Politics & Policy

Hillary’s Sputtering Campaign

Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Oakland, Calif. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)
Facing a free-wheeling Trump, she is weighted down by tons of baggage.

This year was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s “turn,” after her humiliating loss in 2008 to Barack Obama. She has paid her dues as secretary of state for Obama. And the apparent Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, is written off by most pundits as a buffoon without a chance in the general election. Yet, Clinton’s campaign continues to be dismal, and is getting worse — to the point where the socialist Bernie Sanders polls better against Trump than does Hillary Clinton. How can that be?

At least eight reasons come to mind — several of them relating to Clinton’s innate character flaws and past scandals.

1) The E-Mail Scandal 

Although the FBI has not finished its investigation and sent its results and recommendations to the Obama Justice Department, most of the media and public have learned enough about the e-mail/server scandal to conclude that had any mid-level State Department or intelligence-agency employee emulated Hillary Clinton’s use of a private unsecured server — along with serial denials and lying about such use — he would have been fired and prosecuted.

Hillary’s exemption so far hinges entirely on the fact that she is the Democratic party’s only viable presidential candidate; her indictment would send the party into crisis, given that the committed socialist Bernie Sanders would be the most deserving to inherit the nomination. So her Sword of Damocles swings with public opinion. What keeps Hillary out of jail, or at least a plea-bargain, is her political viability, first as the likely Democratic nominee, and second as a presumable winner over Trump. But take either likelihood away, and she de facto loses exemption and becomes expendable — a fact that is well known to her and which cannot be an easy reality to face each morning. She is beginning to resemble a Third World caudilla who knows that the minute she loses power, so too she loses her head.

2) The Clinton Cash Shakedowns 

The Clintons left the White House broke, by their own admission, in 2001 and are now worth well over $100 million — lucre apparently predicated on the degree to which corporations and foreign governments believed that the phoenix-like couple would once again return to power, and would remain true to character as punishers of non-contributors and abettors of donors.

The couple founded the Clinton Foundation as a quid-pro-quo money-laundering enterprise designed to sell influence for cash and to keep Clinton, Inc., hangers-on and employees viable in between Clinton presidential runs. The key to the Ponzi scheme was that unlike Carter, Reagan, or the Bushes, the Clinton couple could dangle the idea that Bill was not term-limited by his eight years but could become reincarnated for another two terms under Hillary’s aegis — thus transforming what should have been an emeritus president into a retread with regenerative power to use the office to help or hurt the rich. It would require a suspension of disbelief to assume that companies or foreign governments gave millions of dollars to the Clinton initiative because they wished to help the poor and the sick. All benefactors knew that they were investing in influence, and the Clintons were selling it to the highest bidder in a way never true of any other presidential foundation. Never mind that such coziness with Big Money was antithetical to the progressive pretensions of the Democratic party and the Clintons’ own populist veneer. Each day over the next six months that there is a disclosure about yet another duplicitous donor or yet another pay-to-play scheme, so each day confidence in Hillary’s honesty and integrity erodes further.

3) Our First Female President

Hillary Clinton envisioned her candidacy as a trailblazing presidential precedent in the same way that Obama parlayed his racial ancestry into broad support in 2008. Clinton’s candidacy was to be in antithesis to Trump’s “war on women” crudity. But 2016 is not 1999, and Hillary is being hoist on her own petard by pandering to the new campus ethos that to accuse a man of sexual assault is to convict him — and that to stand by without vocal support for the accuser is an even worse sin. By her own new standards, then, her husband’s goatishness and her enabling of his sometimes coercive sexual behavior prove both guilty in the court of 21st-century gender jurisprudence. In short, Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, and Kathleen Willey have all dulled the blade of Trump as crude sexist — and have nearly made Hillary’s own trailblazing gender card irrelevant. Unlike Trump’s ego-driven womanizing, which he crassly bragged about, Bill Clinton’s was covered up. And the Clintons reduced women who claimed that they were assaulted to the status of “bimbo,” “floozy,” and “stalker” — or, in the never-retracted words of media darling James Carville, “If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”

4) Dorian Gray

Bill Clinton is as undisciplined as Trump, and seems intent on replaying his disastrous Freudian role from the 2008 campaign, when his reckless lecturing made it sometimes unclear whether he was not deliberately trying to sabotage his wife’s candidacy. This time around, he reappears on the campaign trail as a wraith-like Dorian Gray figure, as if all his sins are written on his face and audible in his raspy voice, rather than being confined to a portrait in the attic. One day he can gratuitously trash the Czechs and the Poles, the next Obama himself by references to the good old days of his own administration in comparison to “the last eight years.” He seems at times not so much out to help his wife, as baying at the moon that no one remembers all the great things he once did.

When Hillary channels Bill’s narcissism, she ends up ridiculously promising to turn over the economy to her husband — thereby achieving a threefer gaffe: suggesting that, even as president, she will still need a strong male to run the most important aspect of her administration; that Bill can do what Obama could not the last two presidential terms (why not instead promise to give us more of the supposedly great eight years of Obama economic stewardship?); and that she is not so estranged, after all, from her sexually exploitative husband. (Does she wish to reclaim ¼, ½, or ¾ of Bill Clinton as husband and partner?)

