I have a longer piece coming out next week on the political winners and losers of 2015, but here’s a quick preview.
In a year that saw the rise of Donald Trump and the surprising emergence of Bernie Sanders, the real winner for 2015 is actually a more conventional name: Hillary Clinton.
This might seem like a surprising choice. What about her e-mails and her private server? What about Benghazi? What about the lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy or her struggling poll numbers?
Those were problems, but the e-mail scandal has largely faded from view. As for Benghazi, Clinton’s appearance before a congressional committee largely put that issue to bed — and gave her a chance to shine before a national audience. While Sanders’ challenge remains an issue, Clinton has shown in the three Democratic debates that she is on top of her game and is by far the best politician running this cycle. Five weeks until Iowa, Clinton has a double-digit national lead over Sanders and is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee next year.
If anything, Sanders’ challenge has probably been more helpful than harmful, by forcing Clinton to sharpen her message before the harsh glare of a national campaign.
But the other major reason why 2015 has been such a good year for Clinton . . . is Donald Trump. The fact is, you can’t beat something with nothing, and right now Republicans are looking increasingly likely to nominate a presidential candidate who has little chance of beating Clinton. Considering the Democrats’ presidential advantage and the increasing radicalism of the GOP, this election was always going to be a tough haul for Republicans. But if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is the nominee, it gets that much easier for Clinton. If Trump wins the GOP nod, Republicans can pretty much write off minority voters. The party will also struggle mightily with women and face abandonment from blue- and purple-state Republicans. Cruz, though not as toxic as Trump, has virtually no appeal outside of his conservative base. He’s not going to be able to attract wavering Democrats, and will face many of the same problems as Trump with minority and women voters.
Whatever doubts Democrats might have about Clinton will surely disappear in the face of a Trump or Cruz nomination. Put that all together and Clinton couldn’t be in a stronger position to win next November.
Sometimes in politics it’s more important to be lucky than good. For Clinton, she’s got both working for her.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.