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- Charles M. Blow
- David Brooks
- Frank Bruni
- Roger Cohen
- Gail Collins
- Ross Douthat
- Maureen Dowd
- Thomas L. Friedman
- Nicholas Kristof
- Paul Krugman
- Joe Nocera
WASHINGTON â Obscured in all the talk about Hillary Rodham Clinton and the 2016 race is a historical achievement unrelated to gender.
Twenty-two years after he won the White House and six years after his wifeâs near miss for the Democratic nomination, former President Bill Clinton again stands in the thick of the competition for the nationâs highest office.
That makes Mr. Clinton, who addressed his first national convention at age 33 and on Friday became a grandfather at 68, the most durable high-stakes player ever in American presidential politics.
It does not make him the most successful or influential president, and he tops no academic lists of the all-time greats. Unlike Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard M. Nixon, each of whom appeared on five national ballots, Mr. Clinton stood for election nationwide only twice.
His stature on leaving office, in contrast to President Ronald Reaganâs, proved insufficient to secure the election of his vice president to the White House. He never won a majority of the popular vote, as President Obama has done twice. And he is one of only two presidents impeached by the House of Representatives. (Andrew Johnson â who had been Lincolnâs vice president, and never elected to the top job at all â was the other, more than century earlier.)
Credit Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Yet Mr. Clintonâs Cal Ripken-like determination to keep showing up, and a White House record that glows brighter in memory, have sustained his appeal across a turn of centuries, three decades and multiple generations of swing voters. As he played host last week to the current president and perhaps the next one (his wife) at the Clinton Global Initiative, one historian likened him to a rare creature built for longevity at high altitudes.
âHeâs been a snow leopard longer than any other president,â the historian, Douglas Brinkley of Rice University, said. âThereâs been nobody like Bill Clinton whoâs played that long at the very top.â
Barring a constitutional amendment, Roosevelt will remain the only American to win the presidency more than twice. But he died in office 13 years after the first of his four victories in 1932.
Mr. Reagan electrified conservatives on the campaign trail in 1964 on behalf of the Republican nominee, Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona. But Mr. Goldwater lost big, and Mr. Reagan did not win the presidency until 1980. Fourteen years later, he announced he had Alzheimerâs disease.
Mr. Nixon ran as Dwight D. Eisenhowerâs vice president in 1952, and 1956. He lost the White House to John F. Kennedy in 1960 before winning in 1968 and 1972 (and resigning in 1974). That run draws comparisons to Mr. Clintonâs longevity.
Mr. Clinton âwouldnât like to hear this, but in a lot of ways heâs like Nixon in that raw determination to keep moving forward,â said Kenneth L. Khachigian, a former Nixon aide.
The dawning of both Clintonsâ careers makes that comparison all the more striking. In 1974, the year before the Clintons married, Hillary Rodham worked for the House committee pursuing the impeachment of Mr. Nixon, and Mr. Clinton fell short as a Democratic congressional candidate seeking to capitalize on the Watergate scandal.
Mrs. Clinton approaches her decision to run on firmer ground than any nonincumbent in years. As senator from New York and then secretary of state, she has built a substantial independent standing and appeal. But Mr. Clinton has profoundly shaped her ability, as well as that of any modern Democratic nominee, to compete.
He modernized the aging Roosevelt coalition shattered by Mr. Reagan, showing Democrats how to win the White House after a 12-year drought. The economic growth he presided over has produced such nostalgia that Republicans now invoke him to disparage Mr. Obama.
âLike Reaganâs, Clintonâs historical significance, his consequence, has become more apparent with the passage of time,â said Richard Norton Smith, founding director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Presidents can influence contests for the White House in many ways after they have moved out of it. Mr. Smith, whose book âAn Uncommon Manâ chronicled Herbert Hooverâs post-presidency, notes that Democrats used Mr. Hoover for decades as a cudgel against Republicans. Yet during the 31 years he lived after returning to private life, Mr. Hoover headed two presidential commissions on the federal government, and the eponymous institution he founded at Stanford University influenced the resurgence of conservatism.
On the other side, former President Jimmy Carter, who turns 90 on Wednesday, was a consistent Republican target after his 1980 loss to Mr. Reagan. Mr. Carter has now been an ex-president longer than any in history â surpassing Mr. Hooverâs record â and he spent the decades focusing on human rights and the resolution of international conflicts. He won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
Former President George Bush was unpopular enough within the Republican Party when he left office that his own son President George W. Bush kept his political distance. The younger Mr. Bush, himself, has taken up painting.
Mr. Clinton still savors life on the big stage and the nuts and bolts of politics. He has courted Reagan Democrats, soccer moms, baby boom yuppies, tech workers and millennials on his own behalf and for his wife.
His scorecard, despite scandal and strife during his tenure, remains robust. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this month showed Mr. Clinton with a 56 percent favorability rating.
Mr. Brinkley credited it to âa combination of ambition, will, narcissism and talent.â
Paul Begala, a former Clinton aide, cites the lip-biting empathy that Mr. Clinton displays, and that late-night comics once mocked, reasoning that Americans return the apparent concern and affection he has extended to them.
The ex-president benefits, too, from simply having served during the first Silicon Valley boom. âThose of us who arenât Clintonites credit most of it to the fact that a whole new source for our economy was created â and not by him,â Mr. Khachigian said.
Mr. Clinton himself has since grown wealthy. Yet even adversaries do not believe that is why he stays in the game.
âHeâd probably give it all up,â Mr. Khachigian said, âif he could have a permanent microphone and an office in the West Wing.â
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