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A.B. Stoddard: Clinton’s craft

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This is rich. Some great minds in Obama-world feel they must embarrass Hillary Clinton in order to save her — right now. And good thinking, because the presidential campaigns of candidates who haven’t even declared, three years out, are fragile things.

The predictable juggernaut that Bill and Hillary Clinton have already built for her 2016 run is under fire for good reason — it didn’t work the first time. Fearing she will inevitably crash by starting too early, Democrats everywhere have started talking. But Democrats who genuinely hope the former first lady becomes president and the average Barack Obama campaign staffer are hardly one in the same.

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According to a report in BuzzFeed, aides to President Obama doubt Clinton’s strategy of stoking the perception that she is inevitable and invincible. Such concerns are practical, like those of Ben LaBolt, the press secretary for Obama’s 2012 campaign, who said the sooner she seems like a candidate “the greater the incentive is for the press, prospective opponents, and adversarial groups to scrutinize and attack her every move.” Yet an unnamed female “top Obama aide” warned “people are really getting worried about it,” saying though she would like to see a woman elected president, she worries Clinton “doesn’t have a compelling rational for her candidacy.”

This aide clearly cannot see past her loyalty to Obama to appreciate Clinton not only has more experience than he did before becoming president, or anyone currently contemplating a 2016 run, but perhaps more than most of the women other countries have already elected as president.

The tension will make for an interesting transition from what was the masterful Obama campaign operation to a Hillary 2.0 campaign for 2016, which will use both the Obama techniques and former talent to pull off a win. There is already a Ready for Hillary political action committee, which began as some grassroots booster group and is now run by a former Clinton aide, and former Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina just took the helm of Priorities USA, now a pro-Hillary super-PAC.

The morphing is indeed underway. It started a year ago, when Obama chose Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” for a double interview with him and then-Secretary of State Clinton. In it, they spoke awkwardly of their transition from bitter enemies to good friends, a concept about as believable as Clinton not having thought about running for president again.

It was the quintessential final blow to Joe Biden, the loyal vice president, who himself harbored a desire to run a third and last time for the job himself. Obama grinned nervously and made clear, just by being there,  he owed former President Clinton his reelection, and it was payback time.

So is Hillary Clinton mounting a machine without a message? Crafting a message is hard when you intend not to talk. Practically the only time she’s opened her mouth since the CBS interview last year was when she recently made a carefully calibrated statement about her regrets over the Benghazi attacks in Libya in September 2012.

Clinton can’t run as a fresh face — she’s among the most famous women in the world. She can’t run as an outsider, because she is a former first lady, senator and secretary of State. She can’t change the idea that she and her husband did the early muscle work to clear the field — everybody knows it.

Clinton hopes Republicans are so divided they nominate a risky, right-wing candidate who can’t win over the general electorate, or their establishment nominee is so tainted by the primary process he or she won’t have the time or money to fend off the force of her political machine. She will be risk-averse, as always, and likely even boring.
And she could win.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.