Reports of Hillary Clinton’s political demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
President Biden’s tanking poll numbers have fueled speculation that Mrs. Clinton could mount a political comeback in 2024, riding to the rescue with the party’s legislative agenda in disarray and no clear successor on the horizon.
Two Democratic insiders — pollster Douglas E. Schoen and former Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein — laid out the case in a Wednesday op-ed, arguing that Mrs. Clinton could spearhead a move to the middle and calling her the party’s “likely best option” in the 2024 presidential race.
“Given the likelihood that Democrats will lose control of Congress in 2022, we can anticipate that Mrs. Clinton will begin shortly after the midterms to position herself as an experienced candidate capable of leading Democrats on a new and more successful path,” the Democrats said in The Wall Street Journal.
Republicans guffawed at the Clinton conjecture, saying the Democrats are in deep trouble if she represents the party’s best hope for the future.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, characterized the chatter as “an embarrassment for the Democrats, but it also shows the predicament that they’re in.”
“Think about that for one moment. The Democrats have the House, the Senate and the presidency, and they’re talking about bringing Hillary Clinton back — a retread?” Mr. McCarthy said on Fox News. “This is how bad the economy is going. This is how bad Joe Biden is serving as president that they would go clear back to somebody that the country has rejected.”
Mrs. Clinton ruled out the possibility of another run after her 2016 defeat to Republican Donald Trump, saying she was “done with being a candidate.”
No politician has come back to win the presidency after a general election loss since Republican Richard Nixon, who lost the 1960 race but won in 1968.
Then again, nobody would accuse Mrs. Clinton of lacking ambition. She recently shared excerpts from her planned 2016 acceptance speech in her master class on “resilience” and has continued to comment on the political scene.
Last month, she advised Democrats to avoid running left-wing candidates anywhere but “deep-blue districts.”
“Look, I’m all for having vigorous debate,” she told MSNBC. “I think It’s good and it gives people a chance to be part of the process. But at the end of the day, it means nothing if we don’t have a Congress that will get things done, and we don’t have a White House that we can count on to be sane and sober and stable and productive.”
Former President Bill Clinton described his wife last month as “the most qualified person to run for office in my lifetime.”
“We can infer based on these recent remarks that Mrs. Clinton would seize the opportunity to run for president again if an opening presents itself,” Mr. Schoen and Mr. Stein wrote.
Working against her is her considerable political baggage, including the disastrous 2012 Benghazi raid, her use of a private email server as secretary of state and her 2016 campaign’s role in funding the debunked Steele dossier.
“A Hillary Clinton candidacy would make no sense,” Claremont McKenna College politics professor John J. Pitney Jr. said in an email. “Time has not erased the liabilities that brought her down before. And if you were to ask Americans what they would most like to see in 2024, few would say ‘A rerun of 2016!’”
Countless stars would have to align for Mrs. Clinton to find herself atop the 2024 Democratic presidential ticket, but signs of such solar movements are already afoot, starting with Mr. Biden’s popularity.
A Quinnipiac Poll of U.S. adults released Wednesday showed Mr. Biden’s approval rating dropping to a lowest-ever 33%, down from 36% in November, while 53% disapproved of the president’s job.
Mr. Biden’s poll numbers track with those of Vice President Kamala Harris, whose much-criticized job performance has political pundits on the left and right discussing whether she will be dropped from the 2024 ticket.
Asked Thursday about a New York Times op-ed floating the idea of replacing her with Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, Ms. Harris bristled, telling NBC News that “I really could care less about the high-class gossip on these issues.”
With Ms. Harris on the ropes, the Democrats face a power vacuum in 2024 as their most prominent figures move well past retirement age. Mr. Biden is 79. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 81. Sen. Bernard Sanders, the runner-up for the Democratic nod in 2016 and 2020, is 80.
At 74 and a national political figure for 30 years, Mrs. Clinton is no spring chicken, but she is five years younger than Mr. Biden. The former secretary of state could also find a niche with Democrats unhappy with the party’s hard-left turn under the Biden administration.
“Mrs. Clinton can spend the time between now and midterms doing what the Clinton administration did after the Democrats’ blowout defeat in the 1994 midterms: crafting a moderate agenda on both domestic and foreign policy,” Mr. Schoen and Mr. Stein said. “This agenda could show that Mrs. Clinton is the only credible alternative to Mr. Biden, Ms. Harris, and the entire Democratic Party establishment.”
California Democratic strategist Darry Sragow was skeptical, even though “in politics, you never say never, and that is especially true during these incredibly tumultuous times.”
“That said, I may be wrong about this, but the only speculation about a 2024 Clinton presidential candidacy that I’ve seen is coming from inside the Beltway,” he said in an email. “I don’t know whether voters in the real world are looking at her through a favorable or unfavorable lens.”
Mr. Pitney said that Democrats determined to nominate a unifying party elder might want to take a look at another figure from the Clinton White House: former Vice President Al Gore, who is 73.
“If Democrats have to run somebody from the past, there is a stronger case for Al Gore,” Mr. Pitney said. “He won the popular vote in 2000, does not have Clinton’s ethical baggage and can claim to have been way ahead of everybody else on climate change. Plus, he is still younger than Clinton, Biden, or Trump.”
Mr. Trump, 75, has repeatedly hinted that he might run for a second term after losing to Mr. Biden in 2020.