HILLARY IN 2016? - AT 8:36 P.M. ET: It's much too early to be discussing the presidential election of 2016. Or is it? This column is pure speculation, but it's an entertaining, and discerning British look at Hillary Clinton, and her prospects for that year:
Having elected Barack Obama amid near national euphoria, America is experiencing something akin to buyer's remorse.
Obama's popularity is the lowest of any American president at the end of his first year in office since polling began. Yet as his approval ratings have nose-dived, those of his Secretary of State have curved elegantly upwards.
A recent poll by the Clarus Research Group found that Hillary Clinton had a 75 per cent approval rating compared to 51 per cent for the man who defeated her in their epic battle for the Democratic nomination.
Okay, there are many caveats, but let's go along for this ride. At minimum, it's fun.
During the past year, Mrs Clinton has done just what she did when she entered the Senate in 2001 - knuckled down to the hard grind of policy while building relationships with wary sceptics.
The woman who was one of the most polarising figures in American politics now has a glowing 65 per cent approval rating among Independents and healthy 57 per cent among Republicans.
Even sworn enemies on the Right marvelled at her toughness in refusing to concede to Obama until the bitter end in the summer of 2008 and now view her as more hawkish than the president.
It's the "hawkish" part that's most intriguing. Valuable in a general election, but no asset in today's Democratic party, whose base probably thinks Harry Truman was an atom-bomb-dropping monster.
Mrs Clinton, moreover, has lived in Arkansas and won over conservatives in upstate New York as well as trouncing Obama in states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania - establishing a connection with Middle America that has eluded the president.
Again, great in the general election, but the Aspen-addicted party elite will frown.
Mrs Clinton can afford to be assiduously loyal because her critique of Obama - "a lot of talk, no action" is how she acidly described him in March last year - is already out there and increasingly resonant. She now has unassailable credentials in the one area where she appeared weak in 2008 - foreign policy.
This assumes no foreign-policy disasters. Given the man in the Oval Office, that's quite an assumption.
Two months ago, Mrs Clinton answered, straight-faced, with a flat "no" when asked if she would ever run for president again, even adding that "it never crosses my mind".
Perhaps that patently implausible denial was the surest indication of all that Mrs Clinton is better placed than ever to become America's first female president - and she knows it.
COMMENT: Okay, all right, as we said, this is pure speculation. Many, many things, including the stark reality of biology, can intervene.
But let me add something: Why think only of 2016? What about 2012? What if Obama, facing catastrophic poll numbers, decides not to run again? While his ego will probably nullify any rational decision, it could still happen, especially if Michelle prevails upon him.
One thing I certainly don't think will happen will be a Clinton challenge to Obama for the party's nomination, reminiscent of Ted Kennedy's challenge to Carter in 1980. If Clinton attempted to challenge Obama, the African-American community would never forgive her, would stay home on election day, and cost her the election.
But hey, you never know.
December 20, 2009