The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Hillary Clinton is the most miscast figure on the 2016 political stage

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens during a campaign event Dec. 29 in Portsmouth, N.H. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)

With all the noise and bluster coming from the Republican campaign, suggesting dysfunction among the Republican candidates, the fact is, Hillary Clinton is the most miscast character in the 2016 race. This is shaping up to be a change election, and nothing about a Clinton candidacy offers change. Period.

While Republicans are engaged in a noisy, boisterous process that is at the very least compelling to watch, the Democrats appear to be letting Clinton sleepwalk them into the doldrums of a campaign that will not be able to channel the emotions of the electorate. Her campaign will only feed the malaise that many voters feel and won’t do anything to create the enthusiastic wave to turn out Democrats in the numbers she will need to repeat President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories.

Poll after poll indicates voter dissatisfaction, with a vast majority of voters believing our country is headed in the wrong direction, and a sense that anger at the governing establishment is the prevailing emotion. It looks like the forces of change are gathering — and among today’s presidential candidates, on either side, Clinton is the biggest mismatch for today’s zeitgeist. That is particularly true among Republican and independent voters, but even some Democrats are questioning Clinton’s suitability. Just look at the phenomenal success of oddball Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is drawing enthusiastic support from the left wing of the Democratic Party, as well as the stunning news that Ron Burkle, a billionaire Democrat and Hillary ’08 supporter, has abandoned Clinton for John Kasich’s presidential campaign. Clearly, Clinton is missing the moment — yet, somehow, she is also the only candidate practically guaranteed a spot in the finals this November.

When you think about the state of the economy, the dysfunction of our foreign policy and the growing partisanship in our country, it’s not hard to see why Clinton appears so out of step. On our anemic economy, Clinton would be an Obama 2.0; she doesn’t even pretend to be something different or new. She is promising more of the usual Democratic freebies to more people. Nothing about her policies would stimulate robust growth; she barely even uses the word “growth.” Obama’s weakening of America’s place in the world has caused anxiety about our national security, and Clinton can’t disassociate herself from our foreign policy debacles. And in the specific instance of Libya, where Clinton was in charge, look what that got us. No one on the left or right thinks U.S. involvement in Libya is a formula for success in the future. Not to mention, at home, like Obama, Clinton is a divisive figure. She regularly calls Republicans her enemies, even comparing Republicans to “terrorist groups”; she buys into conspiracy theories that allow her to blame others for her mistakes; and she surrounds herself with partisan sycophants.

There is no case to be made that Clinton is a refreshing change, that she has the answers and the leadership abilities to not only bring the country together but also to reverse the chaos abroad that threatens the United States today. If Washington doesn’t work now, Clinton is not going to bring a new leadership style, energy or fresh appeal to the White House to change anything. At least when Bill Clinton ran for president, he was credible as a “New Democrat.” Clinton can’t try to make the claim that she is a “new” anything.

Clinton can’t successfully play the woman card because she is so clumsy in doing so. Instead of allowing voters to determine for themselves that she is a woman, oddly, she seems to constantly need to remind everyone of that fact. She wants voters to believe that she has some unique or enhanced capacity to lead on “women’s issues,” but both Donald Trump’s latest attacks and the Bill Cosby scandal have reawakened the public’s interest in several old sex scandals and in the process, this has compromised Clinton’s credibility. Both show us that the statute of limitations on sexual harassment — both legally and in the public relations realm — is a long one. We are reminded that when Clinton had an opportunity to stand up against workplace sexual harassment, she herself became an attack dog against the victim and an enabler for the perpetrator. At the end of the day, the issue won’t drive many votes, but it is a stark reminder of Clinton’s cynicism and hypocrisy.

The bottom line is that if voters are looking for change, there is no affirmative case to be made for electing Hillary Clinton as president. So what is she to do? Simple. She will need to attack the Republican nominee. 2016 may be the most vicious campaign ever, as Clinton has to make the Republican candidate unacceptable. Arguably, Republicans could do their part by nominating a candidate who will be hard to swallow. But the Clinton forces don’t have a choice. And actually, given her limited presentation skills, it is a campaign strategy that will suit her.

The Empire will go negative and do so early. So while Americans are looking for peace, prosperity, a booming economy, a robust and assertive national security, a return to competent governing and to be given confidence about the future, all they will get from Clinton and the Democrats are scare tactics, crocodile tears and outright lies about Republicans. Welcome to the 2016 campaign.