
Well, she can think anything she wants, live the rest of her days unable to move on or face the decisive role her own inept campaign played in losing the upper Midwest and making Donald Trump president of the United States. It's up to the rest of us to make sure Trump isn't given the gift of a Clinton rematch.
"But wait," say the Clinton boosters. "She actually beat Trump in the popular vote by 2.8 million, those briefly ill-behaved Midwestern states have come back into the fold, and the American people now finally know just how bad Trump is. Put it all together and we have the makings of a landslide. Especially once we unveil the new, improved, and more lefty Hillary 4.0."
To which the proper response is: You can't be serious. Trump will have all the usual advantages of incumbency, the medium-sized Democratic wave in the midterms tells us very little about what will happen two years from now (Republicans took 63 House seats from the Democrats in 2010 and failed to beat Barack Obama in 2012), and Clinton is viewed unfavorably by huge numbers of Republican, independent, and Democratic voters.
Yes, even by lots of Democrats — some for losing to Trump, others for her manifest lack of charisma, and still others for beating out Sanders for the 2016 nomination. Young Democrats, in particular, desperately want the party to move leftward and leave behind the ideological corner-cutting and aura of inauthenticity, establishmentarian self-dealing, and entitlement that surrounds both Clintons.
What worked magic in the 1990s is fast becoming electoral poison today.
And no, promising that the latest reboot of Clinton, Inc., will display super-duper-high levels of progressive passion won't solve the problem. (See "aura of inauthenticity" above.) And neither will the insinuation that Hillary is somehow destined to become the first woman president. If anything, the Democrats will have too many strong left-liberal options, both male and female, heading into 2020.
To list just the half-dozen most promising possibilities, there will probably be Sens. Sherrod Brown (who just handily won re-election in Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (who even more handily won re-election in Minnesota), Elizabeth Warren (who just as handily won re-election in Massachusetts), Kirsten Gillibrand (who most handily of all won re-election in New York), Kamala Harris (Calif.), and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (Texas). And that doesn't even count Bernie Sanders himself, who looks likely to dive in again.
Now, it's certainly possible, and perhaps even likely, that with such a crowded field the party won't coalesce around anyone through the first few primary contests. In that case, would there be an opening for a candidate with strong name recognition to swoop in and trounce the dozen or so newbies dividing the vote amongst themselves? Absolutely. If Clinton wants to place her ambitions ahead of the good of the party and the country, and if she waits for just the right moment to enter the contest, she would have more than a decent shot of grabbing the nomination — though in doing so she could end up powerfully antagonizing the sizable left wing of the party, which could well bolt to mount a third party challenge in the general election. Unless, of course, she takes her lefty relaunch too far and ends up provoking a centrist third party challenge from the likes of Michael Bloomberg or Howard Schultz (D-Starbucks).
But even if Clinton's fantasy scenario played out and the party rallied to her side, triumphantly elevating her to defend her honor against the man who besmirched it the last time around, the general election would be a horror show. There isn't a Republican strategist or Trumpworld crony who doesn't think it would be a dream for the president to face Crooked Hillary again.
And for very good reason. Republicans overran the Democrats' fabled Blue Wall in 2016. In 2018, the party made progress in repairing the damage. Who's more likely to ensure that 2016 ends up looking more like a fluke than the leading edge of a Midwestern realignment in favor of the GOP? The broadly popular senators from Ohio and Minnesota? Or the broadly unpopular candidate who precipitated and presided over the defeat in the first place?
Hillary Clinton has had an impressive career — lawyer, first lady, senator, secretary of state, presidential nominee. That should be enough, and leading Democratic power brokers and donors need to be telling her so to her face, over and over again. She had her chance, she lost, and now it's time for her (and her husband) to leave the stage. Her party needs a chance to choose someone else to serve as its standard-bearer.
The road to defeating Donald Trump doesn't run through Chappaqua.