Hillary Clinton hasn’t announced a 2016 campaign and she’s already repeating what was seen as a fundamental miscue of her 2008 bid for the presidency.
She’s on track to making the case for her candidacy on her resume rather than a vision for the future.
While Clinton has touched on policy issues in her new memoir and in a steady schedule of speeches and interviews, she has yet to draw a full portrait of where she wants to lead the country.
In the meantime, that vacuum is being filled by someone else: Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat whose economic populism is resonating with Democratic voters frustrated by rising income inequality and wage stagnation.
“It’s looking like she’s missing the moment again,” said Mike Lux, a consultant and former Clinton White House aide. “There’s a sense that she doesn’t really understand the depth of the struggles people have gone through over the past 10 years.”
That may not matter. Clinton is starting with a stronger advantage in her party than she had in 2008: 90 percent of her fellow Democrats viewed the former secretary of state favorably in a Gallup poll last month, compared with 80 percent in August 2008. Her experience in government, which didn’t help her six years ago, could now appeal to a public yearning for a leader who’s both decisive and deft with the levers of power.
Clinton “has more experience than anyone else on the planet,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who advised John Edwards’s 2008 presidential race. “Who on the Republican side trumps that?”
Still, while Barack Obama may have lacked experience in 2008, his vision of transforming Washington by pledging to govern in a “post-partisan” way captivated voters -- including some Republicans.
While there’s plenty of time for Clinton to articulate her own overarching vision for America’s future, she has had since at least 2006 -- when she won re-election to the Senate and began preparing for a presidential run -- to do that.
Her new book, “Hard Choices,” is a memoir about her tenure at the State Department, not the kind of campaign manifesto that candidates, including Obama and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, have put in books in advance of their bids for the White House.
Certain passages hint at how Clinton would court constituencies inside and outside the Democratic tent, particularly women, who are far more likely than men to tell pollsters they would vote for her in 2016. In that way, the book provides a roadmap for Clinton’s politics.
“I decided to redouble our efforts to convince skeptics based on hard data and clear-eyed analysis that creating opportunities for women and girls across the globe directly supports everyone’s security and prosperity, and should be part of our diplomacy and development work,” she writes in a chapter about human rights. The chapter also discusses her work on issues affecting gays and lesbians at home and abroad.
She argues in another passage that lifting people in other countries out of poverty, even in times of tight budgeting at home, helps the U.S. “I believe our own prosperity depends on having partners to trade with and that our fortunes are inextricably linked to those of the rest of the world.”
Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and potential 2016 presidential campaign rival, has advocated for cutting off U.S. foreign aid.
Clinton also briefly mentions the burdens of student debt and the economic hardships many Americans have suffered since the recession and financial crisis.
Now, as in 2008, she’s taking steps to position herself as a fighter for working- and middle-class Americans. In a video released in May to promote the book, she said the U.S. must “deal with the cancer of inequality.” In a speech at a summit on the economy at the New America Foundation in Washington, she warned of another “Gilded Age of the Robber Barons.”
The focus on income inequality -- an issue that animates Obama, Warren and much of the Democratic base -- is a reminder that Clinton has struggled to show that she’s more in league with ordinary Americans than powerful interests and institutions, including Wall Street.
Warren says she’s not seeking the Democratic nomination for president and has urged Clinton to get into the race.
Clinton’s reputation for coziness with Wall Street dates back to her husband’s presidency, when former Goldman Sachs co-chairman Robert Rubin ran the Treasury Department and the administration backed efforts to deregulate the investment banking industry.
Twenty-nine of the 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average index have donated money to the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton’s State Department or both.
Clinton enhanced the perception that she’s uncomfortable outside her own elite economic circles when she told ABC’s Diane Sawyer last month that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001. In 2000, Clinton agreed to an $8 million advance from Simon & Schuster for a memoir of her time as first lady.
In private events paid for by Wall Street firms she has argued against vilifying financial firms for their role in the credit crisis and in favor of a less-combative approach to taxes and market regulation, according to news reports. The New York Times quoted a person who attended several events as saying she delivered a “we’re all in this mess together” message.
Even with the concerns among Democratic activists about income inequality, the national mood is evolving and won’t be clear until after this year’s midterm elections, said Larry Grisolano, a party strategist.
“It’s too early for her to kind of identify the national mood,” said Grisolano, an adviser to both Obama presidential campaigns. “There is going to be a demand in this electorate coming out of the midterms, but I think it would be premature for someone to know what it is at this point.”
The true test for Clinton will be when she stands up to make an announcement speech for a presidential campaign, if she wages one, Grisolano said.
“That’s the moment where she has to be able to say there’s a problem to be fixed and I’m the one to fix it,” he said.
Adrienne Elrod, the communications director at the Clinton-backing Super-PAC Correct the Record, said Clinton has positioned herself well for a run through the publication of the book and ensuing tour.
“Clinton’s success further proves that without a doubt, she is the most vetted, prepared, and ready candidate should she decide to run for president,” Elrod said.