Hillary, you are the problem
Kyle Palmer | Monday, February 15, 2016
Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee this election season. In 2008, she won the New Hampshire primary by nearly 4 percent. On Tuesday, she lost New Hampshire by more than 22 percent to the 74-year-old Democratic Socialist who was supposed to be no more than a minor gadfly to her pending coronation as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party. CNN exit polls, cited by NBC’s Chuck Todd and the Washington Post, showed that the only age demographic where Clinton achieved a majority was with voters over the age of 65, and she couldn’t even reach 60 percent of that group. To make things worse, Clinton lost the woman vote to Bernie Sanders by 11 percent. Among voters who valued honesty and trustworthiness as the most valuable trait in selecting a President, Sanders beat Clinton by a staggering 90 percent margin. The Clintons knew they would lose New Hampshire, but they didn’t know it would be by that much.
Just a week before those results came in, Clinton proclaimed “Victory!” in Iowa when she beat Sanders by a mere 0.29 percent, according to the Des Moines Register. Many news outlets and the Clinton campaign itself acted as if that was some massive triumph for Clinton. In my opinion, if the “inevitable frontrunner” wins by anything less than 10 percent, then he or she isn’t the inevitable frontrunner. Instead, Clinton virtually tied Bernie Sanders. Clinton must be asking herself how she ever came so close as to tie a socialist in Iowa and to lose to him in New Hampshire? I count both of them as losses for the Clinton campaign, and I suspect her campaign might privately believe that, too.
POLITICO broke a story on Monday that Clinton was weighing a major campaign shakeup after her expected New Hampshire loss. “‘The Clintons are not happy and have been letting all of us know that,’ said one Democratic official who speaks regularly to both,” the article stated. Clinton moved sharply Monday to quell the fears of donors and staffers after the report broke, saying she was behind her team, but not entirely dispelling the notion that the campaign would reevaluate. David Axelrod, the architect behind both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, tweeted, “When the exact same problems crop up in separate campaigns, with different staff, at what point do the principals say, ‘Hey, maybe it’s US?’”
Indeed, Hillary Clinton has an image problem. It’s one she’s been trying to deal with since her early days as First Lady and her first Senate run in 2000. She simply does not come off as genuine or authentic to voters, and to date she hasn’t inspired her party with a real purpose. In the last Democratic debate, Clinton tried to make the case that she, too, was an outsider candidate. This suggestion was met with eye-rolls of anyone watching, and a Washington Post headline, “Hillary Clinton just suggested she’s not ‘establishment.’ Come on.” She struggled in 2008 and is struggling now, after her resume has been boosted by four years as Secretary of State. (Although she seems to continually be outshined by her successor John Kerry, another failed presidential candidate, in all matters regarding foreign affairs.) We are truly seeing the same problems come up again. Clinton is desperately trying to appeal to women (I reiterate that she decisively lost them in New Hampshire) by pulling in women political superstars such as Madeleine Albright and Jeanne Shaheen. Bill Clinton is attacking Bernie Sanders in a similar fashion to how he attacked Barack Obama in 2008.
Now, more and more people are coming around to the idea that Sanders might be a viable option for the Democrats to win in November. Ta-Nehisi-Coates, influential writer for the left-leaning political magazine The Atlantic, has decided to throw his support behind Sanders. Yes, Hillary performs better among more diverse states, but when an African American rights thought leader, who often leads the charge on political issues for that community, endorses her opponent, trouble could be brewing. Jesse Jackson, civil rights activist and another African American rights thought leader, has questioned the Congressional Black Caucus PAC’s endorsement of Clinton (it’s also worth noting that Congressional Black Caucus member Keith Ellison has endorsed Sanders). She’s bound to perform better in South Carolina, albeit at lesser margins than she may expect, but it’s possible she could lose Nevada. With the still-unresolved email scandal as the Department of State in a party and electorate that increasingly values trustworthiness and transparency, Clinton may very well find herself losing ground.
While I believe Clinton will still ultimately win the nomination, I am certainly less sure in that prediction than I was a year ago, or even a month ago. On a similar note, I would caution Democrats against being so sure that she could also beat the Republican nominee. The campaign isn’t the problem. The political environment isn’t the problem. Early primary states are not the problem. As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes, “The lone, major common thread between the 2008 campaign and the 2016 campaign is Hillary Clinton.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.