5 Reasons Clinton's Campaign Is in the Doldrums
Bernie Sanders is surging. Maybe it's time for Joe Biden. Would John Kerry run again? What about Al Gore? Concluding a summer of discontent, Democrats are glumly heading into the fall before the Iowa caucuses. They put all their chips on Hillary Clinton, and now fear her sinking poll numbers. Clinton's campaign is neither comforting nor exciting to Democrats. Here are five reasons why:
1. Democrats Are Not Desperate for the Presidency.
Democrats have held the White House for almost two full terms: They are not ravenous for power the way they were, for example, after the grueling fiasco of the George W. Bush administration or the long exile of three consecutive Republican terms that preceded Bill Clinton's 1992 election.
To the extent party activists have any great sense of urgency, it derives from a conviction that the Republican Party is a bedlam populated by the clinically insane. No one, including top Republican leaders, knows what Republican control of the White House and Congress would produce. (Republicans don't even know if they will keep the government open next month.) But the threat of Republican control is still sufficiently distant that Democratic nightmares remain in their formative stage, lacking the Technicolor brilliance and Jurassic-Park savagery that they'll acquire a year from now.
2. Clinton's Staff Isn't Desperate for the Presidency.
Much of Clinton's high command has already experienced the singular thrill and lucrative career boost that is a victorious presidential campaign. In fact, the campaign's upper echelon is thick with veterans of the campaigns and administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
There is no magic comparable to steering, for the first time, a massive presidential campaign into port at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Political science and economic data aside, successful campaigns require an element of basic human execution. The staffer who works a 17-hour day then goes home and thinks of a solution to a knotty problem while lying in bed is probably not on her third campaign for the White House. Those veterans bring savvy and experience. But they're also more likely to fall asleep when their heads hit the pillow.
3. Some Democrats Never Cottoned to the Clintons.
Not every Democrat is a Bill and Hill person. Some never much liked the power couple. Many Democratic political operatives who lived through the 1990s resented the Clinton White House's personal dramas and grew tired of defending the duo from attacks. Had Republicans been more honest (Newt Gingrich in high dudgeon is never a good option) and less vicious in pursuing the Clintons in those years, they might have tapped hidden reserves of Democratic antipathy toward the couple.
The e-mail imbroglio is an infuriating reminder of such low points. Unlike Benghazi and other cheesy partisan attacks, Clinton's use of a private e-mail account is the kind of behavior that many Democrats would prefer not to defend. If the problem proves more serious than facts currently suggest, Democratic partisans will be chafing at demands that they once again absorb and absolve a Clintonian sin. (Nothing short of disaster, however, would create a genuine opening for Vice President Joe Biden. If he enters the fray, some Democrats muttering about Clinton today will promptly switch to condemning Biden for undermining a stronger, more viable candidate.)
4. Democrats Are Ambivalent About Their Front-runners.
Democrats generally don't affirm front-runners until they've made the pols sweat a bit. Al Gore was pestered by Bill Bradley -- and party doubt-mongers. John Kerry had to get past Howard Dean -- and party doubt-mongers. Clinton's path to the nomination appeared too darned easy from the start. So true to form, Democrats will make her life more complicated by flirting with Bernie Sanders and wishing she were more like Bill or Barack or Elizabeth or a player to be named later.
5. Hillary's Kinda Dull.
She's a dutiful daughter of the party, thoughtful and well-prepared on policy and reliable on politics. And a lot of professional women still love her. But Hillary Clinton has never had a store of special sauce. Bill Clinton was Evel Knievel. Obama was the Second Coming. Hillary is neither daredevil nor deity. She's likable enough. Barring catastrophe, that should get her the nomination.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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