Can we please dispense with the horsepucky même that Hillary Clinton is the “weakest Democratic nominee” and Donald Trump is the “only” Republican that Clinton could beat?
Hillary Clinton and, for that matter, the Democratic Party have strengths that would come into play against any Republican candidate. Any Republican who thinks that their party’s weaknesses end with Trump is in denial. But today I focus on Clinton.
You Cannot Knock this Woman Down.
When Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000, she endured endless brutal direct questioning about the Monica Lewinsky scandal and her marriage. For a time, she trailed Republican Rick Lazio in the polls. Anyone who came through that is not going to be knocked down by the likes of her blowhard opponent.
Hard Working and Knowledgeable
During the 2000 campaign, Clinton visited town after town in upstate New York. Her understanding of not just the general problems of the region but of specific issues in each town surprised people, as did her sustained interest. Clinton did far better than usual by Democrats there.
Recent Deft Political Moves
So much criticism has surrounded Hillary Clinton that it is easy to miss some of her best political moves. In particular, she has somehow managed to reach out to the left of her party and the center of the electorate simultaneously–gymnastic skills unlikely to be seen at the upcoming Olympiad.
Clinton’s handling of Sanders showed who is the shrewd deal maker in this election. Facing unremitting intense criticism from hardline Bernie supporters and Bernie’s own reluctance to endorse her, Clinton kept her cool and didn’t look petulant or lash out.
Instead, she worked hard to bring Bernie Sanders and his supporters into the tent. Behind the scenes, she courted Sanders and their key staffers built a strong relationship. Her major concessions on the platform were either changes that the electorate will like–raising the minimum wage–or do not necessarily care about or understand very well–single payer health care.
While a statement of party principles and policy, the platform now serves mainly as a potential source of embarrassment for nominees. John McCain disowned the GOP platform in 2008. In the end, platforms don’t matter much when they meet the political reality of passing legislation. Anyone remember either the Clinton or the Obama healthcare plans from 2008?
Clinton named Kaine as her veep nominee, despite intense pressure to choose someone who was either more left wing, African American, Latino, or a woman. But Kaine’s excellent roll out mostly overrode those objections.
Smart and strong. Candidates look more presidential when they don’t cave and when they make a good decision. Most critically, Kaine is ready to step into the presidency if necessary–the key qualification for a vice president and voters know it. Purist grumbling aside, Kaine is a solid liberal.
Politically, Clinton needs to motivate African American, Asian American and Latino voters but she didn’t need a veep choice to do it. The Obamas are all in for Clinton–a big help among African Americans. No one doubts that Trump will stimulate members of three groups to vote.
The swing vote is largely about whites this year. Like Biden, Kaine helps here. Every time another reporter calls Kaine the “dad jeans” of politics, I’m sure somewhere Clinton is smiling. It’s a direct pitch to the swingy suburbanite vote. Kaine also has extremely strong ties to the African-American and Latino communities in his state.
Staying Out of the Way
One of the cardinal rules of politics is to stay out of way when your opponent is in the process of destroying himself. Leaving aside the astonishingly bad idea of going on FOX with Chris Wallace, a seasoned reporter on a hostile network, Clinton has not dominated or tried to dominate the news cycle over the past few days, allowing Trump to implode with some nice assists from the Khan family, a crying baby and himself.
Organized and Decisive
The Democratic Convention was a well-organized affair that provided a nice reintroduction to Clinton and the Democrats. When the Wasserman Schultz scandal broke, the campaign dealt with it decisively so it didn’t dominate the media for days like Melania Trump’s speech. Smart.
Clinton is also not taking voter turnout for granted. Along with a variety of organizations, the campaign is working hard to do the less flashy job of turning out the core Democratic vote, especially among African Americans and Latinos.
Making a Weakness a Strength
Hillary Clinton is not a great speaker. Maybe it results from gender bias but I can’t help but notice that Michelle Obama gave a speech for the ages at the same convention. Even if it is unfair, it just is and complaining looks whiny (see Trump at any given moment).
I loved how Clinton turned it around and made the case that having a grind as president might not be the worst thing in the world when it’s time to make decisions even if eloquence is not her strength. She drew a useful contrast with her domineering opponent.
Women win executive posts at low rates precisely because they are unfairly stereotyped as people who are fair and handle process well but are not leaders. Yet Clinton managed to communicate that she cares more without looking less commanding in spite of her flat style.
Put another way, Clinton presented herself as calm and caring but Trump as an overly emotional bully. No mean feat for the author of “It Takes a Village” to turn the tables on the “author” of “The Art of the Deal.”
Yup, Republicans can keep believing that they would win if only they had nominated someone else. That bit of denial would be a fine start toward giving Hillary Clinton a second term.