Last June, conservative columnist Ross Douthat suggested that Obama presides over an “Austro-Hungarian empire of presidential majorities: a sprawling, ramshackle and heterogeneous arrangement, one major crisis away from dissolution.” Hillary Clinton is the party’s “Franz Josef,” the dual monarchist who kept the empire together until his death and the Great War. “Without her,” warned Douthat, “the deluge.”
If true, Democrats would face a debacle after a Hillary bow-out, no matter whom the Republicans nominate. With only a single unifying figure, without a united philosophy, strategy and agenda, it’s very difficult to govern, much less get elected.
If Douthat is right, and Hillary’s rock-star status is masking deep divisions within her party, then who would donors flock to? As of now, says Lapetina, “there really isn’t any enthusiasm” for the non-Hillary Democrats already flirting with a run—Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb—meaning no one would instantly lay claim to the Clintons’ vast network of donors.
Still, the Democratic bench is hardly shallow. Among other possible candidates who might suddenly find a fire in their belly: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Gov. Deval Patrick, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Sens. Sanders, Mark Warner and Kirsten Gillibrand. Lapetina believes pressure would build for a few really big names to enter, such as Al Gore.
And then there’s Elizabeth.