What if Hillary Had Never Become Secretary of State?


From time to time most of us wonder what ‘might have been,’ and never more so than in politics. Today, as Hillary Clinton continues to deal with the fallout from her use of a personal email account and server while Secretary of State, she has probably given a thought or two as to how her life would be different if she had not served as America’s 67th Secretary of State.

On one hand, if Hillary had not been appointed Secretary of State by Barrack Obama following his win over her in the 2008 Democratic primaries, she would (probably) never had gotten embroiled in the controversy over her use of private email account. If all else were equal, and she was facing Donald Trump without the baggage of her high unfavorable ratings caused by public distrust over her use of her email account, Hillary would likely be far ahead in the polls and Bill Clinton would be measuring the White House for new drapes.

On the other hand, eight years is a long time to be out of the public limelight and it’s questionable if she could have gotten the same level of national exposure as the junior Senator from New York that she received as Secretary of State. For better or worse, Hillary was in the headlines on a daily basis during her tenure. Had she not served as Secretary, another Democrat might have eclipsed Hillary, who has been the presumptive nominee since 2012.

Clinton was a popular Secretary of State

When I was secretary of state, I had a very high approval rating.
— Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has a long history with the highs and lows of American public opinion. When her husband, Bill Clinton ran for President her favorability rating dropped as low as 38 percent. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillary’s popularly peaked at a 67 percent favorable rating during the Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones scandals. At the end of President Clinton’s term, Gallup showed her approval had dropped to just 44 percent.

Hillary rebounded during her Senate years and when she announced she would run for the Presidency in 2007, she had a positive approval rating of 58 percent. During her tenure as Secretary of State Hillary enjoyed consistent approval ratings in the mid 60 percent level. However, since she left the post in early 2013 her favorability ratings have plummeted to just 28 percent.

Experience in foreign affairs will help her against Trump

A fundamental difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is her experience in foreign affairs. Her tenure at the Department of State has shown that she’s capable of holding her own with leaders around the world. With terrorism on the rise around the world, national security will play an increasingly important role in the campaign.

As a member of the Obama administration Clinton is closely tied to the policies of President Obama. That limits her ability to move too far afield from the President’s policies, but the President is enjoying relatively good approval numbers these days and that is a plus for Hillary.

Email scandal is dragging down her poll numbers

There is little doubt that Hillary’s poll number would be higher if the email scandal had never happened. If she held onto her approval numbers when she was in the U.S. Senate, she’d be leading Donald Trump by 20+ points. Instead the duo of Trump and Clinton have the lowest approval numbers of any presidential candidates in history.

No major party nominee before Clinton or Trump had a double-digit net negative “strong favorability” rating. Clinton’s would be the lowest ever, except for Trump.
— FiveThirtyEight

So, would Hillary have been better off if she had not served as Secretary of State? There’s no sure answer to that question but overall the pluses of her tenure seem to outweigh the negatives. Sure, Hillary would not have the issue of her use of a private email server hanging over her head, but she also would have a much more limited resume to present to the American people and might never have gotten the chance to be the nominee. 

Leave a Comment