Right now, there’s some talk about the Democrats positioning themselves to run against Trump. And some of it has included the woman who did win the popular vote by two percent.
She would be one of the oldest candidates ever, but not the oldest. I don’t know the exact age at which someone’s no longer a presidential contender (75 feels like the cutoff for me) but Hillary will not have reached that in November 2020. At least going by previous nominees. In 2020, she would be several months younger than Bob Dole was in 1996. She’ll also be an year younger than Donald Trump, who has already started the legal process of running for reelection.
Parties haven’t recently nominated General Election losers, but it is a small sample set.
Carter lost 44 states, but the Democratic party nominated his Veep the next timer around. Mondale lost 49 states, so he couldn’t recover from that. Dukakis lost 40 states.
Dole and McCain were as old as they could be as presidential nominees. Gore led in polls in 2004, but opted to be a messenger on environmental issues (which has made him pretty wealthy.) Kerry won a weak field in 2004, when it was determined that a war hero would be a good challenger to Bush. In 2008, a white guy who had been in the Senate for 24 years just didn’t fit a message of change, although he considered running for much of 2006. There was some chatter about Romney in 2016, although he seemed to be scared away by Jeb Bush’s connections.
It’s possible for the right candidate to run again after a losing presidential bid. For example, had Obama lost in 2008, he would have been viable as a presidential contender later because of his unique appeal for various party figures. He would still be a favorite of activists, academics and African-Americans. He would still be fairly young, which is significant in staying relevant as a national candidate. William Jennings Bryant was 37 the first time he ran for President. Tom Dewey was 42 when he became the Republican nominee the first time. Richard Nixon was 47 his first go at the nomination. Adlai Stevenson was in his early 50s the first time he ran.
The things that make Hillary a strong candidate in 2016 won’t all disappear in 2020. She’ll still have an impressive resume. She would still be in the position to be the first female President. She’ll still have friends in high places among fundraisers and party figures. A credible bid doesn’t seem inconceivable.
It seems kind of odd for all the advantages Hillary had in 2016 to disappear in 2020. Obviously some things have changed. Losing a general election would hurt her reputation as an electoral powerhouse (although that was based on an expectation that any Democrat will do well). I’d expect a more impressive bench in 2020, as Democrats elected during the Obama administration get more experience. And there’ll be slightly less nostalgia for the Clinton years with more newer voters. I did think that with a narrow Gore/ Kerry style loss, a plausible run would have seemed possible. She ended up having a different kind of loss, winning the popular vote by a decent margin. However, her loss was against Trump, which complicates things.
She’ll likely have more primary opposition, but that might work in her favor. In a crowded field, it may be tougher for someone to emerge, especially with her advantage in name recognition.
There is obviously significant downside in that any loss would define her reputation, turning her into a two-time loser (or perhaps a general election nominee who failed to win the nomination the next time around.) However, if she wins, her earlier defeats become a footnote to her story.