Clarence Page: Clinton-Bush fatigue? Not yet

June 11, 2014 

When I was a guest on conservative Hugh Hewitt's national radio program last fall, he asked me what foreign policy achievements I thought former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would brag about, if she runs for president.

I was not prepared for the question. After a long pause, I quoted what President Dwight Eisenhower said in 1960 when a reporter asked for a major idea of Vice President Richard Nixon's that was adopted by the administration: "If you give me a week, I might think of one."

Clinton's new book, "Hard Choices," which she is flogging nationwide in what looks transparently like a prelude to a presidential campaign, finds ample examples. She cites such achievements as the Obama administration's reorientation toward Asia, particularly its reopening of diplomatic doors to long-isolated Burma.

Why didn't I think of that? Partly because, as much as I expect Clinton to run for president, I don't expect her to campaign much on foreign policy issues. Ironic as that sounds in regard to a former secretary of state, I think most American voters would rather focus on problems here at home.

As the Obama administration puts the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts into our rearview mirror, most Americans probably are grateful enough that she didn't get us into any new major wars.

When foreign policy issues do arise, she starts from a good place. A new ABC/Washington Post poll finds 59% of Americans approve of her job performance at State. Similar majorities ranging from 55% to 67% think she "understands the problems of ordinary Americans," has new ideas, is honest and trustworthy and is a strong leader.

It is with that tailwind of goodwill that Clinton, the undeclared Democratic presidential hopeful, launches her memoir, with repeated denials that it is a thinly veiled pre-campaign book. It just happens to do what campaign book launches do: It generates lots of buzz, puts off potential rivals and helps early fundraising efforts by support groups like Ready for Hillary.

That super PAC has attracted 2 million supporters and raised $6 million since its founding last year, and is mobilizing hundreds of volunteers in key states. With the 2016 presidential campaigns expected to exceed the $2 billion mark topped by the combined 2012 campaigns, it is never too early to start raising money.

Yet storm clouds gather on the horizon for Clinton when you look at polls on the issue level. Approval of her job performance at State declines sharply in the ABC/Post poll to only 37% for her handling of the 2012 incident in Benghazi, Libya, in which a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Some 58% also think the Obama administration has covered up what it knows about the attack, and about half favor a further congressional investigation.

No wonder that House Republicans have been beating the Benghazi drum without pause, even after a half-dozen congressional investigations. With a special committee on Benghazi looming, so is another familiar scene to us old-timers: Hillary Clinton under fire from Republican inquisitors. It fires up the base, but also generates rage and sympathy on Mrs. Clinton's behalf. We've been here before.

Clinton fatigue? I have never for a minute believed the many people, including Democrats, who say the country is tired of Clintons — or Republicans who say, as former first lady Barbara Bush did last year, "We've had enough Bushes." We Americans say we don't like royalty, yet we flock to news about the British royals, in particular, and to familiar names on our ballots.

This is particularly true of Republicans, who have respected seniority in recent decades, gravitating to nominees who have run for the presidency at least once before. A notable exception, George W. Bush in 2000, nevertheless enjoyed the benefit of having a familiar name.

With that in mind, I still cling to my long-held prediction that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will yet heed the call to unify the GOP's pragmatic establishment by running in 2016. If he can survive the smaller states, where the tea party proved strongest in 2012, the big-state moderates — beginning with Florida — could hand him the nomination.

"Bush vs. Clinton in 2016?" Hey, it could still happen.

Clarence Page is a columnist with Tribune Content Agency. Write to him at cpage@tribune.com.

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