In the case of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I think you can take her at her word.
Recently, Clinton told NBC's Ann Curry that she will not seek the presidency again.
It seems like a safe bet.
It's hard for me to imagine a scenario in which Clinton would seek the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination. So many other things would have to happen first:
- Barack Obama is eligible to seek a second term, and all indications are that he will do so.
- Obama is personally popular, even if many of his policies are not. If he is challenged in the primaries, it is hard to imagine that he will be challenged by someone from his own Cabinet — even in the "team of rivals" atmosphere he has promoted.
- Of course, 2012 is still a few years away, and many things could happen between now and then. As unpleasant as the prospect is to contemplate, Obama may not be president when the next presidential election rolls around. He could be assassinated. He could get sick and die of natural causes. He could be impeached. Or, like Richard Nixon, he could resign.
The future is uncertain. But the line of succession is clear. There are three other people in line for the presidency before the secretary of state — Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd. It would be unprecedented in American history to go that far into the order of presidential succession.
Indeed, considering the fact that the 25th Amendment allows a president to nominate someone to fill a vacancy in the vice presidency, it is hard to imagine a scenario — other than one in which the president, vice president, speaker of the House and Senate president pro tem are eliminated simultaneously — that would permit a secretary of state to become president.
But I'm inclined to believe that she will not be the first woman to be president.