One year until Election Day. Where things stand: The Republican race is in turmoil while the Democratic nomination is all but assured. The FBI alone can stop Hillary Clinton from appearing on your ballot next November. But that is unlikely to happen. If only wishing made it so.
She wins the nomination. Then? To hear some tell it, Clinton’s election as president is a safe bet. I won’t lie: I think these commentators make a strong case, but not an entirely convincing one. There are too many factors at work. Inside the Democratic party, the Clinton Restoration is almost complete. The country at large, however, despite the Democratic advantages of demographics, population distribution, and near cultural hegemony, remains wary. Clinton is a vulnerable nominee. She can be beaten.
How? Let’s stipulate that campaign effects are overstated. The economy and the popularity of the incumbent, in my view, are far more important. But candidates also matter. Whether she is liked or disliked, whether she is trusted or distrusted, whether she is someone with whom voters identify or someone from whom they recoil, whether she spends her days proclaiming her message or in damage control — all of these factors shape voter impressions, voter enthusiasm.
Which is where Clinton falls short. Sure, she’s preferable to Bernie Sanders. Who isn’t? Sanders appeals to the left of the Left. He’s a fringe figure. Of course Hillary beats him. This is news?
Sure, Hillary did okay before the House Benghazi Committee. Trust me: Looking more sympathetic than members of Congress isn’t an achievement. It’s a freebie. All you have to do is show up and not take the Fifth. The media were always going to say Clinton left the hearing untouched. They’ve never thought Benghazi was a real story.
But look at what’s happened since Clinton’s “great ten days.” The more one examines the statements she made before Congress, the more they are revealed to be not entirely true. The polling says the electorate has the same impression of her that it’s had for some time now: She can’t be trusted. 27 percent in the Journal poll says she is honest. And “Clinton has the lowest rating for honesty” in the Quinnipiac poll, “as American voters say 60–36 percent she is not honest and trustworthy.”
You’ll hear pundits say trustworthiness doesn’t matter because the public didn’t trust Bill Clinton in 1996 but reelected him anyway. Ignore them. In 1996 Clinton was the incumbent, the economy was growing, and he was in a three-way race with two unsympathetic opponents. It’s not just that the public distrusts Hillary Clinton. It’s that its distrust is related to its unflattering view of her as unlikable and out of touch.
Clinton’s unfavorable rating according to the Huffington Post’s “pollster trend”: 49 percent. In the Quinnipiac poll it’s 52 percent. And she’s underwater in the “cares about my needs” question: 53 percent in the Q-poll says she does not.
That’s a terrible result for a Democrat. It was Clinton’s own pollster, Joel Benenson, who wrote in 2012 that Republicans lost because “voters simply didn’t believe that Mr. Romney was on their side.” Will they believe that of Hillary next November?
The job of the Republican nominee is to make sure they do not. You do it by reminding the public, day after day, that Clinton can’t be trusted. Trade, same-sex marriage, crime, foreign policy — she’ll betray you whenever it suits her political needs. She lied about the Benghazi video; she lied about her email; she lied about Sidney Blumenthal. That’s what she does. She lies. The Republican nominee will have to say this repeatedly, just as Donald Trump brands his opposition as low-energy. It will take discipline. But it will also reinforce voters’ suspicions — and damage Clinton.
#share#The risk for the GOP is to go overboard, to so eagerly define Clinton as unlikable that she has the opportunity to play the victim. She did it with Rick Lazio in 2000, and with Barack Obama in 2008. Better to focus on how she can’t be trusted, and let her unpleasantness speak for itself. It won’t remain hidden for long.Republicans won’t need to paint her as unlikable. She’ll take care of that herself. Eventually she’ll commit a gaffe that she’ll spend three days apologizing for. It’s in her nature. Hillary Clinton is nowhere near her husband in terms of political talent. She’s isolated, living in a bubble for decades. Every so often she lets the “real” Hillary out and ends up regretting it. The authentic Clinton isn’t the woman who appeared at the debate or before Congress. It’s the Clinton who, when asked if she had wiped clean her private server, sneered, “With a cloth or something?”
The GOP should focus on how Hillary can’t be trusted, and let her unpleasantness speak for itself. It won’t remain hidden for long.
The Democrats say they have the policy advantage. They point to areas where polling suggests they are in the mainstream and the Republicans are not. They oversell their case. Republicans may not have much in the way of a middle-class economic agenda. But that is not to say the Democrats are totally in sync with the American public.
On the contrary: Clinton is moving left on gun control despite public opposition. Her interest in Australia’s confiscation policy was so extreme her campaign walked it back. The election results in Virginia, where Michael Bloomberg spent $2 million in a failed attempt to win the state senate for Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe, show just how unpopular limitations on the Second Amendment are.
Then there’s crime. Criminal-justice reform is the policy fad of the day. Clinton has eagerly embraced it. Why Democrats would want crime to return as an issue is beyond me, but I’m no Democrat.
President Obama’s Justice Department released 6,000 prisoners last month, “the largest one-time release of federal prisoners.” Likely Obama will release additional nonviolent offenders before he leaves office. If but one of these former inmates commits a violent crime, Hillary Clinton will own it. And any Republican who ignores the issue will deserve to lose.
Clinton carries a burden. She’s running for her party’s third term in the White House. Her problem is not that the laws of history will prevent her from winning. It’s that she will have to answer for her predecessor.
The two dubious achievements of Barack Obama’s presidency — Obamacare and the Iran deal — are both unpopular and uncertain to survive in their current forms. Clinton has to defend them. She’ll also have to defend moving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the supermax, which the president seems intent on doing. Criminals in the streets and KSM in Colorado — ladies and gentlemen, here is your Obama legacy.
#related#The Obama campaign spent a fortune in the spring and summer of 2012 defining Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch businessman who didn’t care about workers. To beat Hillary Clinton, Republicans will spend a similar amount defining her as untrustworthy, unlikable, and aloof from the day-to-day life of people without a family foundation.
They will unapologetically portray Clinton as someone who would release convicted felons into your neighborhood even as she takes away your Second Amendment right to self-defense. They will remind the public, relentlessly, of the woeful consequences of Obamacare and the Iran deal. And yes, finally, they will do all this while projecting optimism and empathy.
A tall order, I know. But look: A race to the bottom is a race we can win.
— Matthew Continetti is the editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, where this column first appeared. © 2015 All rights reserved.