What e-mails?

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton's Very Good Year

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

I'm a fan of the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, but when he gets one wrong, it's often a doozy. And saying that Hillary Clinton had the "worst year in Washington" is about as wrong as you can get.

Yes, Clinton did, as Cillizza remembers, suffer through a scandal, and she emerged with bruised polling numbers, at least when it came to perceptions of her honesty. If the award was "worst summer in Washington," I could see Clinton as a contestant, although Scott Walker and Matt Williams would be stronger choices.

For the year, though?

One year ago, Clinton was the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, perhaps in the best position any non-incumbent has been in modern times. Yet two potentially strong contenders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden, were lurking around the edges of the contest, not exactly active candidates but not far from doing what candidates at that stage do. Nor was it entirely clear yet how strong Clinton's grip on party actors might be when she stumbled the way all candidates do.

A year later, Warren and Biden are no longer threats. While Senator Bernie Sanders put together an impressive campaign, he's about as weak a major opponent as Clinton could have imagined drawing. In the closest similar case, Al Gore in 2000 had to defeat Bill Bradley, who was far more broadly acceptable to the party then than Sanders is now, mainly because most Democrats believe Sanders would be a disastrous general-election candidate.

Meanwhile, Clinton has amassed more support from party actors than any previous non-incumbent in the modern era. A potential threat from a House select committee that appears to exist just to do opposition research on her has turned into a bad joke. The summer scandals seem to have died down; they could return, but it's not clear if voters will care. And her performance in the marathon session in front of that select committee quieted the whispers that her age might be an impediment in her campaign.

Sure, not everything is perfect for Clinton. The economy hasn't boomed, and Barack Obama's approval ratings remain mediocre, leaving the general election more or less a toss-up at this still early point. And it hasn't been a good year for her record as secretary of state, particularly her close involvement in Libya policy.

But overall I'd consider her at least a contender for "best year" honors -- because locking up a presidential nomination early is an impressive (and underrated) accomplishment. (If I had a "best year" vote, I'd likely opt for Paul Ryan, or maybe Marco Rubio, or there's always Bryce Harper.)

Worst year? Not even close.

  1. What about Jeb Bush? Yes, he had an awful year. But at least he's still in the presidential sweepstakes, putting him ahead of, say, Scott Walker. The perception that Bush fell further seems to me to be more about pundits overrating Bush's chances in the first place. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net