Hillary and Mitt: Once and future front runners?

Hillary and Mitt: Once and future front runners?

HIllary Clinton and Mitt Romney
HIllary Clinton and Mitt Romney

WASHINGTON, August 10, 2014 — Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney have far more in common than either might expect.

In 2008 Hillary Clinton was a strong contender, at one time the front-runner, for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Then came the Barack Obama juggernaut, and Hillary’s support turned mushy.

After a stint as President Obama’s secretary of state, Clinton is again the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. She’s been coy, as befits a front-runner who wants to keep possible contenders unbalanced, suck the oxygen and the money out of the room, and maintain some latitude to throw out policy trial balloons.

In Sunday’s edition of the Atlantic, Clinton continued the necessary task of distancing herself from an unpopular incumbent. She referred to American “failures” in Syria and Iraq, failures that she supported as secretary of state. Failures she is preparing to pin squarely on Obama.

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — that failure left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” said Clinton.

Only the bus that Clinton is tossing President Obama under is one Mitt Romney warned us about in 2012.

Then Romney said that the United States should leave a presence in Iraq and take a more proactive role in Syria. In a debate on foreign policy Obama clearly said that he did not support leaving any troops in Iraq.

“Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” Obama told GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day.”

And while he was roundly mocked by the Obama camp and the press for that position he was rudely diminished by President Obama for his observation that the primary geopolitical foe of the U.S. remained Russia.

“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” said Obama derisively. “The Cold War has been over for twenty years.”

READ ALSO: Obama’s new Cold War: U.S. aircraft flies into Swedish airspace to avoid Russian fighter jet

Given tensions in Ukraine and Russian involvement in Syria and Iran, Romney was nearly prophetic. And now he offers warnings warnings about Mali, al-Nusra and al-Shabab, warnings considered peculiar when he delivered them in 2012.

In comparison with Obama, Romney now seems reassuring and statesman-like, and a recent poll shows that Americans are experiencing voter’s remorse for electing the president.

Polls generally agree that were the election held today, Romney would win with 55 percent of the vote.

But Romney isn’t running against Obama, or Hillary, today, at least not directly.

But he is travelling the country making speeches for GOP candidates, suddenly quite popular in that role, and keeping himself relevant in the political landscape, even as he denies interest in running a third time for his party’s nomination.

Like Clinton, Romney is all potential at the moment, but not a declared candidate.

Like Clinton, he is owed favors by many members of his party and is popular with the party establishment.

Like Clinton, he’s much less popular with the party’s core, ideological voters.

The libertarian and tea-party right of the GOP doesn’t like Romney. The liberal left of the Democratic Party doesn’t care for Hillary, despite what the media wants us to believe.

That liberal left is trotting out Senator Elizabeth Warren as a potential challenger, and Warren seems to have her toes in the primary waters. (Hillary’s Nightmare? A Democratic Party That Realizes Its Soul Lies With Elizabeth Warren)

Were Warren to enter, she might be 2016’s Obama — if she can corral the money.

Which takes us to the point that Mitt and Hillary are alike in another important way: Each can start a campaign late in the game and raise large amounts of money quickly. No one else on the left or the right can compete in that regard.

Any successful candidate will have to start running early, build a network of support, and beat the bushes for money.

Mitt and Hillary need only spend an afternoon making phone calls.

Romney and Clinton are both intelligent, talented, generally centrist potential candidates. In a hypothetical matchup right now, Clinton wins hands down, but two years is forever in politics, and the knives will be out for Hillary.

The more people know her, the less they like her.

The opposite is true for Romney.

Many of his supporters wanted him to publically embrace his Mormon faith and let people in to see his family and personal life. Romney’s sense of decorum about keeping religion at arm’s length and his sense of privacy almost certainly hurt him in 2012.

A recent documentary on Romney did just that, and the feelings it raises for Romney are overwhelmingly positive.

If Romney decides to run, he should be more openly himself — a surprisingly likeable member of the very rich.

If Clinton runs, she should remain guarded about herself and her family; her husband is a formidable political talent and a personal dead albatross.

It is far too early to predict the nominees for 2016 however now, in 2014, Romney and Clinton — Mitt and Hillary — have the easiest road of anyone in their parties to the prize even as it almost certain that 2016 won’t be a Mitt and Hillary matchup.

Romney is less likely to run than Clinton, and more likely to remain a popular fixture on the campaign trail for other Republicans.

One suspects that Romney will be the happier for that choice.

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Jim Picht
James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.