Hillary Clinton is clobbering Bernie Sanders—and yet getting negative reviews from some of the pundits.
How is that possible? The Democratic race is essentially over. President Obama is privately telling donors it’s time to get on the Hillary train, the New York Times reports. A front-runner who wins in state after state usually basks in a winner’s aura as the party coalesces around her, and draws glowing profiles of how she and her team did it.
Sure, Hillary was always expected to beat Bernie. It’s also true that Clinton has never been beloved by the press, and the feeling is mutual.
But the larger problem is the outlook as the commentary class looks ahead to the fall.
Until the last couple of weeks, the conventional wisdom was that a Trump nomination would all but assure a second Clinton presidency. After all, she’s the former senator and secretary of State with an awesome political machine, and he’s the untested billionaire with a penchant for divisive rhetoric. Plus, Democrats have an Electoral College edge and have won the popular vote in five of the last six campaigns.
But some commentators see troubling signs in Clinton’s performance so far and wonder how she would withstand a Trump onslaught. The Donald has high negatives, to be sure, but Hillary does as well.
An unsparing assessment comes from Joe Klein, who has known the Clintons for a quarter century and mostly written sympathetically about them since his 1992 New York magazine cover story on Bill Clinton.
Klein agrees with Hillary’s self-assessment that she is not a natural politician, but goes much further in weighing a Trump matchup:
“Clinton seems particularly ill equipped for the task. She is our very own quinoa and kale salad, nutritious but bland. Worse, she’s the human embodiment of the Establishment that Trump has been running against…
“Indeed, her real problem is that she’s too much of a politician. She still speaks like politicians did 20 years ago, when her husband was President. This year, the candidates who have seemed the most appealing–Trump, Sanders, John Kasich–don’t use the oratorical switchbacks that have been beaten to death since John F. Kennedy.”
It’s no secret that Sanders has pushed Clinton to the left on trade, immigration, Wall Street and other issues. But Klein says that is often viewed as dissembling:
“There is an odd new law of U.S. politics: You can lie, as Trump does all the time, egregiously, but you can’t temporize. You can’t avoid a position on the XL pipeline or the Trans-Pacific trade deal, as Clinton tried to do in the campaign. You can’t try to please too many people too much of the time. Raising your voice to make a point–which Clinton does all the time, disastrously, because it seems such a conscious act–won’t get you anywhere unless you’re really angry.
“In the end, I’m not at all certain that Clinton can beat Trump.”
A note about her speaking style: When Clinton won five states on Tuesday night, I tweeted that she was shouting her speech and that it would be more effective with the audience at home if she was more conversational. I didn’t say she was shrill, I didn’t say she should smile, and in the past I’ve criticized Sanders for shouting his way through debates.
But I was hit with hundreds of tweets declaring me to be a horrible, misogynistic sexist. Some of this was a wave powered by what others had said about her speech. Maybe my quick take was wrong. But I hope we’re not entering a period where any criticism of the presumptive Democratic nominee is treated as sexism.
Other left-wing pundits, driven in part by ideology, fear the worst. This Salon headline boils it down:
“Hillary Will Never Survive the Trump Onslaught: It’s Not Fair, But It Makes Her a Weak Nominee.”
Clinton’s largest problem, in my view, is her low polling marks on honesty, a result of the email scandal and perhaps decades of scars of accumulated accusations, some of them fair and some exaggerated.
Veteran journalist Jeff Greenfield, writing earlier in Politico, spells out three reasons why Clinton could prove to be a weak candidate:
“First, Hillary Clinton commands little trust among an electorate that is driven today by mistrust. Second, her public life—the posts she has held, the positions she has adopted (and jettisoned)—define her as a creature of the ‘establishment’ at a time when voters regard the very idea with deep antipathy. And finally, however she wishes it were not so, however much she argues that she represents the future as America’s first prospective female president,
Clinton still embodies the past, just as she did in 2008 when she lost to Barack Obama. The combination of those three factors is already playing out in the Democratic primary, where younger voters are turning away from her and embracing a geriatric, white-haired alternative in droves.”
When Clinton recalibrates, says Greenfield, “she always embraces the politically popular stand.”
However lukewarm the Democratic base may be about Hillary, she enjoys broad support within the party and most Bernie backers should have no trouble shifting their allegiance to her. The same can’t be said for Trump, who is weathering a Republican revolt against the likelihood of his winning the nomination.
We’ll know Hillary is solving her enthusiasm problem when she starts getting better reviews from journalists on the left.