What if no one challenges Hillary for the nomination? These are early times, but running for President requires a long-term commitment to build the infrastructure, staff and commitments of people and money. The door for a serious contender will be open for no more than a few months, if that. So far, only a handful of weak opponents have timidly raised their hands, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT), and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb. The other obvious possibilities are Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State and 2004 nominee John Kerry, and the great liberal hope, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. None seems to be making serious moves. So, it could happen.
The consequences are interesting. There would be no debates leading toward the nomination, unless Hillary decides to pull a Clint Eastwood and addresses an empty chair. Debates are big audience draws and give candidates an unequaled opportunity to make their case to the undecided and rally the troops This would be a sharp contrast to the Republicans who have the complete opposite problem, a plethora of hopefuls. Indeed they face real problems in organizing workable debates without appearing to have picked sides. The national news will predictably be filled with Republican events together with comments and speculations about their horse race. Hillary will have to fight just to be heard.
A tough primary season has contradictory consequences for the eventual winner. On the one hand, debating skills are honed, messages are sharpened, and there is time for recovery from the inevitable missteps. On the other, the candidate carries scars from the fight and reveals vulnerabilities to the opposition, while it is physically exhausting. Thus a coronation walk to the nomination is a mixed blessing. Moreover having only one target greatly simplifies the task of Republican candidates, who can tailor their message during the primary season toward the election to come.
A minor advantage is that Hillary would have the time and energy to pick her running mate very carefully. This has often not been the case for harried candidates and campaign staff, with the result being no help, at best, and quite possibly disaster. Who can forget George McGovern’s choice of Sen. Thomas Eagleton in 1972? That lasted only 17 days before revelation of his depression problems forced the DNC to replace him with Sargent Shriver. Probably nothing could have helped McGovern anyway, but this mess surely didn’t.
One big advantage for Hillary would be finances. By all reports her campaign will be overflowing anyway, but not having to fight through tough primaries will preserve resources for the real fight to come. It is quite possible that her Republican opponent will be scraping the bottom of the barrel by then and have to spend scarce resources of time and energy rebuilding his bank account.