After years of speculation, former Secretary of State, New York Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton finally announced on Sunday that she will run for President of the United States. Many Americans of all political stripes expect her to easily win the 2016 election, succeeding President Barack Obama and becoming the first woman president. Such a victory would also greatly benefit the Democratic Party, as it would mark a relatively rare instance in which the candidate from the incumbent party of a two-term president wins election.
There is no question that the prediction of a Clinton victory in 2016 has merit. Polls consistently show that she has a healthy lead over any likely Democratic primary challenger and any likely Republican challenger in the general election, suggesting that 2016 could be the Democrats’ biggest presidential electoral victory since 1964, when incumbent President Lyndon Johnson defeated Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. An electoral college that increasingly favors the Democratic Party, as well as a Republican Party that has become more and more out of touch with American society, also greatly benefit her campaign. Despite the many advantages Secretary Clinton has over any other presidential candidate, there are a number of factors that make her election in 2016 all but inevitable.
Perhaps the most obvious challenge that Secretary Clinton faces in the upcoming election is her age. If elected, she will be 69 at the time of her inauguration, making her the second-oldest American president elected to a first term, trailing Ronald Reagan by only eight months. This age factor could concern many Americans worried about the physical and mental health of their president. Considering the theory espoused by many, including his own son, that Reagan developed the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease while in office, Clinton’s age, and effectively her health, could allow many voters to develop valid reservations about voting for the woman who could become the second-oldest president in American history.
Racial issues, particularly pertaining to Latino Americans, could also put Clinton at a disadvantage when compared to many of her likely challengers. As Latinos make up an increasingly larger proportion of American demographics, Democrats and Republicans alike have worked to secure their votes. Out of the three Republican candidates who have already formally announced their candidacy for president in the 2016 election, two of them, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, are Cuban-American. A third probable candidate who has not formally announced yet, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is also the younger brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, may not be Latino. However, Bush’s wife is Mexican and he is fluent in Spanish. If the GOP nominates Cruz, Rubio, or Bush, it could potentially pose a challenge for Clinton in courting the Latino vote.
Secretary Clinton’s political track record, if properly used against her, could also serve to undermine her presidential campaign. An unpopular First Lady during the presidency of her husband, the highly popular Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton was elected to represent New York in the Senate in 2000. Her election was not so much driven by merit and popularity as much as it was by nepotism and the fact that she faced a weak Republican challenger, former Congressman Rick Lazio, in a predominantly Democratic state. Clinton’s Senate career was, while not horrible, unremarkable at best. Perhaps the best-known vote of her legislative career was in favor of allowing then-President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003, an invasion that led to a costly war, the destabilization of the Middle East, the empowerment of Iran, and even the rise of ISIL.
As Secretary of State during President Barack Obama’s first term, Hillary Clinton was much more competent than as a senator, but was by no means perfect. She deserves credit for such accomplishments as restoring the United States’s soft power in the world, overseeing the Obama Administration’s “pivot to Asia,” improving relations with Burma, and promoting detente with Iran earlier than many other Obama administration officials. Despite these successes, her record is tainted by her (mis)handling of the Arab Spring, her support for the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi, which would drive the country into chaos, and her underestimation of the quantity and power of militant Islamists following the civil war, which would lead to the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi, the first such instance of an American ambassador killed at the hands of an enemy force since 1979. Clinton’s mixed track record, particularly in regards to foreign policy, could (and likely will) be used against her as she seeks to return to the White House.
Clinton’s integrity could become yet another issue as she runs for president. According to a 2010 Siena College poll of US presidential historians ranking each one from George Washington through Barack Obama, her husband, Bill Clinton, was, with the exceptions of Warren Harding and Richard Nixon, the most corrupt president the United States ever had. This is not without surprise, as numerous controversies took place under his presidency, including the Whitewater Affair and a number of sex scandals, including the Monica Lewinsky scandal which would lead to his impeachment, making him only the second American president to have such a spot on his resume. While Hillary Clinton is not her husband, the recent allegations of her deliberately deleting emails from a personal address as Secretary of State, allegations which a slight majority of Americans believe to be true, could be the first in a series of scandals that Secretary Clinton could have to address as both a candidate and potentially as a president.
Ultimately, Clinton’s biggest challenge to winning the presidential election might not come from the Republican party, but from her fellow Democrats. Despite being the preferred choice for the nomination among most Democrats, her party base has become increasingly less energized about her candidacy. Reasons for this disenchantment include her hawkish views on foreign policy, perceptions that she is not liberal enough, and the fact that a Clinton victory in 2016 would mean that the White House, with the exception of Barack Obama, would consistently be held by members of the same two families for every year since 1989. When one considers that Democrats are more likely to skip the polls and/or vote for third-party candidates than their Republican counterparts, it seems inevitable that Republican voters will more consistently support the candidate their party nominates, even if said candidate does not energize the base, than Democrats will with Clinton.
Although the electoral landscape looks disadvantageous for the Republican Party and Hillary Clinton seems to be President Obama’s probable successor, the election is still over a year away. Even if it is an uphill slope for the Republicans to take back the White House in 2016, they still have a substantial amount of ammo, including but not limited to the above examples, to use against Clinton.