LOS ANGELES, June 26, 2014 — The 2014 elections are five months away, but Election 2016 has already begun. Hillary Clinton is already playing the inside baseball game of campaigning while appearing to not campaign. She remains a polarizing figure, with many Democrats anointing her the next president and many Republicans determined to stop her.
Yet when all is said and done, Hillary is probably not going to be president.
This is not about the disastrous rollout of her new book, “Hard Choices.” She was successfully heckled by Jason Mattera, who asked that she autograph his copy to Ambassador Chris Stevens. When she ran in 2008, some college students had a field day chanting “iron my shirts” in the middle of her speech. While she claims to be the victim of sexism, most of the animus toward her comes from people who simply dislike Hillary Clinton the individual.
The reason Hillary book sales are flatlining is simple: She’s boring. When politicians say offensive things, they get taken to task for it. Sometimes the criticism is deserved and sometimes the critics are overreacting.
Hillary is so cautiously afraid of ever saying or doing anything that offends anybody that she ends up saying nothing and inspiring nobody. She is a walking platitude covered in a coating of generalities with a dessert of banalities. She will not let people know who she really is or what she truly believes. George W. Bush pushed his chips to the center of the table.
Those who hated him or his message were free to go pound sand. It is better for people to hate what a politician stands for than for a politician to stand for nothing.
Hillary’s polls increase when she is out of the public eye and decrease when she promotes herself. The more people see of her, the less they like her.
The good news for Hillary on the failed book rollout front is that one month is a lifetime in politics. The presidential election is almost 30 months away.
The bad news is that Hillary’s biggest obstacle may be something she cannot control. Whatever she does, to paraphrase her, it might not make a difference.
This is not about her pluses or minuses. It comes down to mathematics that have little to nothing to do with her; it is difficult for the party in power to win three straight elections.
Most Americans are loyal to the America flag. If it is a close call, they are willing to give their current president a second term. This was the case with President George W. Bush in 2004 and President Barack Obama in 2012. Yet after eight years, even popular presidents leave the people fatigued. The desire for “change” is the natural ebb and flow of American politics.
A good example of this is the 2000 election. Liberals can scream to the heavens about hanging chads and stolen votes, and conservatives can point out that Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee.
The real issue is that Gore was delivered a gift, and he failed to accept it. With an economy that was slowing but still seen by many as strong, and with a world at peace, Gore should have won by 20 points.
People had Clinton fatigue, and Gore paid the price. Despite giving Clinton a decisive reelection victory in 1996, by 2000 even some Democrats effectively said, “enough is enough.”
This shows how effective President Ronald Reagan was. He was reelected in 1984 under the slogan “leadership that’s working.” It was “Morning in America.” He won by 20 points, and even a second term scandal failed to dent his personal likability.
Vice President George H.W. Bush was a decent man, but a weak and uninspiring nominee. The affection people had for Reagan was enough to get his vice president over the hump. Bush won by only eight points over an even weaker Michael Dukakis. That was less than half of Reagan’s 1984 victory margin.
People did turn away from the GOP and desire change, but Reagan left Bush enough cushion to survive. By 1992, the Reagan coalition had collapsed under the weight of a strong third party challenger and the difficulty of winning four straight elections, much less three.
Hillary can win. She brings formidable assets to the race, including tons of money, fiercely loyal supporters, and a globally known name. Yet winning three straight elections is difficult under ideal conditions for any party. Hillary will most likely have terrible circumstances. A stagnant economy and a world at war will make it difficult to justify giving Hillary Obama’s third term.
Hillary will try to carve out her own identity but will face the same problem as Gore. It is tough to run from the party in power. Reagan’s presidency was so successful that Bush did not seek daylight. Republicans still latch on to Reagan.
Obama is not popular. He has fiercely loyal supporters and detractors, but even people who like him personally have difficulty defending his policies. Hillary will try to straddle being for everything that worked and against everything that failed. Triangulation is now seen less as clever repositioning and more like craven opportunism.
Hillary does have negatives. She can come across as cold and unlikable. Her detractors see her as corrupt, Lady MacBeth without the ethics. Her scandals are numerous, and Benghazi is not going away. “What difference does it make?” will be with her forever.
She could get lucky and draw a terrible GOP opponent. Yet a party out of power for eight years tends to be more reasonable. The desire to “just win” trumps ideology. In general, Republicans choose mainstream nominees.
Hillary’s resume is light. Her State Department tenure was mediocre at best, lacking any significant accomplishment. Benghazi was a debacle.
Unexpected events often play a role. Obama benefited from a financial crisis two months before his first election and a hurricane one week before his sequel. If Hillary needs wild luck to win, she is in trouble.
Hillary can run, but the numbers are what they are. People have had enough of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and Hillary may pay the price. Far from making her unique, this normal cycle of politics is why she will probably lose if she runs.