Eighteen months before the 2016 voting, as many as 21 Republicans may be contemplating a presidential race. But on the Democratic side, it looks like all Hillary all the time. Yes, there’s the chance of challenges from Maryland’s Martin O’Malley, Virginia’s James Webb and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, but almost everyone believes they are the longest of long shots.
It is, as they say, Hillary’s to lose. Unfortunately, she’s shown she knows how to do that. Still, she’s got endorsements, access to ample funds and name recognition. While the Republicans slander each other in bruising primaries or play a game of chicken with the goal of seeing who can go the farthest to the suicidal right, Hillary hopes to float to her party’s nomination. What’s not to like?
Alas, Hillary’s not to like. Sure she has plenty of dedicated partisans, but she’s a very polarizing figure who managed to lose to a young, untried, black candidate in 2008. Many voters normally disposed to vote Democratic find her cool, and not in a good way – aloof, artificial, rigid, touchy, vindictive, secretive, arrogant, smug.
Her friends and supporters are quick to say they wish people could know Hillary as they do – warm, funny, spontaneous, smart. But that merely confirms the image problem. Whether or not the actual Hillary is a peach in private, she comes across in public as a sour apple. And image, not reality is what counts in politics in an age of mass media.
Hillary’s announcement showed how aware her team is of her weaknesses and shortcomings. She can’t pull off a soaring inspirational speech like Obama, or offer up an imaginary cracker barrel version of American History like Reagan, or ad lib a mixture of Tom Sawyer and think tank nerd like the Clinton who won the presidency. Hillary is more prone to give shrill diatribes or dull, lawyerly, occasionally mean-spirited summations to the jury.
So, rather than have her appear for a megachurch sermon like Ted Cruz, Hillary’s handlers taped a two minute TV ad featuring all the demographic stereotypes she hopes to court. They were seen struggling to survive and hoping someone could come along to save them from the collapse of the American Dream. That took a minute forty-five seconds. Hillary appeared for mere seconds to announce her intention to ride to the rescue.
Her listening tour stops, as well as the entire campaign, will be as completely controlled and contrived as possible. Long ago Michael Deaver realized Reagan was great when playing a part, but trouble if allowed to go off script. Often weeks would follow with his people having to explain that he didn’t really believe ketchup was a vegetable or trees caused pollution or all black women were welfare queens.
Hillary is prone to the same problem. Remember when she was dead broke? (FDR claimed to care about poor people. He didn’t claim to be one.) Or when she tried to answer questions about Benghazi or her emails or insulted stay at home moms who baked cookies? She can easily turn into a Biden-like gaffe machine, but at least he’s likeable. She’s more in the Never Apologize, Never Explain camp.
So, she will play a likeable, can-do, populist grandmother out to keep gays, minorities, women, children and the middle class from being pushed around by hard-hearted Republicans. Think Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That’s them, not her. They can’t really let her roam free due to her tone-deafness to the average Joe’s mindset. She is all too likely to come across as a caricature of out-of-touch affluence – the Goldwater Girl meets Mitt Romney. After all, she came from a prosperous Republican family, attended Wellesley and Yale Law, was a corporate lawyer, a Senator beholden to Wall Street, and a jet-setting Secretary of State. She hasn’t driven a car since 1996. And her estimated net worth is $21 million. Hardly the pedigree of a populist.
And then there’s the age problem. The campaign has tried to address it by casting her as a doting grandmother. Age isn’t bad. Think of grandma. She‘s not cold, is she? No, grandma is nice. But Hillary isn’t running for grandma. She’s won that office. She’s running to become the most powerful person on earth. And she would be the oldest person other than Reagan to be elected president. And he only beat her by a few months.
Do we really want someone in her seventies steering the ship of state? No. Would your grandma do a good job at that? Are there a lot of seventy-year-olds captaining nuclear submarines? Do you want a septuagenarian doing your surgery, providing tech support, running the company that manages your pension plan, handing down Supreme Court decisions, negotiating with Ayatollahs, Chinese dictators and the KGB thug running Russia?
I don’t think so, and I know whereof I speak. I am fast approaching the big Seven-Oh. I don’t think I’m up to the job and neither are most of my peers. But, what if an oldster is the only alternative to some weaselly Eddie Haskell whippersnapper like Ted Cruz, Scott Walker or Rand Paul? Presumably that’s the calculus Hillary’s campaign is counting on. In that case, 51 percent might just say, “Okay, okay, bring on the pant suit granny.”