Hillary Clinton Stepping Away from 2020 Could be a Sign Joe Biden Will Do the Same

Hillary Clinton.jpg
Hillary Clinton in January 2019. Photo courtesy of Shane Goldmacher’s editorial on Clinton’s decision on Monday night.

Rather unexpectedly, Hillary Clinton announced on Monday that she will not be running in the 2020 U.S presidential election. I say unexpectedly because, while, nobody outside of Donald Trump wanted her to take a third shot at the White House, flat out refusing to run this early in the presidential campaign pretty bluntly takes the spotlight off of her and any press attention around her movements. A flat refusal at this point therefore feels, well, a little unusual. Furthermore, I feel that her early declaration has ramifications beyond her own political ambitions, and in the midst of a lot of fevered speculation, could be a big sign that centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Biden may decide to sit the 2020 race out as well.

In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of aides and staffers from the 2016 Clinton Camp and the 2016 / 2020 Sanders camp feuding over their treatment of each other’s candidate. This has ranged from Zac Penatkas, the director of rapid response for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, releasing a critique of Sanders’ position on gun control, immigration and same-sex marriage, as well as criticisms of Sanders’ use of a private jet as a surrogate campaigner for Clinton after she won the nomination. In response, Michael Briggs, Sanders’ 2016 campaign spokesman, described Clinton and her staff as “total ingrates” for their lack of appreciation towards the Vermont senator’s efforts getting her elected in 2016. He adds: “It doesn’t make me feel good to feel this way but they’re some of the biggest assholes in American politics,” he added. Clinton’s own removal from the race may not help bridge the gap between her and Sanders, or that of her campaign staff, but in so quickly taking herself out as a candidate, it could indicate a major lack of confidence among centrist Democrats over the kind of ideological flavour of candidate the Democratic membership wishes to move forward with. The amount of bad blood between the two camps isn’t going to go away anytime soon, but in the context of the ongoing intra-fighting among Democrats on where the party should set sail for in 2020, Clinton excluding herself from the Democratic race at such an early point in the selection process could signal a concession on her part over the trajectory of the party moving away from the likes of her and Biden.

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The latest on the ex-vice president is he is “very close” to making a decision on whether to run, and could announce within the next few months. Undoubtedly for the ex-veep, a major part of his calculation over whether to run or not will be through gauging Sanders’ own success so far in the 2020 race. Certainly, since announcing his run for the presidency on February 19th, Sanders has shown the largest increase in one week among the current candidates, and is currently leading among the declared Democratic Party candidates (a Morning Consult graph illustrating this can be found here). There are also signs that the race between them is narrowing. From an 8-10% gap between Biden (1st place) and Sanders (2nd place) in January 2019, recent polls are showing Biden’s lead has narrowed to around 3-4%. A poll released on Tuesday by Morning Consult finds Sanders once again nipping at the ex-veep’s heels, with Biden leading with 31% of preferences and the Vermont senator coming in second with 27%.

While still very early days, the mood music is growing increasingly difficult for centrist Democrats, and many are becoming more and more vocal about it. In a Politico piece published yesterday, David Brock, a long-time Clinton ally and founder of the pro-Clinton super PAC, noted the concerns from major donors over Sanders’ success so far. “I would say — and for all I know, the Sanders people might take this as a compliment — among a lot of the major donors in the party, there’s concern that he could emerge”. While very far from over, there has been little to go on recently that suggests that the Democratic membership is looking to run again on the same centrist platform that Clinton pursued in 2016. Now out of the race, she is also crucially making any announcement by a centrist candidate a much lonelier venture. With the Democratic Party and the majority of the party’s candidates racing to endorse Sanders-styled policies and the party membership’s various forms of purity tests, from the DNC’s ongoing deliberation on setting a criteria for “grassroots fundraising”, pursuing Medicare for All, and refusing to use Super PAC funding, Biden’s deeply conservative record would leave him pretty isolated as a presidential candidate. This is even more the case after former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg declared yesterday that he will not stand in 2020, citing “the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field”. While the nomination is indeed crowded, both Clinton and Bloomberg’s decision to sit this one out gives some indication as to what forms of ideology and policy are not being scrambled over.

As I have discussed in my earlier piece, there are lots of reasons why Biden would be a very poor choice for the Democratic Party to back in 2020, but at the same time there are many reasons why Sanders will struggle too, particularly due to his age and the feeling among many Democrats that they would prefer somebody new and more diverse. It’s also incredibly early in the race, so any political speculation of this sort could turn stale very, very quickly. However, I can’t help but feel that Clinton’s announcement is a pretty direct signal that the window is shutting on brazenly establishmentarian politicians like her and Biden. Clinton was never expected to run again, but by stepping out of the spotlight so early in the race, it can be argued she is indirectly conceding her own ideological and political deficits as a presidential candidate in today’s Democratic Party, as well as that of Biden and fellow centrist Democrats. For the ex-vice president, her removal, while hardly shocking, will make his decision to run that good bit harder.

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