Can Anyone Stop Hillary? Absolutely

The former secretary of state may still be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, but she hasn't done much to help her cause lately.
Jason Reed/Reuters

Time magazine’s cover this week asks, “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?” The answer to that question is yes, but you’d never know it judging by the overwhelming belief among Democratic insiders that the party’s 2016 presidential nomination is simply Hillary Clinton’s for the asking.

For all her popularity among party power brokers, the sense of invincibility that currently surrounds Clinton reflects a kind of suspension of disbelief by Democrats that a more detached reckoning should dispel.

That faith in Clinton’s prospective candidacy was evident earlier this month when YouGov, the non-partisan Internet polling company, asked 100 Democratic operatives and activists as part of a year-in-review survey to weigh in on whether the party’s potential 2016 contenders, “regardless of who might be the frontrunners right now” had mostly helped or hurt their chances for a successful White House run. (I helped conduct the survey.)

Not surprisingly, a whopping 78 percent of the Democratic insiders said that Clinton had mostly helped her chances. The runner-up to Clinton in this assessment was Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren: 42 percent of the insiders said she had mostly helped herself. Only 30 percent said that Vice President Joe Biden had improved his odds of stepping up to the top job, while 61 percent said that his efforts to date had neither helped nor hurt his chances, or did “some of both.”

But if you look closely at the kind of year Clinton had in 2013, isn’t it more reasonable to say that although she remains the frontrunner to lead the Democrats in 2016, she hasn’t done much lately to advance her cause? Indeed, a few potential vulnerabilities have come into sharper focus that should cause Democrats to ease up on their embrace of Hillary.

Hailed as a tireless diplomat who helped restore the U.S. image in foreign capitals when she stepped down as secretary of state, Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom now looks less glowing.  

Last year, the State Department review board on the 2012 terrorist assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi determined that Clinton was not responsible for lax security at the outpost. Still, this issue doesn’t look like it’s going away for her.

Just last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report that found that the attack, which claimed the lives of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, was preventable and primarily blamed the State Department for failing to heed intelligence warnings about unrest in Benghazi and not beefing up security at its compound there. In a separate addendum, Republicans on the committee asserted that Clinton was ultimately accountable for the inadequate security. 

Nor does Clinton’s globetrotting appear so productive compared to the efforts of her successor. Veteran journalist Albert R. Hunt wrote in December that in less than a year as Secretary of State, John Kerry “has had more tangible accomplishments than his celebrated predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, did in four.” If Iran fulfills a deal to curb its nuclear ambitions under Kerry’s watch, the comparisons for Clinton could become even less flattering.

Domestically, Clinton now has to contend with the fallout from shaky implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the central tenant of which—the federal mandate that individuals must purchase health insurance—she championed in her 2008 presidential run.

Clinton did accurately predict in September that Republicans would pay a political price if they precipitated a government shutdown over their demands to defund and delay Obamacare. But since the subsequent botched rollout of the healthcare website and the uneven enrollment in government-sponsored insurance plans, Clinton has been less vocal. She left it to husband Bill to call on President Obama to honor his campaign pledge that individuals could retain their old insurance plans that had been deemed inadequate by the government, for at least another year.

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James A. Barnes is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He is a former political correspondent for National Journal.

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