Skip to navigationSkip to content
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shares a laugh with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) and former President Bill Clinton at a funeral service for U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the Kennedy Center in Washington, January 14, 2011.
Reuters/Jim Young
A winning trio?
2016 US ELECTION

Marco Rubio may loathe his elders, but a wiser Hillary Clinton is embracing hers

A personal conundrum has emerged among early candidates in the 2016 US presidential election—to rebel against your elders? For Republican Marco Rubio, the answer is yes. For Democrat Hillary Clinton, resoundingly the opposite.

Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants who unveiled his candidacy yesterday, all but ignored his natural entry to the bulging Hispanic vote, and instead embraced his youth. In his announcement, Rubio dismissed presidential rivals Jeb Bush and Clinton as “leaders [with] ideas of the past.” “Yesterday’s over,” Rubio said.

The platform he laid out didn’t seem all that fresh. It rather doled out traditional servings from the Republican playbook—cut taxes, kill Obamacare, thrust out your chest abroad.

But it may help Rubio—perhaps channeling Democrat John F. Kennedy, who was also 43 when he ran for president in 1960—to make as conspicuous as possible that he is 19 years younger than Bush and a full 24 years than Clinton.  It’s a jab intended mostly at Clinton, yet it also disloyally repudiates Bush, whose support of Rubio goes back to his very first run at office.

Clinton is behaving far more respectfully toward the powers in her own party. That’s perhaps not surprising since she is herself a pillar of the Democrats. But there’s a more important thread running through her strategy: she intends to win the Democratic nomination and the election itself in part by not repeating an egregious, unforced error committed by the last Democrat who tried to succeed a two-term president from the same party.

That was then-vice president Al Gore, who in 2000 seemed to have most of the ingredients for victory, including incumbency, only to lose to George W. Bush.

No one can say with certainty whether he would have won had he done differently, but some argue that Gore crippled his candidacy with a pivotal campaign decision—to snub and marginalize Bill Clinton, who some call the most skilled US politician of our times.

Gore forbid Clinton from doing almost any campaigning on his behalf, including in Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, which would have given Gore the presidency had he won it. Instead, the election went down to the vote in Florida. When the Florida outcome ended up in dispute, the election went to the conservative-controlled US Supreme Court, which gave it to Bush.

Whatever the case, Hillary Clinton is taking no such chances. First and foremost, she plans to embrace Obama and his record. That includes Obamacare, and probably Iran. As much as Obama wishes to campaign on her behalf, Clinton apparently will be totally on board.

In a statement yesterday, the White House said Obama has not yet taken sides in the election. But on April 11, he also said she would make “an excellent president,” and it would truly be a miracle if anyone else gets the Democratic nomination.

It is with Bill Clinton that his wife is most specifically learning the lessons of the Gore campaign and her own failed 2008 bid for the presidency. Then, she and her handlers treated her husband as an unpredictable and perhaps harmful force requiring management. This time, her husband can campaign any way he pleases.

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.