In a recent episode of Vox’s “In the Weeds” podcast, the hosts mentioned their belief that Hillary Clinton would have done more for the Democratic party if she had opted not to run for President, and instead supported someone like Kristen Gillibrand. This built on an earlier article about a universe where Gillibrand was the nominee.
This has added relevance with Democratic panics over two events. The first was Hillary’s health scare, which was defused by strong performances in the debate. The most recent was the news that the FBI had new reason to investigate her, a development that has coincided with stronger polling problems for Trump. However, this still doesn’t mean that Democrats would be better off with someone else.
Part of the problem with this view is the assumption that Hillary should have realized she would face a weak Republican nominee, meaning the most important thing is to be a non-objectionable alternative. But when Hillary Clinton started running, Donald Trump wasn’t seen as a likely candidate, much less a nominee. At that point, likely opponents included Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and maybe Mitt Romney. Trump ended the race with a relatively late June entrance.
It’s also a comparison of a candidate who has had years in the media spotlight versus others who haven’t dealt with that level of scrutiny. There’s the assumption in a lot of these counterfactuals that a politician we know to be good (because they’re strong enough to win a presidential nomination) is less effective than someone whose abilities are more of a question mark. Politicians who don’t run for President often don’t reveal their weaknesses. We don’t know if Gilibrand has what it would take. There could be skeletons in her closet, as has been the case for other promising political figures.
There’s also the possibility that a Democratic primary without a serious frontrunner could have led to worse results from the party. Maybe with more opposition, Sanders would have been like Trump, gaining a majority of the delegates with 43 percent of the vote. You could imagine rising stars like Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Kristen Gilibrand, and veterans like Joe Biden and Tim Kaine splitting the establishment vote. A field without Hillary might have made Trump less effective, as he wouldn’t have as much to run against, which might help his opponents in the Republican party.
It could be that there’s a world where Gilibrand leads Trump 57 to 40 percent.
It could also be that there’s a world where Rubio’s beating her by ten points, as she faces an environment that most Democrats wouldn’t win, that will destroy her reputation afterwards and lead the party to blame her for the loss.
It could also be that without Hillary, a weaker Democratic candidate wins. It could be Sanders. It could be Elizabeth Warren (who underperformed Obama in 2012.)
It could be that the scrutiny of a campaign will destroy her, or she just won’t be ready for the national spotlight.