Hillary Clinton steps into the light: Now she'll finally have to act like a presidential candidate

Clinton's announcement is no surprise, but it will force her to answer big questions

By Jim Newell
Published April 10, 2015 5:02PM (EDT)
  (Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)

Here's a dirty little secret about political reporters and writers, and really anyone who seriously or even casually observes politics: we've all been rolling our eyes at the big presidential campaign announcements thus far.

The pattern has been similar for the two who've already declared, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. They book some large venue, a hotel ballroom or an evangelical Christian university arena, and then tease the world through social media about some "major announcement" that's coming. HMM, WHAT COULD IT BE? Perhaps a PowerPoint walkthrough of a patent reform proposal? A list of some technical tweaks to an appropriations subcommittee bill pertaining to dredging plans on the Intracoastal Waterway?

I would donate money to any candidate from either party who rents out an enormous ballroom and teases a "major announcement" and then just walks traveling reporters and camera crews through a 2-hour speech about some minor bit of legislative maintenance. It would be funny. But so far, no luck. The "major announcements" for which these candidates have rented serious square-footage and invited reporters to attend have indeed been their presidential campaign announcements. It will be Marco Rubio's turn to do the same on Monday.

There's never been any doubt heading into the announcements that these Republican candidates were running. That's because they've already been running for months or years, depending on where you draw the line. The Republican schedule in 2015 has been one of intensive competition, from the Iowa Freedom Summit to CPAC to the Iowa agricultural summit. And then there's all of the posturing and positioning for a "lane" that's played out on the Senate floor or in the private homes of wealthy donors in Texas and Florida or party officials in Iowa and New Hampshire. The only thing that's separated the unofficial campaign from the official one on the Republican side is some jockeying around FEC fundraising regulations.

Before Rubio gets his big chance to announce that he's complying with FEC regulations on Monday, though, another candidate will swoop in and sway a fair share of attention her way. Hillary Clinton, a former senator and secretary of State, will reportedly enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. It will be difficult for her to wrest the nomination from presumptive favorite Lincoln Chafee, but you never know.

Clinton will not be following the same big-speech rollout template as Cruz, Paul and Rubio. Reports suggest that she will release some sort of video announcement midday Sunday. (Will it be on YouTube? Vimeo? Instagram? Vine? Snapchat? Periscope? Meerkat? Bumbledoodler, Hippolox, Zappercrust? I wish I were just joking, but there will be an extraordinary amount of cable and online #content in the coming days about Clinton's choice of video announcement platform and how it will play with "the crucial Millennial vote," because our industry is bullshit.) After that, she'll host some small events in Iowa and New Hampshire. It's a setup that plays to her strengths.

As with Cruz, Paul, and Rubio, Clinton's announcement will in no way whatsoever come as a surprise. Unlike them, however, it will mark a change from the status quo. We'll finally get to see what the Clinton campaign is all about: where she lands on policy, and what she's like as a politician after a seven-year break.

The beginning of the Clinton campaign will really be the beginning of a campaign, not just a continuation of the status quo plus a few FEC form filings. Clinton's public appearances up to now have been exceedingly rare and strictly controlled. She pops up every few weeks to give, say, a (well remunerated) speech to camp counselors. A carefully worded tweet will appear on her official feed every so often and will be picked apart to no end. That one press conference she gave at the United Nations last month was the closest she's come to having a presidential campaign event this year.

She hasn't issued a lot of currency thus far, because she hasn't needed to. The lack of serious competition within the Democratic field will ensure that she still doesn't need to offer that much. (Yesterday a reporter suggested to me that since Clinton's declaring, maybe now they'll be able to get a one-on-one interview with her. I did my best not to bend over laughing.) But she will be out on the trail. It may require some Barry Sanders-esque cuts, but it will be possible to maneuver through the crowds and the "handlers" to get in her face and ask her some questions. She'll have a rapid-response communications team set up to comment on news developments. She'll be a candidate, doing candidate things. Finally, some news.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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