Breaking news: according to a report in today's Washington Post, Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency in 2016 have increased by approximately a zillion percent, due to the fact that her former chief strategist Mark Penn, quite possibly the most incompetent and generally hackish consultant in U.S. political history, will not be working for her should she run again. Nor will any of her other senior advisers from 2008, which seems just as well.
And did you know there's a Hillary Clinton biopic in the works? Not sure how I missed this news (which appears not to be an April Fool's joke), but the New Republic got hold of the screenplay for "Rodham," and it sounds pretty awful. Anyhow, as we enter the long will-she-or-won't-she period, which should last for another year and a half or so, there's one thing we ought to get straight.
Back during the 2008 primaries, a lot of Obama supporters argued that despite Clinton's contributions and qualifications, if she became president it would just drag America back into a period of nasty partisanship, not through any fault of her own but because Republicans hate her so. Wouldn't it be better, they said, to have a candidate who could become a unifying figure and diffuse some of that Republican anger?
I wasn't supporting Clinton at the time, but it wasn't hard to tell that argument was fundamentally misconceived. But I wouldn't be surprised if people started making it again if she becomes a candidate. We've just been through eight years of venomous Republican attacks on Barack Obama, they'll say. Do we really want to stay stuck in that mud with a candidate that they may despise even more?
The lesson that should be drawn from recent history is that it really doesn't matter who the Democratic nominee is. Republicans will hate him or her, and that hate will grow from an ember to a consuming fire. It will make twist them in knots, it will make them say crazy things, it may even consume their hopes of gaining back the White House. That hate will have a different flavor depending on who the candidate is—if it's Clinton, we'll see the return of all the sexual panic and misogyny she inspires—but what won't change is its quantity. Even someone Republicans barely know now, like Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, will produce the same venomous reaction.
There are legitimate reasons one might prefer another candidate over Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee in 2016. But when we start talking about this at length and someone inevitably says, "If she's the candidate, the Republicans are really going to go after her," remember where we've come over the last few years.