Little boy Martin O'Malley asks Hillary Clinton's permission to run against her

Why Maryland's governor will never in his life have what it takes to beat the Clinton machine

Published May 15, 2014 2:27PM (EDT)

Martin O'Malley       (AP/Patrick Semansky)
Martin O'Malley (AP/Patrick Semansky)

If another Democrat is going to best Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination in 2016, we can all agree that that person will have to be unsparingly critical of Clinton and everything she stands for. This person will have to trash the Clinton dynasty, weather extraordinary criticism from the establishment of the Democratic Party, and not apologize for any of it. While the world waits for Hillary Clinton to make her decision, the proper frame of mind for anyone who could eventually defeat her at this point shouldn't be, oh, heavens me, will I offend her if I think about running? Should I wait to hear what she has to say?? Her decision should have no bearing on their plans to run right now, and her opinion of whether they should run should not be a consideration. It's a confidence thing. Be strong and visionary! And so forth.

Which is why this story doesn't do much to help the already deeply ingrained political perception that Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the closest we've seen yet to an openly running candidate on the Democratic side, will never in his life have what it takes to beat the Clinton machine:

Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is so serious about laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential bid, he’s even talked to the elephant in the room: Hillary Clinton.

O’Malley told political allies at a closed-door meeting in mid-April that he called Clinton, who told him he should do what he needs to do. For him, that includes visiting early primary states, campaigning and fundraising for fellow Democrats, and growing his political network.

Is Hillary Clinton's competition in 2016 really so weak that they feel they have to ask Hillary Clinton for permission to build up a network before a presidential bid? Besides, it's telling of how powerful a potential challenger Clinton considers O'Malley that she would say "yes." Oh, go ahead, little boy, "do what you need to do," because it's not like it will matter. (It would have been funnier if she had said, "No, you can't do that, Martin," just to see how he'd react.)

It brings into question the nature of the Democratic Party presidential nomination process we're going to have: Is it going to be an actual contest for the nomination, or is it going to be a tryout for the vice presidency and various positions within the Clinton cabinet?

Hey, we understand you, candidates! Getting a cool agriculture secretary slot wouldn't be an awful job to land. But that might entail not shaking the Clinton hive too much during the primary process. It is a difficult choice to make. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a card-carrying Clintonite, essentially tells the O'Malleys of the party this: If you cause too much trouble in the process of losing, you might ruin your chances for positions down the road.

“I think he is an attractive candidate in general, but in terms of Hillary Clinton, Martin should not run if Hillary runs,” Rendell said, praising O’Malley’s tenure as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor. “He would be better off being a loyal soldier. He actually would fit the demographic well as a vice president to Hillary.”

If O'Malley is the "Democrats' Tim Pawlenty," as he probably is, he should follow the best-practices research already conducted inadvertently by Tim Pawlenty himself. Pawlenty was never really willing to challenge likely winner Mitt Romney and backed off, weakly, from his "Obamneycare" attack during a prime debate opportunity. He dropped out from the presidential race a few months later and set about prepping his V.P. vetting materials to hand to the Romney campaign, where, for the second consecutive cycle, he honorably served as the "safe" option to the eventual V.P. choice.

If O'Malley isn't determined to beat Clinton if she enters the race, and so fears her that he's asking her permission to test the waters, he should just skip the part where he runs a weak presidential campaign and go straight to organizing his vetting documents for the coveted backup-V.P. slot.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell