It is easier, at this point, to address the issue like this: “Will Hillary be nominated if she runs? If that’s true, then will she run.”
This is not because I think there is much doubt about whether she will run. I expect Clinton to run, and her activities since her defeat in 2008 in the nominating contest against Barack Obama suggest a long, meticulously planned road to get back to where and what she thinks she deserves. But, as Tom Bevan has noted at Real Clear Politics, there are reasons she might choose not to go for it. Bevan provides five possible outs: Hillary is not that good at campaigning, she may lack the fire in the belly, winning is not guaranteed, Obama is leaving a mess, and the country wants real change.
I think any doubt about the fire in the belly misses the Clinton family dynamic — Hillary needs to be running and serving the family to stay relevant. Politics is their industry. Would the Clinton Global Initiative, whatever exactly this is, get the attention and pampering it does from well-heeled people, corporations, and foreign governments if it were perceived that Hillary was done with politics? If daughter Chelsea is being groomed for a future political role, isn’t a Hillary run essential to breaking the ceiling first and keeping the family industry operating?
Bill and Hillary are a perfectly matched couple in that each of them seems to have had ambitions for the highest office from their teenage years. This is not a normal level of ambition or narcissism to sustain for five decades, even among the excessively ambitious political class.
Hillary thought 2008 would be a cakewalk, but was tripped up by a younger, more exciting, and more agile candidate who appealed to Democrats as a true believer rather than the establishment liberal offered up by a Clinton. Hillary and Bill will not find such a threat for the nomination within the Democratic Party this time around. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren may be the closest to setting leftist hearts aflutter with her fake populism and anger at Wall Street, but it is far more likely that Warren will only backtrack on her publicly expressed lack of interest in running if Hillary surprises and chooses not to run.
The near-glide path to the nomination is what makes a Clinton run so much more likely. Yes, her book launch has shown she is not a natural in front of the camera like Bill — or even Obama — when scripted. But if her only potential opponents in the primaries are former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, Joe Biden, and Vermont socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, then she has nothing to fear. Even the Clinton machine’s history of prodigious and wasteful campaign spending will still leave lots of money for more of a general election campaign during the nominating period than is normally the case.
Securing the nomination means you are halfway there, and the wide-open Republican nominating contest along with the divisions that exist among Republicans — establishment and the Tea Party, social conservatives and libertarians, foreign policy hawks and isolationists — argue for the fact that Republican unity for the general election is not a given, as was the case in 2008 and 2012. This too justifies the long odds against winning the presidency for any individual Republican (which may sap the determination of good candidates from even competing for the nomination), or for any Democrat other than Clinton.
Clinton is not a lock by any means in the general election, and her long political history provides plenty of material for whomever her opponent will be, assuming she runs. Her Republican opponent will also be very well-funded. One would hope that the technology divide that was on display between the two parties in 2012 has been eliminated or reduced, which would assist Republicans in targeting and get-out-the-vote operations.
But in making the decision to run, the near certainty that she will be nominated if she goes for it is enough reason to think this will trump all other considerations.