On the night that Donald Trump effectively won the Republican nomination for President, Hillary Clinton observed radio silence. She had lost Indiana to Bernie Sanders, a small embarrassment in a year of galling humiliations. Indiana was a stubborn reminder of her weaknesses after a series of powerful victories in the Northeast–the sort of victories that Bill Clinton never won in 1992 until the general election. By contrast, his New York primary victory in ’92 over Jerry Brown was Pyrrhic, even though it pretty much clinched the nomination for him; he was battered by the tabloids, he seemed exhausted, his unfavorables were stratospheric.
He had larger problems than an email server: he had recently been found out as a Vietnam draft dodger and a womanizer. People called him Slick Willie. Within weeks, he would be in a deeper, darker hole than Hillary has experienced this year–he would be running third, behind George H.W. Bush and the independent Ross Perot. By June, only 13% of the public thought him trustworthy. He was toast.
This is old news, but it’s living history for the Clintons. It is what keeps Hillary buoyant, even as the most glamorous Democratic constituencies–celebrities, idealistic college kids–have flocked to Bernie Sanders. More than any other politicians I’ve covered, the Clintons have a perfect sense of chronology. They know that politics moves more slowly than the daily media frenzy, that new story lines–comebacks, especially–are catnip to cable networks. They know that polls can change, that Trump will have his day, that the general election will be Armageddon. But they are confident she’ll win.