5) Obama

No candidate of the same party as the incumbent president quite knows how to run. The result is often mush, like the 1988 sloganeering of a “kinder, gentler nation” by George H. W. Bush, who yet alone, after Truman, in the postwar era pulled off a twelve-year continuum. In Hillary’s case, she does not seem to want to run on Ben Rhodes’s foreign policy, Jonathan Gruber’s Obamacare, Lois Lerner’s IRS, Lisa Jackson’s EPA, Eric Holder’s Justice Department, or Barack Obama’s racial healing. And yet she needs Obama’s hard-left base. So far she has rejected her 2008 Annie Oakley, Reagan-Democrat schtick, gambling that her Black Lives (alone) Matter and transgenderism pandering can ensure that she will match Obama’s historic share of the minority vote. But so far it seems just as likely that she will lose more voters among the white working class than she can lease from Obama’s core. And, of course, for a while longer, her obsequiousness to the Obama record is not just political calculation but, given her server problem, self-interested legal prudence as well. Finally, Obama nears 50 percent approval in the polls only to the degree to which he withdraws into his accustomed levity and is rarely seen or heard. The ecumenical idea of Obama is tolerable, the reality not so much. When he returns to sermonizing, his polls drop. His help to Hillary is found in being neither seen nor heard.

6) Sanders

Clinton thought Sanders would be a good warm-up fighter, in the fashion that Muhammad Ali used to fight chumps in between his landmark matches. But the 74-year-old Vermont socialist has eroded both Clinton’s youth vote and the proverbial rock-solid upscale single-woman vote. Had Sanders, in self-righteous fashion, not foolishly renounced early on using the legitimate e-mail scandal against Clinton, he might well have achieved a brokered convention.

Bernie Sanders — older, farther to the left, and with less money and insider leverage — remains a constant reminder of just how poor Hillary Clinton is on the stump and just how anti-democratic the Democrats’ superdelegate system has proven. There is a real chance of a street-circus implosion reminiscent of the 1968 Democratic Chicago convention. The feeble way in which the Clintons and ossified figures like Ed Rendell and Barbara Boxer deal with progressive insurrectionists reminds us just how far left Obama has taken the Democratic party and why he will leave office with it largely in shambles, at least in terms of lost senators, representatives, governors, and state legislators over his eight-year tenure. The Sanders candidacy and its focus on the superdelegates can only remind the public once again that Hillary is untrustworthy and fundamentally dishonest — even as he has drawn her further leftward, and with little time to bounce back to the center for the general election.

7) Trump

Trump is many things. But he is not the fascist that neo-cons now rail against (their warnings of constitutional usurpation ironically far better apply to the concrete record of the last eight years, in which Obama has simply suspended enforcement of federal law whenever he found it politically convenient to do so, and either has turned government agencies — IRS, ICE, EPA, NSA, VA, NASA, the Secret Service — into rogue extensions of the White House or staffed them with partisan incompetents). In truth, Trump has no delineated agenda, nor is he doctrinaire in the fashion of a 20th-century European demagogue. Instead, his message is unscripted bombast, and it runs on emotion, not ideology, geared not to some grand autocratic vision but to how to stay ahead of the 24-hour news cycle and channel and exploit the venom Americans feel for Washington elites. Trump has tossed a ball and chain into the wide screen of the political establishment and shattered the glass. No one — not his 16 former Republican rivals nor Hillary Clinton — knows quite how to handle him, since he can say or do anything on any given day that no other candidate would even contemplate.

It is difficult to imagine quite how the former secretary of state could use the war on terror, Russian reset, Syria, or Benghazi to reassure the public.

Older than Clinton, Trump comes across as far more vigorous and vital; he’s a loudmouth, but his voice is not shrill and screeching as is Clinton’s; his political incorrectness both offends and attracts, while her political correctness merely bores and has rendered her a caricature of an opportunistic toady. A wheeler-dealer roguish businessman, Trump is not yet facing criminal indictment; a lifelong government apparatchik, Clinton is courting a rendezvous with the law. Clinton still fakes regional accents; oddly, the orange-haired, combed-over Trump never does. When Trump is caught lying he often just shrugs and says without shame that he has changed his opinions; when Clinton is caught lying, she denies the lying and usually attacks the questioner. In the end, Trump makes it appear that hosting The Apprentice leads to far better political instincts than Yale Law School and the subsequent establishment CV.

8) The Record

Clinton plans to run on having a record of government service, while Trump has none. But this year the government dossier can be a liability as much as an advantage. It is difficult to imagine quite how the former secretary of state could use the war on terror, Russian reset, Syria, or Benghazi to reassure the public. Clinton will not campaign on her strategy against ISIS or the disastrous pullout from Iraq. Nor was she a stellar senator. With Trump we fear what he might do; with Clinton we know all too well what she has done. It is always worse to be sick than to fear becoming sick.

Clinton is waging wars on all fronts. Pundits for nearly a year have assured us that the polls prove Trump cannot win, and that the Republicans blew a historic opportunity to capture all three branches of government. Perhaps. But what is left unsaid is that Hillary Clinton is not only the sole viable Democratic candidate, but perhaps the weakest Democratic nominee in memory, lacking the energy of Hubert Humphrey, the sincerity of George McGovern, the affability of Walter Mondale, the decency of Michael Dukakis, and the emotion of vein-busting Al Gore — losing presidential candidates all.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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