Conventional wisdom teaches that nothing succeeds like success, but the unwary politician forgets the more important Pruden Rule, which reflects both politics and life: "Nothing recedes like success." Conventional wisdom is made of two parts gossamer and one part each of fog and smoke. The Pruden Rule is cast iron.
Not quite a fortnight ago Hillary Clinton was riding high, cantering side-saddle toward her coronation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia little more than a year hence. She's still in a trot, but her white horse looks more like an old gray mule.
Every news cycle produces another pot hole on her way to the City of Brotherly Love. She's still unopposed indeed, she hasn't joined the imaginary race yet herself but Martin O'Malley, the new ex-governor of Maryland, and a faithful Democrat, is already running to win.
President Obama, no great friend in the first place, has rudely cut Hillary loose. He won't take questions about Hillary and her troubles, telling inquiring minds that want to know to just ask her. Be gone and don't come back. Hillary, we hardly knew ye. That's not a nice way to treat a girl in trouble. If Bubba not every belle's idea of a Southern gentleman despite his gentle Southern birth is riding to his wife's rescue, he's riding a very small horse. No one has seen the tell-tale cloud of dust.
Hillary's sudden fall from what passes for grace in Washington is a caution for Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, lest they watch early success recede, too. It can happen to almost anyone. The two of them have emerged from the pack, suddenly the front-runners in press attention, though calling anyone a frontrunner more than a year out is silly. There's many a mistake, gaffe, stumble, botch, blunder and disaster still to come before anyone gets to the conventions.
Messrs Bush and Walker both go to New Hampshire this week end to make first impressions, Mr. Bush to talk to the Chamber of Commerce in Nashua, hang out with Rotarians, and attend a closed fund-raiser with selected donors who pay $5,000 to get in, and Gov. Walker is there to participate in a class on grassroots organizing at a high school in Concord. Mr. Bush has embraced his image as the favorite of the Republican establishment the hoity-toities of the right and Gov. Walker calls himself "the son of a small-town preacher, not a president."
The sniping between the two, who were good friends if not best buds only yesterday, has already begun in more or less earnest. Bush aides and surrogates snipe that the Wisconsin governor is not quite as conservative as he seems; the Walker surrogates snipe back that the former governor of Florida, who thinks jumping the fence to get into the United States illegally is "an act of love," might not be a conservative at all.
That's the chatter of small-arms fire, compared to the heavy cannonading already chipping away at Hillary Clinton's battlements. If she thought that her email troubles would be a two-day story, and then be gone with the wind, she was bitterly disappointed. Her confusing explanations of why she built a private email server in the basement of one of the Clinton homes, to avoid using, like everyone else, a government email account that would have made her vulnerable to government prying, continues to fray and crumble. And it isn't even spring. Her troubles are leaching into Benghazi, another story not likely to go away.
"Part of what we need to do is take an inventory of congressional requests, including subpoenas," says Rep. Jason Chavette of Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "It appears on the surface that none of the State Department's responses [to requests for emails] was complete. We're going to go back and ask them again." He intends to poll every member of Congress, Democrat and Republican, to see what was requested of the State Department and what the State Department produced.
Since Hillary insists that there was no classified information in the emails processed by her private server, Rep. Chaffetz says there's no reason why the State Department can't produce unedited, or "unredacted," copies of whatever Hillary and the State Department agreed could be wiped clean from her computer. One friendly newspaper columnist in Little Rock, who calls her an old acquaintance, urges her to play the dumb blonde. She should just say she's an old lady of 67 who wouldn't know a server if she sat on it.
Hillary overlooked another Washington maxim that every politician should have tattooed on a prominent body part, to remind her (or him) of the real world: It's not the crime, it's the cover-up. They never learn.