2016: Hillary Is Eminently Beatable

Matt Vespa
|
Posted: Mar 15, 2015 9:30 AM
2016: Hillary Is Eminently Beatable

Despite the email fiasco, Benghazi, and her now-lackluster tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton still has a lock on the Democratic nomination, despite some Democrats’ reservations that she’s ready to run for president. One thing that both sides need to understand is that Hillary is not like Bill. I know that’s an obvious point for some of you, but more than a few colleagues of mine have voiced the “Hillary, unbeatable” mantra; it’s not sustainable.

2016 will see an electorate that’s more willing to give a solid Republican candidate a chance to make his, or her, case for the future of America. It’s a feeling that’s like clockwork after eight years of Democratic control of the White House. Also, if Republicans nominate someone, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he’ll offer something new that doesn’t make people have flashbacks of 1990s in the way Hillary does. She’s doesn’t carry the fresh, new car scent that voters will be looking for next year. She will also run into trouble with white voters, which is an obstacle Democrats don’t really see (yet) as a serious problem. Don’t let that 2014 preliminary autopsy fool you.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times said that Hillary isn’t Eisenhower, an elder statesman who cruised into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For starters, she’s just not that popular. The longer she sits in the spotlight, the more unpopular she becomes; history proves this:

What’s notable about the recent decline in her approval rating is that it has returned to Mrs. Clinton’s apparently natural level of public support.

Her ratings started out high as first lady in 1993, as is often the case with that role, but dropped to the mid-40s when she pursued health reform. Her ratings surged during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but returned to the mid-40s once she ran for Senate, and remained there through her 2008 presidential campaign. Her ratings recovered again after she withdrew from the 2008 race and was no longer active in day-to-day politics.

There is little about Mrs. Clinton’s electoral history that suggests she’s a stronger candidate than these ratings. As a Senate candidate in New York in 2000, she ran well behind Al Gore’s presidential election numbers in New York that year. Few defend her performance in the 2008 presidential primaries. If anything, the extent to which she was criticized by the left has largely been forgotten. As Slate’s Alec MacGillis put it, there is “a sort of collective amnesia among Obama supporters when it comes to their former estimation of Clinton — a reluctance to reckon fully with their aversion to her then and what has come of it since.”

There is also evidence, especially in state polling, that Mrs. Clinton’s support from traditionally Democratic, white, conservative voters is unsustainable — especially in the South and Appalachia. For instance, polls in Kentucky matching her against the home-state favorite Rand Paul have often shown her running well ahead of Mr. Obama’s performance in the state in 2012, and still further ahead of candidates from elsewhere.

On paper, her strength among these voters is her greatest advantage over Mr. Obama. Perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, Mrs. Clinton could have run a campaign to win these white, Southern conservatives and perhaps carry Arkansas or West Virginia, two states her husband won in both of his presidential elections. But that strategy is untenable in today’s Democratic Party, which will demand a far more liberal candidate than conservative voters are willing to tolerate.

If Mrs. Clinton does prove to be a particularly adept candidate, given how close the race shapes up to be, it could make a significant difference. But at least for now, her favorability ratings don’t resemble those of an especially strong candidate. The better argument for her strength would be the demographic advantages of today’s Democratic coalition.

If the Democrats have such an advantage, then Mrs. Clinton, a person who has engendered great loyalty from many Democratic-leaning voters, may be the candidate best positioned to reassemble that coalition — particularly under potentially adverse circumstances. And it’s possible that external events, with the economy or foreign affairs, will create those adverse circumstances for the party now in power.

Cohn notes that even highly polarizing figures are able to win elections, like Obama in 2012. But, the white vote keeps coming back to haunt Democrats. As I’ve written in previous posts (herehere, and here), the problem Democrats have with white voters, especially those in the working class, isn’t a southern problem - it’s nationwide. Moreover, if they continue to be unable to siphon these voters away from Republican candidates, it will decrease their chances of winning the presidency, regain control of the Senate, and make inroads with the House. As Andrew Levison of the New Republic wrote, the alternative for Democrats to regain these white voters is to try and “rebuild local political organizations and regain the support that has atrophied for several decades.” In other words, it’s a steep climb; one that Democrats don’t really seem interested in undertaking at present.

She also carries the appearance that she’s a limousine liberal. As CBS News Political Director John Dickerson wrote, it's important that Hillary campaign hard in Iowa to shed herself of this image, even though she faces no opposition. It's to show people that she cares, especially if she fights hard for a state with six electoral votes. But, given how she’s handling the email controversy, people might just see her as doing things "the Clinton way." Truth be told, she may have serious problems reconnecting with a populist message since she hasn’t been a person of the people since the late 1970s when she moved into the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. Oh, and the optics couldn't be worse when you get paid $300,000 to discuss middle class hardship. Her ties to the financial industry provide easy primary ammunition for a more left-wing candidate, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Citing Alec MacGillis’ Slate piece, he also said this “liberal amnesia” over the dislike of Clinton on behalf of Obamaite Democrats could come back and bite them in the general election. Yet, we’re also in an election year where foreign policy could (and should) be a hot topic issue. The Russian reset was a bust. Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic has already spelled out a geopolitical disaster, given that Yemen has collapsed and huge chunks of territory in the greater Muslim world could be in the control of terrorists by 2017.  Yemen is just an abject embarrassment for the administration since it was used as an example for how the United States will undertake future counterterrorism operations abroad.  

On top of that, Hillary was Secretary of State when we went into Libya, who is undergoing a violent descent into sectarianism. It’s a predictable fate given the tribal socioeconomic dynamic there. Oh, and the Clinton Foundation accepted money from foreign governments, like Algeria, while Clinton served as Secretary of State. ISIS and Iraq will surely be mentioned on the campaign trail, along with the question about boots on the ground since the air campaign isn’t driving them away from their areas of occupation. We’re going back to Iraq? Hillary drew the ire of the anti-war left with her vote that authorized then-President Bush to invade back in 2003. 

This is all lumped together with another fact: she’s a bad campaigner.

Now, of course, Hillary still has a chance to win in 2016. She may be a poor campaigner and awful at messaging (for the moment), but Republicans have had their fair share of trip-ups as well. For goodness sake, the House recently botched a law (which they passed last year) banning abortion after 20-weeks, which is a highly popular piece of legislation by the way.

Republicans need to offer someone who doesn’t offer flashbacks to the 1990s or even the 2000s either. Many on Twitter have mentioned that Obama was a successful insurgent candidate because he came out of nowhere, he was fresh, charismatic, and offered something new - Hillary is none of that. And this mess with the use of her private email is rehashing all of the negative things people think about the Clintons.