Now that Hillary Clinton has all but wrapped up the nomination, the triumph of the traditional liberal establishment may have begun to ring hollow … to the traditional liberal establishment. Suddenly faced with the prospect of taking on another populist in the fall who doesn’t play as nicely as Bernie Sanders, some wonder whether the deeply flawed and hard-to-like candidate they’ve backed can withstand the onslaught. Howard Kurtz reports today on what looks like the beginnings of buyer’s remorse on the Left:
Until the last couple of weeks, the conventional wisdom was that a Trump nomination would all but assure a second Clinton presidency. After all, she’s the former senator and secretary of State with an awesome political machine, and he’s the untested billionaire with a penchant for divisive rhetoric. Plus, Democrats have an Electoral College edge and have won the popular vote in five of the last six campaigns.
But some commentators see troubling signs in Clinton’s performance so far and wonder how she would withstand a Trump onslaught. The Donald has high negatives, to be sure, but Hillary does as well. …
Other left-wing pundits, driven in part by ideology, fear the worst. This Salon headline boils it down:
“Hillary Will Never Survive the Trump Onslaught: It’s Not Fair, But It Makes Her a Weak Nominee.”
Clinton’s largest problem, in my view, is her low polling marks on honesty, a result of the email scandal and perhaps decades of scars of accumulated accusations, some of them fair and some exaggerated.
Kurtz cites Joe Klein’s analysis in particular, which was remarkable for his status as a journalist with long-time access to the Clintons. He described her yesterday as the Left’s “very own quinoa and kale salad, nutritious but bland.” But it’s her unlikable nature and her lack of honesty and trustworthiness that combines with the fact that the Clintons have been the Democratic Party’s establishment for almost a quarter-century that makes her particularly vulnerable, even against Donald Trump:
Worse, she’s the human embodiment of the Establishment that Trump has been running against. “I am not a natural politician,” she has admitted, and Tapper asked her what she means by that. She said she couldn’t speak “in poetry” the way her husband and Barack Obama can. True dat, but poetry is only the beginning of Clinton’s deficiencies. Indeed, her real problem is that she’s too much of a politician. She still speaks like politicians did 20 years ago, when her husband was President. This year, the candidates who have seemed the most appealing–Trump, Sanders, John Kasich–don’t use the oratorical switchbacks that have been beaten to death since John F. Kennedy: “We need a uniter, not a divider.” They also, sadly, don’t take carefully nuanced positions. Asked about fracking in her Flint, Mich., debate with Sanders, Clinton split hairs with a microlaser, leaving everyone confused. Sanders simply said, “I do not support fracking.”
Clinton no doubt assumes that Trump will come after her personally–and that her thick skin will protect her. But here’s an easy one: What if Trump raises her husband’s “deplorable”–Sanders’ description–exploitation of Monica Lewinsky directly in a debate? Will she have the jujitsu cool to respond, “Deplorable? Hell yeah. That’s why he slept on the couch for six months”? …
In the end, I’m not at all certain that Clinton can beat Trump. He is free-form and anarchic and silly and devastating. She is rote. The answer to Dr. Majmudar’s question may involve a simplicity that eludes her. To beat Trump, she is going to have to be patient, dignified, self-deprecating, utterly factual and brutally honest (about herself). Poetry isn’t going to work this year.
In other words, she will have to become someone totally different than the Hillary Clinton voters have known since 1992. Good luck selling that, or even expecting Hillary to be a talented enough politician to deliver it. That’s why a Trump-Clinton race will likely generate a lower but more populist turnout, and could put Democrats at risk of losing it.