In several recent conversations, I've been struck by how some Iowa Democrats believe former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needs to do things differently (hire better advisers, do more retail politics) if she wants to win the Iowa caucuses in 2016.
Here's the thing: Clinton doesn't need to prove herself to Iowa Democrats anymore.
In my opinion, some narratives exaggerate the scale of Clinton's mistakes here six years ago. Someone who supposedly never understood the "spirit" of the caucuses managed to get roughly 70,000 people (including quite a few first-timers) to stand in her corner on a cold January night. I believe that Clinton didn't "lose" the caucuses so much as Barack Obama won them with the best campaign seen in Iowa in decades.
Regardless of why Clinton ended up in third place in 2008, times change. You would be hard-pressed to find a Democrat with less admiration for Bill or Hillary Clinton than I have. But face facts: she is no longer polarizing, like she was shortly after leaving the U.S. Senate. She wouldn't start an Iowa campaign behind, as she did in 2006 and early 2007. Polls no longer show her potentially losing to any Republican with a realistic chance to become the presidential nominee. On the contrary, she's the most popular person to have served in the Obama administration.
For Hillary to lose the nomination in 2016, she would have to face serious competition in the primaries, and that competition would need to raise big money and inspire lots of volunteers. Obama had all that, plus almost exclusively flattering coverage in the mainstream media. No one on the Democratic bench is in a position to replicate his success.
It's true that many of Clinton's supporters wrongly claimed in 2006 and 2007 that her victory in the primaries was inevitable, but the political context is completely different now. She leads Democratic polls now by a larger margin than she ever did during the previous election cycle.
Many Democratic activists would prefer a more progressive presidential candidate than Clinton. So would I. Trouble is, no serious candidates will challenge her for the Democratic nomination. Not Howard Dean, not Elizabeth Warren.
I was motivated to volunteer for John Edwards in 2007 for two big reasons: 1) I didn't want to lose another presidential election and have more Roberts and Alito types on the Supreme Court, and 2) I didn't want a repeat of Clintonomics. I am no longer worried about Hillary losing to whomever emerges from the GOP clown car. Having watched Obama implement an economic policy that's at least as bad as Bill Clinton's, I no longer have any hope that any Democratic president in my lifetime will pursue the kind of economic policies I would prefer. I don't see a lot of progressive energy getting behind a "stop Hillary" candidate, even if one were to emerge. Might as well focus on other hopeless causes.
I enjoy those caucus campaign events as much as the next Democrat. If Clinton opts out of the next presidential race, I look forward to a group of candidates visiting Iowa frequently in 2015. But if she runs, she wins the Iowa caucuses, no matter how much or how little she campaigns here.