Hillary Clinton’s advisers and surrogates aren’t doing her any favors these days. On TV and radio, in print and online, they are advancing a number of arguments that, frankly, make things worse for the prospective candidate.
- Clinton’s opponents are just trying to intimidate here from running or mar her if she does. Well, yes, this is politics, so it is a given that opponents criticize you. The attitude that this is beyond the pale highlights how Clinton and her team are convinced that she is the inevitable nominee and above reproach. As for stopping her from running, nothing could be further from the truth. Republicans, rightly or wrongly, are eagerly anticipating her run.
- All this [fill in the blank] has been discussed before. That appears the all-purpose line whatever the topic is. Again, it suggests that nothing can be revisited and questions about her record are illegitimate.
- She didn’t have major achievements at the State Department because she was “tending to the vineyard” (i.e. doing lots of small stuff and traveling to 112 countries) and repairing the U.S. image abroad. (Honest, a Clinton friend tried the vineyard argument on a radio interview program with me.) There are two problems here. First, doing small stuff doesn’t make you presidential and shows Clinton to be a lesser light than other secretaries of state. Second, our stature in the world has gone downhill under this president.
- She connects with little people, so it doesn’t matter that she is making six-figure speaking fees. Well, Democrats often take this stance, arguing that liberal political beliefs are an excuse for elitism. It didn’t work out so well for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race. Clinton’s supporters underestimate the degree to which her hobnobbing with the rich and famous and making millions put her in the same camp as other Washington insiders – not a place most politicians want to be these days.
- She is the victim of sexism. Really? The millionaire, ex-senator, ex-secretary of state has been held back because of her gender? Like the “war on women,” this line assumes that voters are stuck in the 1970s, still obsessing about identity politics and inequality.
More generally, Hillary Clinton is all about Hillary Clinton. That’s fine for speaking fees and book advances. Celebrity status is easily marketed. But elections are about voters, and it is entirely unclear what Clinton wants to do about/for them and what ideas, if any, she has that would be liberal — though not too liberal and faithful to her ex-boss, but a break from the disastrous Obama administration.
The surrogates and advisers aren’t dumb people, so why do they pursue these rather obviously unhelpful arguments and why are they flogging her celebrity rather than developing a rationale for her presidency? First, smart people get a lot less smart living inside a bubble, particularly a bubble in which the inhabitants feel constantly besieged and unfairly treated. Second, you have to conclude that this is what Hillary and Bill Clinton want them to say. After all they’d be choosing different messengers or sending out different talking points if they thought their surrogates’ arguments weren’t working.
And so we get back to one of the central flaws in Clinton’s potential candidacy: She isn’t a very good political strategist. How else could she have run an experienced-based campaign in a “change” election? How in 2008 could she have ignored caucuses, put together an ungainly and divisive campaign operation and thought the “inevitable” theme would work? Remarkably, it doesn’t seem that she learned a lot from her loss.