Hillary Clinton, whose staff says she will be warmer and funnier, got a few laughs in church the other day.
She said she had talked to a pastor at the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington and “he basically said, if you’re going to read and listen to Romans: 12, you gotta to be nicer to the press. I will certainly take that to heart.” This was taken as a punchline.
Actually, Hillary doesn’t need to be nicer to the media. Nobody likes us, anyway. She needs to be more adept at using the media to craft a compelling message and deal with the email debacle.
For two months, the former secretary of State avoided national TV interviews, and at first the pundits said it wasn’t hurting her. Then came a wave of polls showing her dropping like a rock.
In the latest ABC/Washington Post survey, the once-dominant front-runner can’t even crack 50 percent. She’s at 42 among Democrats and Democratic leaners, with Bernie Sanders at 24 and Joe Biden at 21. This is a 21-point plunge since July.
And in a stunner of a CBS poll, Sanders leads her in New Hampshire, 52 to 30 percent. And he leads her in Iowa, 43 to 33 (albeit with a 7-point margin of error in both surveys). Anyone who says he thought a 73-year-old socialist senator would be beating Hillary in the first two states in September of 2015 is lying.
Perhaps Clinton--like Jeb Bush, who’s at 8 percent in the Post poll (behind Donald Trump at 33 percent and Ben Carson at 20)—is being pulled down by a wave of anger. In the same survey, more than seven in 10 Americans say people in politics can’t be trusted. And Hillary has been in politics since 1978 and her husband’s first campaign for Arkansas governor.
I keep asking people ask what Hillary stands for. She talks about women’s rights. She’s given a bunch of policy speeches, including a $350-billion plan for community college aid. But none of it seems to break through the static, which includes her self-inflicted email crisis.
Now that Clinton has apologized with ABC’s David Muir (after refusing to do so in sitdowns with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and the AP), she’s turning to the fluffier stuff. She danced with Ellen DeGeneres, who gushed over Hillary so much she was practically signing up for her campaign. She's heading for the late-night circuit and did "Extra" yesterday, holding forth on Kim Kardashian. "I think all of us in our own ways can be inspirational or aspirational for people," Hillary told Mario Lopez. (Well, of course: Kim K. came to one of her fundraisers.)
But her top advisers did her a disservice by broadcasting to the New York Times that she was going to show more humor and heart. Dana Milbank, on my show, called for those who did that to be fired. It’s hard for a candidate to project authenticity when her spinmeisters have announced in advance that the plan is to be more spontaneous.
And it’s been hard to miss the contrast with Joe Biden, who so publicly agonized with Stephen Colbert whether to get into the race while grieving for his son Beau.
What if there’s a different bar for Hillary? Michelle Goldberg raises that prospect in the Nation:
“A female candidate who was prone, as Biden is, to veering off script and saying things she should not wouldn’t seem frank and lovable. She would seem sloppy and unstable. No woman could say on national television that she might be too emotionally fragile to run for president, and still be seen as someone who could actually run for president.
“This isn’t meant as a criticism of Biden, who appears to be a genuinely wonderful man. It’s only to say that Clinton is in a straitjacket. She’s excoriated for her inauthenticity, but also for whatever glimpses we get of her humanity: her wrinkles, her laugh, her awkward fashion sense, her devotion to her philandering husband…
“During a debate, Obama once said to Clinton, dismissively, ‘You’re likable enough, Hillary.’ But maybe she isn’t. Maybe she can’t be.”
I’m not sure. Whatever disadvantages she faces as a woman may well be balanced by a natural base of support among female voters. In a hypothetical fall matchup last week, ABC/Post has Hillary leading Trump by 21 points among women, while The Donald has a 15-point edge among men. And Clinton’s biggest decline in the new poll? It’s among white women.
Since the Democratic Party is not going to want a septuagenarian socialist to be its standard-bearer, what Joe Biden does next may be more important for Hillary, and the campaign, than we all thought.