Former Bush 43 speech writer Matt Latimer has penned an editorial for Politico this week which offers what at first looks like a seriously dismal forecast for the battle to defeat Hillary. He notes that all of the GOP primary candidates are out there hamming on the various Clinton scandals pretty much nonstop, and offers a piece of advice on that front. Give it up. It’s not going to work.
A little newsflash about our past (and probably future) First Family, who pundits, long predicting the Clintons’ coronation, are now suddenly beginning to count out: Scandal surfing is what they always do. They skip the top of the waves, sometimes even giving the impression they might succumb to them. But they never do.
The Clintons have been sent off to their certain doom more times than Tyrion Lannister. During their last sojourn on Pennsylvania Avenue, operators all but installed a new message on the White House switchboard, “If you’re calling with a subpoena for the Clintons, please press 7 now.”
Yet whatever the storm—from blue dresses to funny money from China to an actual impeachment trial—Bill and Hillary are this generation’s Six-Million Dollar Man (and Woman). They always rebuild faster, stronger, and a hell of a lot richer than ever.
Depressing? Sure. Enough to make you angry? Probably. But I’m guessing that it’s difficult for any of us to deny that after reading those three paragraphs we were sort of nodding our heads in a sad fashion and hearing a little voice in our lizard hind-brains saying, yeah. That sounds about right.
Matt also dismisses Hillary’s rapidly sinking poll numbers. Is it possible, he asks, for anyone to win an election when more than half of the country thinks you’re dishonest? Duh. Of course it is. It’s what the Clintons always do. And it keeps on working for them, so why would they stop? Latimer points to the other half of the polling which shows that, while significant majorities seem to agree that the Clintons are greasier than an oil slick on toxic pond, she’s still leading every single Republican in the early states in nearly every poll. Bill and Hillary know this and probably get a good chuckle out of it.
“Hey, look at this. They really hate us. But we’re still better than electing a Republican! HA HA HA HA HA HA!”
So is Matt suggesting that we all just give up, tuck our collective tail between our legs and get ready to move to Canada after President Hillary starts changing the drapes in the Oval Office? Not quite. He’s got a few suggestions which may or may not hold some promise. The first one, however, is so counterintuitive that it will have every Republican strategist in the country yacking up their breakfast.
Suggestion #1. Pull a Costanza. In one of Seinfeld’s iconic episodes, George Costanza resolves to do the opposite of every impulse or instinct he’s ever had. As Jerry sagely advises him, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
For decades, the GOP has virtually knocked over people to run to a microphone with attacks on Bill or Hillary, only to see it blow up in their face. Imagine what independents or persuadable Democrats might think of a GOP nominee who says something completely unexpected about the latest Clinton scandal—something that runs totally opposite of their every instinct. Something like, “You know, it’s easy to pile on the Clintons, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that the media does its job. My focus is on my campaign and my message to the voters, which is blah blah blah.” (Note to candidates: You’ll have to fill in the blah, blah, blah yourselves.)
I don’t know. I suppose that makes some sort of sense from the 10,000 foot level, but how do you leave all that red meat on the table untouched? Matt’s second idea has to do with studying Hillary’s tactics (down to wearing soothing colors) and imitating them. Personally, I’d rather start picking out real estate in Montreal. But his final suggestion may get the wheels turning.
Suggestion #3. Out-Clinton the Clintons. Notice what the Clintons do when serious allegations surface. They go out and give speeches. About campaign finance reform. Or juvenile justice reform. The key word, of course, is “reform.” As in change. As in the future.
They don’t worry about Washington-manufactured crises— such as counting how many times Hillary Clinton has answered questions from the press. (The latest pseudo-Clinton scandal.) They only care about that if it has an impact on people outside the Beltway. And then they adjust and adapt.
Bill and Hillary Clinton learned long ago what should be obvious to anyone spending a day in politics: Voters care about their own lives, their own futures, far more than they do about the latest Washington feeding frenzy. Ideas trump innuendo. This is why the Clintons keep winning.
Some other projects I’ve been working lately have gotten me thinking along similar lines, though not specifically in terms of Hillary Clinton. And Latimer is touching on what should be an important thing to remember. Those of us who either follow the American Game of Thrones for a living or swim in this pool every day avocationally have, I think, a tendency to get caught up in the mechanics of accepted wisdom in campaign management. We read publications and watch news shows which focus on the infinitesimal nuggets of every phrase, word or facial expression of candidates and then blow them out of proportion as if a casual comment at a presser could lead to the end of the world. But we represent less than a smidgen of one percent of the country. Most of the roughly 100 million people who will vote in the next presidential election simply aren’t watching and likely wouldn’t care about most of this stuff if they were. They want to know if their lives are getting better or worse. They want to be left alone to watch Sports Center after a long day of work. They will notice (and scream out loud) if filling up their gas tank is wiping out their paycheck, but they still won’t notice who or what is to blame for that.
The GOP needs to be more relatable on pocketbook issues and the realities of day to day life. That probably sounds both obvious and impossible at the same time, but change like this has to start at the precinct level. No amount of clever campaign ads or well crafted speeches for a candidate to give in an early primary state is ever going to trump the ability of local party leaders to get out there and mix it up with folks. If you can’t spread a message which shows how conservative policies directly relate to what people are really talking about in the bars and diners and coffee shops when no pollsters are watching, you’re just not going to break through.