4 ways Hillary looms over the 2020 race

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLongtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick How Obama just endorsed Trump Gabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton MORE will play a role in the 2020 presidential campaign, but not in the way you think.

Let’s face it: Hillary’s presence — dare I say omnipresence — is written all over this race. Let’s look at the four ways that Hillary is already dominating the discussion around 2020.



Look no further than the ongoing smoldering cold war between progressives and the media about how much media outlets should be focused on whether candidates are viewed as “likeable.”

The subtext here being that for many, particularly many women voters, “likeability” seems like a convenient way to judge women candidates for their boldness or confidence. Hillary blazed that trail in 2008 and 2016 facing headlines that seemed fixated over whether she was too muscular and masculine in her policy chops or too sensitive when the chips were down after a defeat in the Iowa caucus.

She was even on the receiving end of a quip from her primary opponent in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama called her “likeable enough” on the debate stage. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenLongtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor MORE (D-Mass.) was the first of the women candidates this go around to receive the “likeability” treatment. Now it’s Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLongtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 MORE’s (D-Minn.) turn in the barrel, against the backdrop of reports of her alleged rough and seemingly abusive treatment of staff over the last decade as a Senator.

Boom in women candidates

Now move on to the boom in women candidates altogether. It’s obvious with four leading female Sens. — Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D-.N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisLongtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 MORE (D- Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — and Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE all declared as candidates. But it really started in the midterm election cycle with the record number of both women candidates and victors in the 2018 midterms.

The backlash against the election of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump marks 'very sad milestone' of 100K coronavirus deaths DOJ: George Floyd death investigation a 'top priority' Lifting our voices — and votes MORE which spawned the women’s march has a direct line to Hillary Clinton, given her perceived mistreatment by media and, frankly, voters in 2016.  

The language

The language and style of the candidates this time around — again, Hillary inspired. Kamala Harris’ “for the people” frame which delves into being a fighter for working people sounds very similar to some Hillary Clinton riffs about people deserving “a chance and a champion” in 2016.

The bold feminism of Gillibrand is directly descended from the fight of Hillary Clinton’s adult life dating back to her time as first lady when she redefined the role. Even President Trump got in on the act last week apparently debuting one of his new catchphrases that was essentially a dead pull from Hillary’s “stronger together” campaign platform.

The mistakes

And then, of course, the mistakes of Hillary. Everyone’s favorite hobby horse. We all know the time-honored tradition of blaming the losing candidate and their campaign for making every misstep in the book. And as a Hillary 2016 alum, let me just say, we know. Plenty of black marks from 2016 on the political resume of Hillary Clinton — let’s go through them.

We were wrong to spend any effort trying to steal Arizona, Utah or chasing any other “purple” pipe dreams. We should have spent more time and effort winning over traditional Democratic constituencies like African-American voters and less trying to flip queasy Republicans who held their nose to vote for Trump. She should have apologized harder about the emails (I guess). And, obviously, we should have spent more time and resources in the upper Midwest — Michigan and Wisconsin namely. Hillary’s perceived strategic mistakes against Trump.

Let’s stay on that last one for a moment. Losing ground to Trump in the upper Midwest. This has become a convenient place for 2020 Democrats to get their jab in to Hillary Clinton. First it was Julian Castro who, in the lead up, to jumping into the field talked to CBS about the need for “more focus in certain states” from the Hillary 2016 campaign. And then last weekend, when Amy Klobuchar announced her run from snowy Boom Island, Minnesota, she made a point to underscore that she wouldn’t forget about the upper Midwest.

As I said on CNN recently when asked to respond to Sen. Klobuchar’s criticism, she and all of the candidates should do a better job this time around across the board than we did last time around. They should absolutely learn from Hillary’s mistakes — that’s the whole idea of progress.

But, as I have also said, they should thank Hillary Clinton: for the 66 million plus cracks she put in the invisible ceiling for women candidates seeking to make history that come after her; for taking slings and arrows as secretary of state during the Benghazi affair; and the sideshow of a hearing that she endured and for inspiring young women, who are now the engine of the progressive movement, to run for office on her shoulders.  

Hillary Clinton may not be on the ballot this time around but she has already influenced this race for the 2020 Democratic nomination and she will be a factor in whoever Democrats chose to counter Donald Trump in roughly 20 months from now. Count me as one who believes that Democratic candidates and the Democratic primary process will be better this time around for Hillary’s still outsized influence.

Joel Payne is a former Hillary for America senior aide and vice president of Corporate communications, MWWPR, which is a public relations firm.