Technically, Hillary Clinton isn't sure if she's running for president. Practically, a massive ecosystem of Democratic consultants and campaign hands have already swung into campaign mode for her, as a new report from Politico makes clear. Clinton's immediately recognizable name and super PAC infrastructure allows the money to keep flowing in.
Once upon a time, people who worked on presidential campaigns spent the years afterward working in the private sector or in administrations or for non-profits or on gubernatorial or Senate races. Now, with Hillary Clinton's "shadow campaign" (in Politico's Maggie Haberman's articulation), there's no need. "[T]he Obama political infrastructure is seamlessly transitioning to serve as [Clinton’s] political infrastructure,” strategist Chris Lehane told Haberman. “And [it] sends a signal to both Obama donors and operatives that it is all right to begin actively supporting the Clinton ’16 effort.”
Haberman is exhaustive in presenting the outlets already at work on Clinton 2016. There's the consulting firm Dewey Square Group, which gave Clinton and her aides an overview of how the primary campaign could work and how and when they would need to run television ads. There's Priorities USA, a super PAC linked to Hollywood's Jeffrey Katzenberg, which has been on the brink of luring Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina away from Obama's own PAC, Organizing For Action. There are myriad smaller groups and consultancies that are looking to clamber aboard the already rolling gravy train.
And, of course, there's the hyperactive Ready for Hillary organization, which began its outreach to possible supporters practically before Capitol staffers had removed the bunting from Obama's second inaugural. It sent out Christmas cards on Clinton's behalf, as the Daily Caller reported, and over the weekend leased the email list of the 2008 Clinton campaign for a solicitation from former General Wes Clark — a development that left Matt Drudge salivating.
As The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza put it, Clinton's not having yet announced her own campaign left "every Dem consultant hustling for a buck." That's meant at least one conflict as those hustlers compete for space. In early 2013, Haberman reports, Clinton aide Huma Abedin (wife of Anthony Weiner) was asked to resolve a dispute between Ready For Hillary and Priorities USA. The former was soliciting money from donors the latter considered its domain. Clinton's team resolved the dispute by creating a very campaign-like divide: Ready For Hillary would become the field staff, in essence, doing voter contact and data. Priorities USA would continue vacuuming up money from big donors.
That split makes obvious why Clinton hasn't had to announce any actual plans to run. Her decision to postpone any official announcement until later this year — Haberman figures it will come after midterms in November — makes perfect sense. Why go through the legal headache of formulating an official campaign infrastructure when there exist staffers and organizations that can raise money and reach out to voters and serve as an echo chamber without doing so? It gives the Clinton team semi-plausible deniability, distance from seeming as though it's stepping on Obama's second term.
If you're not a fan of the prospect of a never-ending presidential campaign engine, there are components to this one that make it unique. It's almost certain that a candidate with a lower profile than Clinton (that is, nearly every other presidential campaign in history) would not engender the same sort of energy as the prospect of a Clinton campaign has. It also depends upon Obama's two successful campaigns; had he lost reelection, it's safe to assume that his campaign staff wouldn't be in nearly the same sort of demand.
This may be a function of the moment. But now that super PACs have a taste for it, for the fact that demand exists for lucrative presidential efforts even three years before any actual race, it's quite possible that the era of presidential campaign staffers finding temporary side gigs may have come to an end.