No-exit strategy

In case you haven’t yet noticed, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) isn’t going to be that loser we have come to know in politics — the gracious one who turns and walks out of the spotlight for good. That act is for other people, people who didn’t come so painfully close — people who are not named Clinton.

Those who think this runner-up is about to fade into the background simply haven’t been listening. Clinton has tasted victory, and has only begun to fight, whether for the vice presidency or something else. There will be no letting up and no letting go. Why should she, when only two ifs separate Hillary Clinton from fulfilling her White House dream? If she genuinely works hard to elect Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and if he loses, Clinton becomes the salvation of her party in 2012.

By campaigning for Obama for the next five months she stays out in front, and stays in touch, with her army of supporters. They will remain hopeful, energized and loyal. Then, in the event that Obama lost in November, Clinton’s supporters would begin the chorus of “I told you so” immediately. Clinton would demur on the topic, and retreat to top-secret-plotting mode, as she did all those years ago, but the entire operation would remain intact.

Who would step in and dare try and stop her? Who has the built-in base of women, older voters, blue-collar voters, Latino and Jewish voters? Who will be able to raise the $200 million? There is the fact that many Democrats are eager to move on, exhausted by the Clintons, their scorched-earth tactics and their unwavering narcissism, having been reminded again these last weeks by her RFK comments and his Vanity Fair exposé. Yet that remains a passionate but private discussion. The party is dependent on her supporters to win back the White House and wants desperately to keep them happy.

Moreover, Clinton would be vindicated by an Obama defeat, and she would be prepared. She wasn’t ready on day one to win her party’s nomination in 2008, but she sure will be next time. Next time she will know the primary campaign must be won before the general election campaign is waged. Next time she will plan for a long race. Next time she won’t depend on the old crowd for money, and will instead raise vast sums at rapid speed from the Internet, tapping and re-tapping her passionate supporters who are only one click away.

Next time Clinton will contest the caucus states as well as the primary states, getting the right people organized and activated so she can dominate the process the way Obama did. Next time the person managing Clinton’s campaign will not be a longtime aide and friend, but will be someone with experience running presidential campaigns. Next time, we know Bill Clinton will be too busy doing good in the world to come campaign and mess things up for his wife.

Yes, whether it is the vice presidency or the presidency Clinton seeks in 2012 or 2016, there will be a next time. Several days ago in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after her crushing victory there, Clinton did not equivocate. She pointed to her popular-vote advantage, her victories in swing states, in saying that “more people have voted for us than for any candidate in the history of presidential primaries,” and she even claimed to be winning the general election as well. “Now, there can be no doubt, the people have spoken and you have chosen your candidate,” she said before closing with a call to battle: “Let’s keep fighting,” she said, four times.

In the presidential primary race of 2008 Clinton has, no doubt, found nearly 18 million reasons for a future fight, but inspiration from an unlikely source as well. A friend of Hillary Clinton’s showed her that difficult comebacks are possible even eight years later. His name is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.