I have a take slightly different from David’s on the Democrats’ sharp decline in presidential numbers.
Hillary was a terrible candidate, no question. I could never understand why anyone on our side feared her. She’s never been good at this. She won a senate seat in New York, where the GOP barely has a pulse. She would have been nominated (or coronated) in 2008 if she could have gotten to 40 percent with Dem voters; she couldn’t, which is why Obama got consideration that someone of his inexperience and radical background should never have gotten … and he duly zoomed past her. This time around, the party rigged it for her, and she still struggled to beat a batty 75-year-old self-proclaimed socialist who wasn’t even a Democrat until 2015. As I’ve said a number of times, she was certain to be just as bad a candidate in ’16 as she had been in ’08, except now she had Benghazi and a generally lousy tenure at the State Department hanging around her neck – and that was before we learned about the homebrew email system, destruction of government records, mishandling of classified information, etc.
But all that said, I look at Hillary as Obama’s policies without Obama’s aura. Obama the historical figure has always run ahead Obama’s policies. Because race remains a highly charged issue in American life, the first African-American presidency excited people in a way the prospect of a woman president does not. By that, I mean to imply the opposite of sexism: Geraldine Ferraro appeared on a presidential ticket a generation ago, Sarah Palin eight years ago, and women have been holding high-level cabinet, congressional and judicial posts for decades. The electorate has more women than men, many women are visibly successful in private industry, and our close ally Britain now has its second female prime minister. It’s just not that big a deal to people. The playing field has leveled to the extent that when, sometime in the easily foreseeable future, a woman wins the White House, it will be based on merit, not sex. Hillary’s problem is not that she is a woman; it’s that she is Hillary.
Obama is a very different story: people who are not particularly supportive of his agenda have nevertheless supported his presidency – although the number declined markedly after his policies took hold in 2009. His personal charm has always been lost on me – I find him aloof, thin-skinned, condescending, and dishonest. But even I can see that he is handsome, graceful, impressively confident, has a great voice, is clearly comfortable in his celebrity, and is by all accounts an admirable husband and father. Many people like having him as their president. His presidency’s historic nature makes them feel better about the country (which is why it is so tragic that he further divided the nation racially when he was uniquely positioned to unite us). Even if people are not crazy about the direction in which Obama has taken the country, he often does not get blamed for his policy failures.
But let’s take Obama The Historic President out of the equation. Since he became president and Democrats got onboard his aggressively statist governance, the party has been routed across the country: in both houses of Congress, and in state and local governments. When Obama’s policies are on the ballot without Obama, Democrats tend to get shellacked.
In addition to her lack of political gifts, Clinton was plainly hurt by her scandals, WikiLeaks, and the FBI’s machinations, which publicized many of the sordid details uncovered by the bureau’s investigation and then redirected the public’s attention to the emails after she hoped she had put them behind her. Still, as much as anything else, Clinton was hurt by the implosion of Obamacare in the critical final weeks of the campaign. It is Obama’s signature policy, and she had to run on it.
Obama’s policies do not run well without Obama on the ballot.