Can Anyone Stop Hillary?

Why Clinton's 2016 candidacy-without-a-campaign dominates the political galaxy

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Photo-illustration by Justin Metz for TIME. Pants: Don Farrall–Getty Images, Man: BLOOM image–Getty Images, Shoe: yasinguneysu–Getty Images

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There has never been a would-be presidential candidate with more firsthand knowledge of the grind than Clinton. She knows the toll that campaigns take on candidates and their families; she knows what both victory and defeat feel like; she has had a front-row seat on the burdens and frustrations of the presidency as well as its pomp and power. Putting everything onto the scales, "she would not run just for the sake of running or to be the first woman to win the nomination. She has to believe she can win," a source close to Clinton explained. Some of her supporters might accept second best, "but she is the person who has to run, and she looks at it differently. There has to be a path to victory."

And so, this person added, it remains possible that Clinton could leave the cards of history face down and walk away from the table. Clinton is not like most politicians, said the source, who can't imagine why anyone would say no to a shot at the White House. "It's so cool--you get the plane, get the helicopter. She understands better than almost anyone alive that this is a very personal decision about not only her own life but also her family's life." No shred of privacy, if the Clintons have any remaining, would go undisturbed by an ever more inflamed political media, and even in victory her presidency might be stymied by a continuation of partisan gridlock.

At the same time, "she has seen what President Clinton has done in the 13 years since he left office--all the contributions to the public good that have not required him to hold high office. She understands that if you care about making something better, there's more than one job in America where you can do that."

The Strategy

But suppose that she does what Clintons always do and runs anyway? She would enter the race with a suitable bang of delirious rallies and million-dollar checks sometime after the off-year balloting in November. Her advisers say she could be expected to run a campaign that is more tech-savvy behind the scenes than her 2008 effort and more openly targeted toward women. The last time around the track, Clinton soft-pedaled the idea that she was waging a history-making crusade, leaving Obama to seize the symbolic high ground. Her concession speech in 2008, in which she credited her supporters with putting "18 million cracks" in the glass ceiling, made it clear she would not make the same mistake twice.

Moreover, her record as Secretary of State marks her as a particularly macho brand of Democrat. Though former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has caused a stir by revealing in his memoir that Clinton once acknowledged that her opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq was political, a deeper read of Gates' book--along with Clinton's public record and interviews with current and former Administration officials--reveals a robust proponent of military intervention.

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