Hillary: A problematic messenger

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 65 views 

Despite all the advantages Hillary Clinton has going for her in the upcoming 2016 presidential elections cycle, she does have some vulnerabilities and challenges that could at best diminish the importance of her potential victory or at worst cause her defeat.

Of those vulnerabilities and challenges, five are of paramount importance:

When deciding to run for any elective office, political candidates must answer a simple question: “Why are you running?” To this question, Clinton was unambiguous: “I am running for president. Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” she said when announcing her candidacy. “Every day Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion so you can do more than just get by: you can get ahead and stay ahead…”

The rationale of Clinton’s presidential campaign is thus to be the champion of the middle class – the largest block of voters. This is certainly a winning message that if well-delivered by the right messenger, could resonate with the majority of the voters and ultimately help carry Clinton to victory. But, is Clinton the right messenger to deliver a pro-middle class message? That remains to be seen. Though she is a product of a middle class upbringing and has devoted decades of her life to advocating pro-middle class policies, Clinton has been living the high life for more than 20 years and could thus find it challenging to relate to the lives of middle class voters. This could explain why Clinton recently felt the need to craft a photo-op of her ordering a meal at a Chipotle restaurant in Ohio.

It might have been easier for Clinton during her Arkansas days to genuinely relate to middle class voters, for she was indeed part of the middle class. However, per the New York Times, Clinton and her husband made at least $30 million mainly by giving speeches to corporations, banks, and other organizations. This puts the Clintons in the top 0.01% bracket of wealthiest Americans. Now that Clinton has been part of the upper class for at least the past two decades, she may be at risk of having a Mitt Romney problem – the problem of a patrician candidate who struggles to connect with everyday voters.

Being out the political fray for the past 6 years – as Secretary of State, she was barred by law from engaging in political activities – and being off the campaign trail for just as long, it could be challenging for Clinton to be readily crisp and effective on the campaign trail. And given the fact that she is not known for being that great at retail politics Bill, Hillary would likely need a significant warm-up period to sand off the political/electoral rustiness that comes about by virtue of being off the electoral fray for many years. This could partly explain why Clinton has so far been carefully choreographing her interactions with the voters and has been very parsimonious in answering questions from the media.

As of now, Clinton only has one declared challenger in the Democratic primaries: Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Independent from Vermont. Other candidates rumored to potentially challenge Clinton in the primaries are Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Senator Jim Webb, D-Va., and former Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Martin O’Malley. None of these individuals constitute a major threat to Clinton and none of them could mount a competitive challenge against Clinton.

Per realclearpolitics.com, Clinton polls at an average of 64.2% as the democratic voters’ preference to be the democratic nominee. This is an average of 51.7% lead over her strongest potential contender Sen. Warren who polls at 12.5%.

The lack of a vigorous challenge to Clinton could cause at least three potential problems to her candidacy:
• Clinton would lack an opportunity, before the general election, to sand off her political rustiness and sharpen her political skills via a challenging contest with other strong democratic candidates. Though cruising through the Democratic nomination could be seen as somewhat of a boon for Clinton, it deprives her of an opportunity to discover her vulnerabilities and fine-tune them before the general election. This missed opportunity could indeed become problematic during the general election.

• A competitive nomination contest would allow for a vigorous policy debate within the Democratic Party that could excite the Democratic Party’s base and potentially get said base to enthusiastically rally around the eventual nominee. Now that Clinton seems to be the prohibitive favorite to be the Democratic nominee, she would miss an opportunity to engage in a policy debate within the Democratic Party about why she is the right individual to be the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party in the 2016 presidential elections. By not having that opportunity, Clinton runs the risk of having the Democratic base rallying around her mostly by default as opposed to rallying around her by enthusiastic adhesion. If the Republicans nominate an appealing, effective, and electable candidate, this might become problematic for Clinton as some of her lukewarm democratic supporters might just decide to stay home on Election Day.

• Given the fact that the Republican Party is slated to have one of the most competitive primaries in recent memory, the eventual Republican nominee would be someone who would have earned the nomination the hard way by vanquishing tough primary opponents. In contrast, by having the token opposition that she seems to have, Clinton runs the risk of being perceived by some voters as a coronated nominee as opposed to one who’d have earned the nomination.

By being in the public limelight for many decades, Clinton has amassed her share of political victories, political defeats, friends, and foes. Though at first glance Clinton’s experience in public service could be seen as an asset, she has established a record that could easily be picked apart and demagogued by her opponents. Besides, because most voters already have a set opinion of Clinton, her Republican opponents could easily parse her every move/word so as to rev up their political base. This has the potential of putting Clinton on the defensive and getting her off her message.

Moreover, Clinton’s accomplishments or lack thereof (as her Republican opponents would likely frame it) might become an issue in the campaign. Clinton’s opponents would likely make a case that she has not achieved anything substantial and cannot be trusted. Speaking of trust, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal found that only 25% of voters view Clinton as “honest and straightforward.” This constitutes a 13% drop since June of 2014.

Since 1944, it has been very difficult for a political party to win the White House three times consecutively. Only once since then has a political party won the White House three times consecutively: In 1988, George H.W. Bush won the presidency after the two terms of his fellow republican Ronald Reagan. Given that historical trend, and given the fact that president Barack Obama has been in office for two consecutive terms, it would be quite challenging for Clinton to buck the historical trend and win the presidency after the two terms of her fellow democrat Obama.

To compound matters, Clinton was part of Obama’s cabinet during this latter’s first term and could thus not easily distance herself from the Obama administration. Clinton is indeed in a very tricky situation: If she distances herself from Obama, she risks drawing the wrath of Obama’s team and the alienation of Obama’s supporters within the Democratic Party. If she fully embraces Obama, she risks exacerbating the notion that she would be in essence serving Obama’s third term – which may not sit well with many voters. If she straddles the fence she risks reinforcing her perceived image in some segments of the electorate as someone who is unauthentic and opportunistic.

Each of the above vulnerabilities and challenges provide an opportunity for Clinton to buck conventional wisdom/historical trends and make history as opposed to living history. But to do that, she must take to heart some of the pieces of advice her politically-savvy husband Bill has publicly doled out over the years:
• “You are the most vulnerable in politics when you think you are the least vulnerable.”
• “All elections are about the future.”
• “Never look past the next election; it might be your last.”

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