Thursday, August 13, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is Hillary History?

I don’t claim to be the first to have asserted that Hillary
Clinton might not be the Democratic presidential
nominee in 2016, but I was among the earliest to do so.
I have no personal animus to her; in fact, in 2008 I preferred
her to Barack Obama, and I still believe the nation would
be in better shape today if she had won her party’s
nomination and then (as was inevitable that year) the
presidency. She has a unique resume for the presidency,
beginning with her experience as a staff attorney for the
Nixon impeachment committee, her years as first lady of
Arkansas, two terms as first lady of the U.S. (both as the
spouse of Bill Clinton), her term as U.S. senator from New
York, and most recently, as U.S. secretary of state in the
Obama administration.

My assessment of her prospects in 2016 is based on her
poor performance as secretary of state and on her ability
as a political campaigner. My judgment of the former is
admittedly subjective and political --- I feel her behavior in
regard to various international crises and events, particularly
in South America (Honduras and Argentina), Asia and the
Middle East was lackluster and sometimes wrong-headed.
Of course, she was conducting the foreign policy of another,
President Obama, but she might have helped him steer
different courses. A secretary of state is arguably the most
powerful cabinet position.

My judgment about the latter, her ability to campaign, I think
is more or less indisputable. I know there are inevitable
comparisons made with her husband, one of the most gifted
natural campaigners we have seen in decades, and I agree it
is unfair to make a judgment based on those comparisons
alone, but the fact remains she has little gift in relating to and
communicating with voters “on the stump” She is hostile to,
and avoids, the media --- even though there is a clear bias of
most in the conventional media to her party and her views on
most issues.

Whether it is inherent to her personality, or the result of so
many years being in the political limelight, she not only is hostile
to the media, but is instinctively secretive about her public
conduct and life.

She has one overriding political asset in the 2016 campaign, i.e.,
she would be the first woman president if elected. It is older
liberal women who form her primary truly passionate base of
support, but this base is considerable in her party and made her,
combined with her resume, the overwhelming frontrunner
for her party’s nomination early in the 2016 campaign.

It has been downhill for her campaign from the beginning. She
has been mired in issues from her political past, most recently
and notably her use of e-mails during her term as secretary of
state. In spite of the fact that she has no truly serious announced
opponent for her party’s nomination, her polls have been in such
steady decline that she now trails likely Republican opponents
in polls in key battleground states. She has just fallen behind
Senator Bernie Sanders, one of her party rivals, in at least one
state. Senator Sanders is an avowed socialist, is not even truly a
Democrat, and is given virtually no chance to be nominated.

She is a mediocre public speaker at best, and the controversy of
her marriage continues as an issue, abetted by her husband.

Mrs. Clinton is also very smart, and like her husband, a skillful
issue opportunist. Her most recent issue plan is calling for a
10-year $350 billion college affordability program to be paid for
by removing certain tax deductions for high-income taxpayers.
Her Democratic rivals had already proposed college affordability
plans. While her plan is criticized by Republicans, it will have
appeal among many voters who seek or approve additional
government entitlement programs. From the point of view of
her campaign strategy, Mrs. Clinton can be expected to continue
to put forward popular and appealing liberal programs.

The issues thrust of her campaign, however, is not her problem
After two terms of a controversial Democratic president, there is
considerable “Obama fatigue” among voters (just as there was
considerable “Bush fatigue” in 2008 after two terms of a
controversial Republican president). If Vice President Joe Biden
enters the presidential race (as now seems more and more likely),
she will have a rival who not only can match her resume, but will
almost certainly have more personal support from President
Obama (public or private). Mr. Biden also enjoys a general
positive sympathy among voters, and this has been heightened
by the recent tragic death of his son. Should Mr. Biden enter
the race, it could easily precipitate the entry of other serious
Democratic candidates.

Just as the relentless campaign against Mitt Romney in 2011 on
such issues as driving with his dog on his car roof and his
personal wealth created (fairly or unfairly) an accumulated
negative image of the eventual Republican nominee in 2012,
the constant controversies surrounding Mrs. Clinton, the Clinton
Foundation, her e-mails, her role in Benghazi, and accusations
about her staff, have produced (fairly or unfairly) a very high
unfavorability rating for her in public polls.

Her partisans, staff and defenders are always quick to pooh-pooh
her problems, and always assert the public is not paying attention
to them. Perhaps this is so, but recent political history suggests
her political problems are not temporary and will not go away.

That is because the main problem is Hillary Clinton herself.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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