January 12, 2022 - 8:00pm

In a world of endless sequels and reboots, it was only a matter of time until the American nostalgia-industrial complex turned political, desperate to recapture the engagement-driving magic of The Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes. First came the question of whether Donald Trump still holds enough sway in the Republican party to re-run for president in 2024 — an interesting one, to be sure, and still unresolved. But now, some commentators are raising the spectre of a full-on 2016 rematch.

In the Wall Street Journal, writers Douglas E. Schoen and Andrew Stein have pointed to a “perfect storm” that might allow Hillary Clinton to emerge once again at the forefront of the candidate field. Just as in 2016, they say, it’s not a matter of her being the best; it’s just that she’s the least bad. 

Several circumstances—President Biden’s low approval rating, doubts over his capacity to run for re-election at 82, Vice President Kamala Harris’s unpopularity, and the absence of another strong Democrat to lead the ticket in 2024—have created a leadership vacuum in the party, which Mrs. Clinton viably could fill,” they write. Her advantage? “She is an experienced national figure who is younger than Mr. Biden and can offer a different approach from the disorganized and unpopular one the party is currently taking.
- Douglas E. Schoen and Andrew Stein, WSJ

Needless to say, the Democratic leadership vacuum is real — and between Biden’s advancing age and his perceived failure to get either the Covid-19 pandemic or the more radical elements in his party under control, his 2024 electability is far from a sure thing. But the writers of this op-ed veer into delusion with the idea that Hillary Clinton is the “change candidate” to fill that void and get the party back on track. 

For one thing, Clinton herself has hardly been blameless in fomenting the Left’s current identity crisis. Her campaign issued the opening salvos in our present culture war between the MAGA crowd and a liberal elite who they accuse (not entirely without cause) of viewing them with disgust and contempt; you could draw a straight line from “basket of deplorables” to “let’s go Brandon,” stopping at any number of inflection points along the way. 

But more importantly, if Democrats are looking to breathe new life into the party for 2024, what are they doing digging around in the graveyard of Clinton’s presidential aspirations? When it comes to a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, we’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt (I still wear mine for gardening and home improvement projects, because it is still one of the most comfortable shirts I own, but it is also indelibly stained with paint, which definitely feels like a metaphor for something.) 

The struggle to let go, to move on, is understandable. For those of us who once saw Clinton not only as a great hope for the Democrats but also as a chance to make history by electing our first female president, seeing her lose to Donald Trump was undeniably brutal: it represented not only a loss, but the death of a dream. But there are worse things than a dead dream — like, say, dragging its dessicated corpse into battle because you’re still hoping it might come back to life and you can’t think of a better solution. 

And while nostalgia surely has its place in politics (see: “Make America Great Again”), in this case, the Democratic party needs to stop gazing back with longing at the Clinton presidency that might have been, but wasn’t, and start looking for a way forward.

Kat Rosenfield is an UnHerd columnist and co-host of the Feminine Chaos podcast. Her latest novel is You Must Remember This.