January 26, 2013
(CNN) -- There are few certainties in American politics. But you can write it down: If Hillary Clinton wants to be the next nominee of the Democratic Party to be president, the job is hers.
Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Mark Warner, Martin O'Malley and the others in the long list of commander-in-chief wannabes will go about their day jobs for the next couple years, but at the back of their minds will be only one question: Will she or won't she?
Because, as the most popular politician in America -- who also happens to be married to America's most popular ex-president and who has in place a nationwide network of donors, campaign staffers and committed supporters -- Clinton has the power to keep potential rivals from raising money or gaining political traction simply by saying, "I haven't decided what my plans are." She's in control.
That she should be in such a position at this moment is a remarkable achievement and an extraordinary testament to her grit, gifts and track record: She has been the most successful U.S. secretary of state in two decades. That outcome was hardly a foregone conclusion when Barack Obama made the bold decision to pick his former primary rival to assume the oldest and most senior post in the Cabinet.
She had, after all, lost a bruising campaign to him, there was tension between her team and his and no reason to assume the two ex-rivals would work together. She had never run a large organization before. Beyond that, the United States was facing massive crises at home and bewildering complexity abroad. Many of the issues she would be facing would be new to her.
Clinton was so famous already that she could easily be seen to be upstaging the president, something that would have undone her within the administration and made her look bad.
Her tour de force performance this week before Senate and House committees looking into the Benghazi tragedy illustrated how far she has come. In a charged political environment, she commanded the stage and deftly repulsed effort after effort by Republican partisans to shift the focus away from what the lessons of the attacks were and should be, turning aside their theories of conspiracy and devious motives for the missteps surrounding the event. She defended the president and revealed her character by accepting responsibility.
She had already set the stage with her swift embrace of a blue-ribbon investigation into the incident and her acceptance of its recommendations for avoiding such problems in the future. She was helped by the bipartisan recognition of her extraordinary tenure at State; her work ethic, miles traveled and commitment were praised throughout both hearings.
Most importantly, Clinton clearly knew her brief better than any of those questioning her. When Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin attempted to score political points with a cynical line of questioning, she showed her strength and stature as a leader with a direct, unwavering response urging him to focus on the bigger issues at hand.
When Sen. Rand Paul announced that had he been president he would have fired her, her response evinced an understanding of the issues and processes at play; it was evident that only one of the two of them had any chance of occupying the Oval Office in the future. When describing the return of the caskets of the American victims in the Benghazi attack, she showed her humanity. Frequently, she showed the comfort with the setting that comes from her experience not just at State but as a senator.
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