In 1964, Barry Goldwater received almost no support from the establishment and lost all but six states. But after his blowout victory, President Lyndon Johnson quickly ran into two coalition-shattering features of the 1960s: the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. It did not help Johnson that it seemed like he never earned the presidency, having initially assumed office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and then beating an unusually non-competitive Republican nominee. In 1968, Johnson announced he would not run for re-election, and the new wings of the Democratic Party engaged in a bitter primary feud.
Clinton doesn’t compare easily with Reagan or Johnson, but the election feels more like 1964. She may blow out Trump in a general election. But that will hardly disguise her fundamental unpopularity at large. “No major party nominee before Clinton or Trump had a double-digit net negative ‘strong favorability’ rating. Clinton’s would be the lowest ever, except for Trump,” wrote Harry Enten at FiveThiryEight, in May.
When George W. Bush won a relative “squeaker” election in 2004, he claimed to have a definitive mandate. But Clinton could win by a much larger percentage this year, and she will be saddled with an electoral coalition that is much larger than the group of people who could honestly be described as her fans. This coalition will be filled with people who merely opposed Trump due to his unstable character, and it would be far too large and too incoherent to be satisfied. It will have contradictory goals and needs. And both ends of her coalition will argue that the size of her victory gives her the freedom to ignore the other side’s priorities.