If you look at the last several Presidential races, you see a similar theme of relative outsiders bursting onto the scene to win the Presidency. Bill Clinton was a little-known governor from Arkansas. Then Texas Governor George W. Bush was obviously better known nationally, but also at least tried to portray himself as a “Washington outsider.” And then Barack Obama practically came out of nowhere, serving in the Senate only for about three years before ending the powerful former First Lady and Senator’s Presidential dreams. It was no doubt a totally unexpected defeat for a Clinton who frankly isn’t accustomed to losing very often. In comparison to the last three Presidents (who have served over the last 22 years), Hillary Clinton lacks the “Washington outsider” image that two former Governors and the one-term Senator possessed and propelled them into the Presidency during their very first runs.
Making matters worse for Team Hillary, most of the recent Presidential losers haven’t really gone on to bigger and better things following their defeats. At the Presidential race level, Bob Dole, Al Gore, and Mitt Romney all dropped out (or stayed out) of politics after losing the Presidential election. John McCain and John Kerry both still hold political offices, but McCain is still the senior Senator from Arizona and John Kerry has relatively recently left the Senate to replace Hillary as Secretary of State. And Kerry has repeatedly said that he won’t run for President again.
Hillary, however, did not actually lose the general election, instead failing to even secure the nomination. Perhaps a tiny bit of good news for Hillary is that Bob Dole, Al Gore, Mitt Romney, and John McCain had all failed to secure their party’s nomination at least once before later going on to win the nomination on a successive attempt. The bad news, obviously, is that none of them were then able to translate finally winning their party’s nomination into finally becoming President.
But Hillary can find hope that U.S. history is longer than just 20 years, and others who have faced similar bruising defeats have gone on to lead this great country. John F. Kennedy was thought to have potentially ended two promising politicians’ careers. One, Richard Nixon, managed to make a comeback after an embarrassing loss to Kennedy and another embarrassing loss two years later for the California governorship. The other, Lyndon Baines Johnson, became President after Kennedy was gunned down that fateful November day in Dallas. But LBJ and Nixon, both tenacious politicians, weren’t the only two who managed to win the Presidency after suffering potentially career threatening defeats. Conservative hero Ronald Reagan lost the 1976 Republican nomination to Gerald Ford. Granted, Gerald Ford was running as an incumbent, having taken over the Presidency following Nixon’s resignation, but he was also still Gerald Ford. Yet four years later Reagan rebounded and managed not only to become President, but to build a legacy. And finally there was the first Bush, Herbert Walker Bush. He lost the Republican nomination in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, but managed to wait for his turn eight years later and eventually won the prize he sought.
Although recent history seems to show that Hillary faces an enormous challenge in overcoming her 2008 election loss to become President, a slightly more in depth look at recent political history should give her some hope. Hillary will have a lot of advantages on her side (money, name recognition, favorability ratings). But she had pretty much all of those things in 2000. The problem is that Hillary is not Bill. We know Bill could take a punch and get right back up…partially because usually perceived him as real and genuine. Hillary seems to lack these qualities. But then again she might be every bit as clever and tenacious as LBJ, Nixon, and Reagan were…and so there’s definitely still a chance.
This is all “assuming” she runs, of course…