Whenever I note that Hillary Clinton is overwhelmingly likely to win the 2016 Democratic nomination, pedants jam my Twitter feed and in-box to point out that she was the favorite in 2008, too, and where did that get her?
It’s not an unreasonable question, especially since her incipient 2016 presidential campaign seems to be repeating many of the mistakes of her failed 2008 one. But stumbling now, two years before the Democratic National Convention, doesn’t mean she won’t win the nomination anyway. Let me lay out once and for all why:
1. Clinton is insanely popular among Democrats, now more than ever. A new NBC/Marist poll puts her favorability/unfavorability rating in Iowa at 89 percent/6 percent; in New Hampshire it’s even higher, at 94 percent/4 percent. That’s higher than any conceivable Democratic challenger, and it doesn’t even factor in the big advantage she has in resources and experience.
2. Clinton doesn’t have the kind of glaring vulnerability with Democrats she did last time around because of her vote in favor of the Iraq War. There’s just no equivalent. Even among liberals, making huge wads of dough giving speeches is nothing like the inexpiable moral trespass of sending thousands of soldiers off to die in Iraq. And everybody dumping on Clinton’s new book obscured a significant bit of news buried within: She finally apologized for her war vote.
3. Clinton’s strength in 2008 was always exaggerated by hubristic political consultants and the legions of journalistic lemmings who accepted their claims uncritically. But outside Washington, Democratic voters were far from convinced that Hillary was “inevitable,” and her vulnerability was plain to see for anyone who cared to look. Now, that’s no longer the case (see No. 1 above).
Even with those handicaps, Clinton still should have been the Democratic nominee in 2008. This point has been entirely overshadowed by the self-serving myth of the Obama campaign’s genius so assiduously cultivated by his partisans in the years since. The record shows clearly, however, that only epic malpractice by Clinton’s back-stabbing operatives kept her from victory. It’s doubtful she’ll fall into that trap again. But even if she does, she’ll probably still win, because she’s stronger, richer, more experienced, and more popular now than she was the last time around.