Top Democrats have reacted with a distinct coolness to the notion that defeated 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton could have another tilt at Donald Trump.
"I don’t think she is seriously thinking about it," said Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean's groundbreaking 2004 presidential campaign.
Celinda Lake, a veteran pollster who enthusiastically backed Clinton two years ago said that for most voters she represented the "status quo" when change was needed. Should she run? "I don’t think that would be a good idea," Lake responded.
Democratic strategists were caught off guard and reacted with an inward groan when Clinton said over the weekend that she would "like to be president." Those comments came just days after her former top aide Philippe Reines laid out a rationale for Clinton 2020: "She’s younger than Donald Trump by a year. She’s younger than Joe Biden by four years ... She had 65 million people vote for her [in 2016].”
Around 30 Democrats are at least flirting with running, and Trippi said that unlike the 2016 Democratic coronation the 2020 race for the party's nomination would be wide open. "Whether it is Rep. Seth Moulton [D-Mass.], [Howard] Schultz from Starbucks or [Michael] Bloomberg ... there is an entire group. Biden, of course.
"Look, frankly just like with Trump [in the Republican primary], 19 percent could win some of these early states. That means anybody could lock the Democratic nomination," Trippi said.
Lake suggested that Democratic voters would feel once bitten twice shy. "Look, I am a great admirer of Hillary but I don’t think that would be a good idea," she said. "I think that Donald Trump was more successful in defining her than she was defining herself," Celinda Lake, a leading Democratic Party strategist, told the Washington Examiner. "The only way to win is to be change and she remains in voters' minds as the status quo. It is time for a change."
Clinton is encouraging the rumors — perhaps in an attempt to remain relevant — telling Recode this weekend that she would still like to be president and has the credentials for the job.
"Well, I’d like to be president. I think, hopefully, when we have a Democrat in the Oval Office in January of 2021, there’s going to be so much work to be done," Clinton said. "I mean we have confused everybody in the world, including ourselves.
"We have confused our friends and our enemies. They have no idea what the United States stands for, what we’re likely to do, what we think is important, so the work would be work that I feel very well prepared for having been at the Senate for eight years, having been a diplomat in the State Department, and it’s just going to be a lot of heavy lifting."
The consensus among Democratic strategists who spoke to the Washington Examiner is that the party needs new blood in 2020 and has many other options without a frontrunner for the nomination with the last name Clinton, as happened in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2016.
Other prospects include Biden, sitting senators, like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, members of the business community, and others outside the beltway, like attorney Michael Avenatti.
Lake said: "Joe Biden because of name recognition, but I think that there are number of strong candidates. Sanders has a base. Warren has a base. Harris has a base because of the Kavanaugh trial," Lake said. "There are a number of candidates that have been out there less because of the races, like Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio ... that could have a chance."
One thing Democrats are lacking heading in to 2020 is a clear, defining message for the party that is a better alternative to Republicans, who are running on the economy, job growth, and base issues, like immigration.
Lake believes the biggest messaging gap Democrats currently face is the economy, which is widely noted as a key swing factor in voters' decision-making at the ballot box. When the economy is doing well, the party in power often receives the credit regardless of whether the economy is up because of their policies. The inverse is also true. If the economy is on a downturn, the majority party often takes a hit at the ballot box.
"I think the strongest message is on the economy. We are 14 points behind on the economy right now, according to recent polls. That is untenable for winning," Lake said. "I think the most important thing is for us to nominate vision and strong economic voice."
She believes that the party has a few of those candidates in the field. Most notably, Lake mentioned Warren and Sanders, who have taken strong, vocal stances on the economy, taxation, corporate welfare, and regulation.
Another place strategists claim Democrats would do well to focus in 2020 is on healthcare, a major 2016 Republican campaign platform that largely fell flat for the party after multiple failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare over the past two years. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has already pivoted to healthcare as one of the top campaign issues for 2018 and that isn't likely to dissipate after the November midterm elections.
But Trippi cautioned that 2016 had shown how unpredictable presidential races can be and that Clinton would always be formidable. "I don’t know whether to expect anything and everything after 2016. … Who would have foreseen Donald Trump? I mean, that is not the question. The question is does she want to go? If she wants to go, you have to beat her," he said.
"I think the real question is she serious or not. I don’t think she is seriously thinking about it."