Clinton inevitable? Really?

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton GETTY IMAGES

The aura of inevitability in which Hillary Clinton basked for so long has smacked up against the reality of the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign. And both she and the Democratic Party are worse off.

She deigned to speak at length to the media last week after about a month of giving reporters, and the public she seeks to represent, the silent treatment. At a time when Republican wannabes are grabbing every microphone, gabbing at length to differentiate themselves from each other, Mrs. Clinton, until last week, had taken another, less winning approach.

Really, the Republican campaign so far, with its cast of seemingly thousands, has been fun to watch, informative and revealing.

Mrs. Clinton, however, has seemed imperious, remote and tone-deaf to the clamor to hear directly from her instead of being defined by the people who hope to oppose her next Election Day. She’s already lost one presidential campaign; it’s up to her now to persuade Americans that she really wants to be president and is not just going through the motions because of ...inevitability.

Of course, it’s way early in this campaign, and she may yet find her mojo. Maybe it’s part of her strategy to not expend a lot of energy before it’s clearer who her Republican opponent will be.

Still, it’s no longer too early for Mrs. Clinton to make the case that she’s hungry for this job, that she’s the better choice for the position. So far, though, she hasn’t really moved the needle of her poll numbers since declaring her candidacy. And despite the intimate, unrecorded chats Mrs. Clinton has held with small groups of voters, her 27-day silence let others fill the void and tell the public who she is, and mostly in negative terms.

Thing is, when she engages in straight talk, as she did this week in unequivocally declaring that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a mistake, she plays to her strengths. Yes, it’s past time for her foes to give up on their Benghazi allegations — they have been a nonstarter from the outset.

But, like every other candidate, Mrs. Clinton comes with baggage, the contents of which should be examined, explained. The dubious sources of donations to the Clinton Foundation, for instance, are fair game.

Mrs. Clinton’s hurdles are short-term — she only has to make it to Election Day — but the Democratic Party’s challenges are long-term. Despite having one of its own in the White House for six years, party leaders seem complacent, not hungry to maintain occupancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., not just in 2016, but 2024, 2032 and beyond.

In other words, the Democratic bench isn’t very deep, and that stands to cause enduring damage to the rich mix of ideas and ideology that has propelled American politics for centuries now.

If tomorrow Mrs. Clinton decided, “You know, maybe I don’t want to be president after all,” who would step into the void? So far, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a large, cultish following that could translate into a credible, popular campaign. Joe Biden? Experienced and personable, but like Mrs. Clinton, and even Jeb Bush on the Republican side, there’s a freshness lacking, though it’s not a deal-killer.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is in there pitching, and former Maryland Gov. Mike O’Malley is exploring. But where the country is only benefiting from the scrappy fighters on the Republican side, from the credible to the far-out, Mrs. Clinton and her party lack that “oomph.” They must keep in mind that inevitability is hardly a winning strategy.