The smartest thing George W. Bush did as he pursued the presidency in 2000 was to jettison his father's former campaign team and start his own bid for the White House from scratch. He realized that times had changed in the 12 years that had elapsed since his Dad was elected, and that the old guard would be set in the old ways. So, he reached out for new people with new ideas - people Dad hadn't known well back in 1988, like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes - to pilot him to victory in 2000.
But that's not the model that the next heir apparent has chosen.
Hillary Clinton now seems wed not just to the 1992 candidate himself, but to his staff, advisors, supporters, tactics, strategy, and timing as well. As this nearly 60 year old candidate faces younger and savvy challengers in Barak Obama, 45, and John Edwards, 53, she seems to be showing her age rather than grasping just how much the political world has changed since she last trod the presidential campaign trail.
According to recent news articles, she apparently seemed genuinely surprised that the 2008 presidential race has heated up so early. (Wake up Hillary!) Evidently, she's been grousing to potential supporters that she doesn't understand why she can't follow the more leisurely schedule her husband first pursued, when he waited to announce his candidacy until the fall of 1991. Her plan was to do the same thing. Now, with the increasing strength of Edwards and Obama, she's being forced to get into the race and compete. This was something that she hadn't planned on; not at all.
With Hillary's coy insistence for the past year that she hadn't made up her mind about whether to run for president, she could hardly start publicly campaigning. But while she was playing dumb about her candidacy, Edwards was cleverly and effectively building the support of Democrats in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire - the early primary states. Now Edwards is in first place in Iowa and Hillary is in fourth. He's tirelessly crisscrossing the state. She hasn't been there in years. There's a lesson there.
Hillary appears to have been completely taken by surprise by the boomlet for Obama. He's now tied with her in New Hampshire and ahead of her in Iowa. The Obama phenomenon quickly knocked her out of her complacency. Suddenly, just days after the New York Senate election, she began to frantically invite prominent Democratic Party types from Iowa and New Hampshire to her home for dinner to discuss her 'potential' presidential race. Using her BlackBerry - or more likely the old Clinton Rolodex, - she contacted the party hacks from 10 years ago…the people who supported Bill back then. It's been a long time since she last visited New Hampshire, and she hasn't kept up with the changes in the Party. She's relying on the outdated Clinton contacts, even ignoring the first female Speaker of the House, who was also the first Democrat elected Speaker in 70 years. That's someone to pay attention to.
Everything about the Hillary operation looks a bit out of date. Most of her advisors are the same retreads the Clintons have always used. They resemble nothing so much as the aging Camelot crowd that surrounded JFK and Bobby, and reassembled tiredly to help Teddy mess up his race in 1980.
The top echelon of Hillary's brain trust is the same old White House gang that advised them many years ago. As part of her offense after the election, Hillary even had a highly publicized dinner with former advisers James Carville and Paul Begala (wonder how the press ever learned of that rendezvous). Their last presidential campaign was Bill Clinton's 1992 race 14 years ago - hardly the place to go for cutting edge political advice. Even the Clintons declined to hire that undynamic duo for the 1996 race or for either of Hillary's Senate race. Gore ignored them in 2000 and Kerry refused to hire them in 2004. Hillary won't hire them either, but she still looks backward. Maybe the nostalgia is comforting to her.
It's déjà vu all over again.
Hillary's tactics are also old. She spent much of her $40 million campaign war chest in her 2006 run for a second term in New York building her direct mail list. Direct mail? Hello?? Ever heard of the Internet? No up-front costs, no turnaround time, rapid contacting, etc.
And last year, Hillary quaintly called for a post card writing campaign to lobby for maintaining Homeland Security funding levels in New York. Again, ever heard of the Internet, Hillary? Post card campaigns went out with the mimeograph machine.
Sen. Clinton reportedly hopes that her meetings and the discussions about her candidacy will remain secret, drawing around herself the same veil of privacy she used to shroud the operations of the White House Health Care Task Force from public view in 1993. Hey, wake up! Those days are over. Nothing in a presidential race is kept secret.
Today's politics is a whole new world. Money is raised by the bushel and, as a result, is no longer as decisive. Events happen faster. People seek out candidates before they have the time to reveal themselves to the voters. A candidate herself, actually, controls only about a quarter to a third of her own campaign. Bloggers, Internet e-mailers, independent expenditures, party committees, eager contributors and special interests run the rest for her. She can't keep track of her own campaign, let alone control it.
Unless Mrs. Clinton takes a crash course in the new politics, she's not going anywhere. These old days are over, Hillary.