As everyone knows, Hillary Clinton is now officially running for the presidency of the United States.
I wish her the best of success, and I plan not only to vote for her but to contribute (modestly) to her campaign and make phone calls for her in the fall of 2016. But her opening salvo gives me pause.
Measured against all the campaign-kickoff speeches that have been made in the past 50 years or so, hers surely tops the list for brevity and casualness. In a video just over two minutes long, a montage of various men, women and children who are all eager to start something new (such as having a baby or tackling a new job) is followed by 30 seconds of the candidate herself, who tells us that she is running for president to fight for "everyday Americans" who need "a champion" in "tough economic times," when "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."
Thus she throws a populist bone to the Warrenite Dems on the left. But since her campaign is already seeking contributions from everyday Americans like me, I can't understand why our champion will need $2.5 billion of our money to gain the White House. This figure, which is what each major party reportedly plans to spend in quest of the presidency, is more than twice the record amount spent to re-elect President Obama in 2012, and about $700 million more than the total spent for both Romney and Obama in that election. Why does Hillary need $2.5 billion to run for president?
Of course I know the answer. With the backing of billionaires such as the Koch brothers, her legion of opponents and detractors will stop at nothing -- least of all spending -- to defeat her. So she has no choice, it seems, but to launch a nonstop spending race that will last -- are you ready for this ?-- 19 months.
But does she really have no choice? On the contrary, does she not have a unique opportunity to campaign from now to (let's say) August of 2016 for something far, far less than even $1 billion?
Let's be frank. Right now, she already has what no other presidential candidate since FDR has ever had at this stage of the campaign: the nomination of a major political party. She now owns the Democratic nomination. Fifteen-plus months before the Democrats gather in Philadelphia to "choose" their candidate for president, we already know whom they'll choose. There is absolutely no chance that it will be Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, or Martin O'Malley, the former Governor of Maryland who has already been making the rounds in Iowa. It ain't gonna happen for Martin or anyone but Hillary. Unless she falls out of a plane or suddenly decides to smother her baby granddaughter Charlotte, she's got the nomination.
But since the press can't bear the prospect of a dead-cert with no suspense for all of fifteen months, commentators such as David Brooks think she ought to be facing primary challengers -- if only to sharpen her rhetorical edge. And even her supporters may feel that it's dangerous for her to take the nomination for granted, to exude -- like a forbidden perfume -- the odious scent of "entitlement." But does this mean that in the runup to the Democratic convention, we must all spend the better part of a year watching debates that can be no more than exhibition games --with no power to change the end result?
Don't get me wrong here. I'm happy to see her hitting the road to meet the folks and make speeches around the country. In riding a van for 1000 miles from her home in Chappaqua, New York to Monticello, Iowa, where she speaks this very day, she has travelled just about as much like an everyday American as anyone in her position can -- not counting the Secret Service. But even if she travelled like this for every single week between now and election day, she couldn't spend anywhere near a hundred million, let alone a billion.
Suppose, then, that she opted to spend money only on staff and travel -- not one dime on TV ads, radio ads, or telemarketing?
In 2012, those three things consumed a little over 62 percent of the Democratic' presidential campaign war chest. If the 2016 campaign for Hillary spent nothing on these things but matched Republican spending in all other areas, it would save over $1.5 billion -- and end up spending no more than the Obama campaign did in 2012.
But how could Hillary Clinton campaign without radio and TV ads and telemarketing when the Republicans will be oiling the airwaves day and night with ads for their candidates and -- just as importantly -- attacks on her?
Let me remind you of her first campaign. In the year 2000, when she ran for the U.S. Senate in the state of New York, her Republican opponent, Congressman Rick A. Lazio, spent almost 40 million dollars and ended up nearly 3 million in the hole. Hillary spent 29 million. And guess who won by 55 to 43 percent?
In other words, Hillary has already demonstrated that she can win without even matching what her opponent spends. She won her Senate seat not only because she was well known as the first lady of an astoundingly popular president (even after Monica, Bill Clinton left office with an approval rating of 66 percent), but also because she had earned -- not bought -- the confidence of New York voters.
Besides her eight years as first lady and eight more years as a U.S. Senator, she now brings to her presidential campaign four years' experience as Secretary of State and a truly exceptional mastery of international as well as domestic affairs. And everyone knows at least something of who she is.
She also has one other huge advantage: more than ever before, the media will broadcast every word she speaks to a crowd of any kind, starting with the lucky few who get to hear her first speech today in Monticello. If she chose, she could hold a press conference once a week from now to election day to answer whatever charges may be flung at her, and you may be sure that every one of those conferences would be nationally publicized -- at no expense whatsoever to her campaign.
So why doesn't she do something truly dramatic for the everyday Americans who support her? Why doesn't she declare her independence of radio and TV ads and telemarketers and of the knee-jerk compulsion to match the 2.5 billion dollars that the Republicans plan to spend in their quest for the White House? Looking at the front running Republicans -- Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie -- I see no one who can begin to match Hillary Clinton's qualifications for the presidency. So why not let the elephants outspend her while she demonstrates, once again, that money alone cannot fill the gap between a weak candidate and a strong one?