‘All sizzle and no steak,’ is a long-standing American idiom denoting someone who is full of style and flash, but lacks substance. But what about the opposite? – All Steak and no sizzle. Well, that might be ok, at least you’re getting a steak. But Hillary Clinton’s campaign of late may be a case of the worst of both worlds: all fizzle and no sizzle.
While Donald Trump has had some recent stumbles, there is no doubt about one thing; among likely voters, the Trump brand sizzles.
Despite failing to unify the Republican Party going into the convention, and lagging Hillary Clinton in fundraising by a mile, Trump is still polling strongly. Under normal circumstances a candidate trailing so far behind in the money race would be all but dead in the water going into the general election.
How could this possibly be? Clinton is by far the more skilled politician and should ostensibly benefit from the tailwind created by a popular two-term Democratic Presidential incumbent.
On it’s surface the math is pretty simple; Trump leads among all white prospective voters, and he leads by double digits among white males. Clinton leads among white females, but not by as large a margin as Trump leads among white males. Clinton carries the so-called minority vote by a landslide. This core calculus is not likely to change significantly before the election, and so it will come down to who’s voters turn out more passionately.
If Trump’s performance in the Republican Primary is any indication of how he will perform among his constituency in the election, Trump can expect a strong showing from his base. Clinton, on the other hand, has struggled with the mobilization game. Although ultimately victorious, she floundered in some state Democratic nomination contests against a left-flank insurgency from Senator Bernie Sanders. The Clinton campaign has yet to negotiate a truce in the internecine battle between Party officials and Sanders delegates. While Clinton has likely clinched the nomination, she hasn't emerged unscathed. One wonders whether she can generate enough unity – and momentum – coming out of the Democratic Convention to withstand a Trump train that, though slightly off track, continues to gather steam among voters, especially after the Orlando Florida terrorist attack.
The Clinton camp have voiced concerns that the presumptive Democrat nominee can generate passion among the Democratic base, and, perhaps more importantly, win over fence-sitting independents and undecided voters. The problem comes down to one thing: like-ability. People respect Clinton, or they loathe her. But they are not passionate about her, and her tepid campaigning style isn’t winning many raving fans.
Her campaign has not found a way to grow her likeability, although staffers are obviously aware of the problem and have said so openly. Instead, they’ve essentially started circling their wagons for now – sending out multiple television ads and fundraising emails attacking Donald Trump. Trump’s likeability is also low among significant segments of the electorate, but it’s hard to see Clinton winning a battle of the uglies. Trump has openly embraced the role of the spoiler and seems to revel in upsetting the status quo. Clinton has to get more traction from people who actually like her, rather than those who merely dislike Trump, and that’s going to be difficult for her going forward.
This current state of affairs is somewhat problematic for Clinton, who is arguably the most prepared and qualified candidate to have ever run for office. She has held the highest legislative and executive roles in the nation – Secretary of State, and U.S. Senator from New York. Her name recognition is at least as high as Donald Trump’s. She is a schooled and skilled operative of the highest order.
But she may lack the ‘it’ factor that is often so important in Presidential contests. Unlike Trump or even Obama - her negatives are not countered by legions of ardent fans who are willing to get out and evangelize for her. She operates very much at the machine level, orchestrating her campaign through party mechanisms with which she is familiar and comfortable.
But where is her appeal to the American people? Why can’t she just let her hair down and have a bit of fun? Unlike other politicians at her level, most notably her husband Bill, Hillary does not make it look easy. Perhaps she's been coached and managed to the point of rigidity. She may also be so hemmed in by her years of on-the-record positions that she cannot maneuver effectively against a foe who has no problem reversing on a dime.
There is much to be said for holding your fire, saving your powder for the real fight. But Clinton has been so lacking in fireworks that she’s not even inspiring the base. She has withstood a withering fight against Bernie Sanders' insurgent campaign to win the nomination. But there is a real concern among Clinton insiders as to whether she will inherit the approval – and, more importantly - the passion, of the Sanders movement. A negotiated treaty with the Sanders camp is all but a fait accompli, but the prospect of Sanders himself getting out and stumping for her with any of his customary gusto seems remote.
Clinton’s problems in many ways mirror Trump’s successes. While Trump can claim the rights to the popular movement, but not the party, Clinton has the Party, but not the movement. This election will in a sense be a real litmus test as to whether teams or players make championships. Trump has shown himself to be game despite constant communication miscues and intraparty war that has raged from almost the moment he announced his Candidacy. Clinton has the Democratic Party firmly in her corner, but seemingly lacks that breakaway quality we used to call sizzle.