Friday, April 17, 2015

Is Hillary electable?

Hillary Clinton has finally announced her candidacy for president. Her candidacy was begun with a tweet and a two-and-a-half minute You Tube video, of which only about 40 seconds is Hillary giving her announcement and rationale for seeking office.

In contrast to the Republican hopefuls, who kicked off their presidential campaigns to adoring crowds, Hillary’s campaign began with a soundbite on social media followed by a trip in her “Scooby” van to Iowa with no organized campaign stops along the way. Hillary’s presidential announcement was almost secretive in comparison to the Republicans, with no rallies, no crowds of supporters and no questions from the media.

Hillary’s trip to Iowa is more akin to a fugitive sneaking across the state line than a triumphant politician arriving to assume her mandate. When Clinton’s “Scooby” van stopped at an Ohio Chipotle restaurant, the presumptive Democratic nominee was incognito, hiding behind a large pair of sunglasses. She not only did no campaigning, but she was only recognized when the manager examined the store’s surveillance videos after being tipped by a New York Times reporter than Hillary had visited the restaurant. Neither employees nor other customers had recognized the former First Lady.

Dick Morris, a longtime confidante of the Clintons, explains that the subterfuge is part of Hillary’s nature. Unlike her extroverted, fun-loving husband, Hillary is “hidden, paranoid, secret, controlled, and scripted” according to Morris. Where Bill was a natural campaigner, Morris calls Hillary a “born bureaucrat” who sticks “to a script, blundering when she make the slightest departure.”

The current crop of scandals that are already dogging the Clinton campaign can only serve to heighten Hillary’s sense of secrecy and paranoia. She has hidden from the media for the past several months as the scandal of her personal email server and deleted emails developed. Questions about the legality of sending classified documents via unsecure personal email and an unsecure server mean that Hillary has to consider that any questions that she answers might come back to haunt her in a criminal proceeding.

Keeping Hillary away from the media and real voters also minimizes the chance of an embarrassing gaffe. Ms. Clinton is known for a number of misstatements, such as when she asked congressional Benghazi investigators, “What difference, at this point does it make?” or when she claimed that the Clintons were “dead broke” upon leaving the White House in 2001.

One embarrassing error has already occurred. Hillary’s long-awaited announcement also came with a serious typo according to Bloomberg. A press release heralding her announcement claimed that she had “fought children and families all her career,” omitting the word “for.” Although the wording was quickly corrected, it is shocking that such a high profile announcement on a multibillion dollar campaign could have seen the light of day.

Similarly, Hillary’s campaign logo, a blue “H” with a red arrow, quickly became the target of widespread ridicule. Many claimed it resembled a road sign that pointed toward a hospital or the FedEx logo. Julian Assange claimed that it was based on the WikiLeaks logo.

Hillary has long been assumed to be inevitable by many on both the left and right. Now with her lack of campaign skills, scandals, and a slipshod campaign becoming evident, the question is whether she is electable at all.

Hillary’s biggest advantage over any Republican is that she is well known. Many Republican candidates are new to the national stage and not familiar outside the GOP. According to Gallup, 90 percent of Americans are already familiar with Hillary. No Republican even comes close.

The downside for Hillary is that, while she is well known, she is also a polarizing figure. Even the Huffington Post puts her approval rating almost equal with her disapproval at 47 – 46 percent. Further, polls that use likely voters rather than adults give her a much high negative rating. Republican candidates are not as well known, but have much lower negatives.

While Hillary’s name recognition gave her an early lead in polling, there are signs that her lead may already be fading. Karl Rove pointed out in the Wall St. Journal that recent polling in 15 battleground states showed Ms. Clinton trailing a generic Republican. Recent polling available on Real Clear Politics also shows several races around the country where Republicans Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry hold slight leads over Ms. Clinton.

Nevertheless, Hillary’s failings may be more than offset by several factors. First, whoever the eventual Democratic nominee is will win at least 40-45 percent of the popular vote. The worst Democratic wipeout in recent history, Richard Nixon’s 1972 trouncing of George McGovern, still saw McGovern win 37 percent of the vote even as he lost 49 states. Ms. Clinton would undoubtedly do much better than McGovern. With normally reliable Democratic states such as those carried by John Kerry in 2004, any Democratic candidate can be expected to win at least 200 of the 270 electoral votes needed just by appearing on the ballot as a Democrat.

Second, Ms. Clinton now heads the Clinton money machine. Hillary is backed by many on Wall Street including friends at Goldman Sachs. The Clintons also have a well-established network of foreign contributors. Republican candidates will be struggling to establish support networks for the first time, which will put them at a disadvantage. Additionally, it seems unlikely that Hillary will face a serious primary threat, which will enable her to get a head start on general election campaigning and fundraising.

Finally, Hillary will benefit by default if the Republicans nominate someone who seems more extreme and unlikable than she is. Hillary’s negatives will only take Republicans so far. The Republican nominee must be able to close the deal with moderate and independent voters. This will require the ability to present a positive vision to voters and not simply focus on negatives like Ms. Clinton’s poor record or promising to repeal Obamacare. The Republican candidate must convince voters that he cares about them more than Ms. Clinton does.

Despite her problems, Ms. Clinton’s money and network alone make her a formidable candidate, but not an inevitable one. Conservatives would do well to remember that she has only run in three elections, twice for the Senate and once for president. Of these, only one, the 2008 Democratic primary, was a tough race. Hillary lost.


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