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It’s too early to crown Hillary

By Douglas MacKinnon
Los Angeles Times

Many pundits on the left, and even a number on the right, are ready to declare Hillary Rodham Clinton the next president of the United States.

Columnist Kathleen Parker recently spoke on a national cable program of Clinton “saving the world.” Democratic political operative Donna Brazile recently declared, “If Hillary Clinton gets in the race, there will be a coronation.”

That’s all great – except, as Barack Obama proved in 2007 and 2008, campaign punditry simply doesn’t matter. It’s votes that count.

I suspect the person who has the least confidence in the predictions of her success is Clinton herself, followed in a close second by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

As an independent conservative, I don’t always agree with the Clintons’ politics. But I don’t think there is a better political mind in the country or the world than that of Bill Clinton. The man came from a highly dysfunctional family to become president. He also managed to get reelected despite many predictions to the contrary.

That said, no one understands better than the Clintons how hardball politics are practiced. They’ve both done their share of mudslinging, and they’ve also experienced it. That means that they know what’s lurking in the wings if Hillary Clinton enters the presidential fray, especially from other Democrats.

The November election is always a battle. But for sheer nastiness, nothing outdoes the primary season. Remember Willie Horton? He was a convicted felon who committed violent crimes while on a weekend furlough from prison in Massachusetts. His rampage happened on the watch of Michael Dukakis, then Massachusetts governor. When Dukakis ran against George H.W. Bush in the presidential race, Bush used a highly effective campaign ad about the incident that suggested Dukakis was soft on crime.

But Bush was not the first one to raise the furlough issue. It was Al Gore, during the Democratic primary season, who first hammered Dukakis for the prison release program.

Flash forward to the most recent primary season. Yes, Obama portrayed his opponent Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch aristocrat during the run-up to the fall election. But Obama was late to the attack. Throughout the primary season, Romney was relentlessly ridiculed as a heartless capitalist by Newt Gingrich and other challengers for the GOP nomination.

Another potential stumbling block for Hillary Clinton is the mainstream media, which despite their denials still lean to the left politically. During the 2008 Democratic primary for president, political reporters tended to side with the more liberal of the candidates, and they often slanted their coverage to reflect such bias.

That doesn’t bode well for Clinton, who is likely to be challenged by more liberal candidates, possibly including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Between Clinton and Warren, the far left of the Democratic Party and many members of the media would probably favor Warren. Already, there is a growing chorus of liberals declaring that Warren should get the nomination over Clinton. They can’t forgive Clinton for her vote in favor of the invasion of Iraq and her embrace of mainstream foreign policy.

Clinton knows better than most, in part because of her 2008 experience, that liberal Democratic primary voters as well as many in the media could become infatuated with a candidate to her political left. She also knows the dangers of mudslinging from within her party, and Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, known for playing political hardball, could well take on the enforcer role during the Democratic primary season. All in all, Clinton could be facing a very rough ride.

Should she enter the fray with the hope of winning the crown? Sure.

But she might want to ask Howard Dean, John Kerry, John McCain and Mitt Romney how their presidential “coronations” worked out for them.

Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official.
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