Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ranting On...Hillary Clinton's Book Tour

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)
I promised last month that I wouldn't talk about the 2016 presidential campaign again until after the Midterms, unless something significant was happening in the race.  Thankfully (from a writer's perspective), there was a development that happened in that race this slow political news week (aside from Eric Cantor, the only other big piece of news is the questions around Thad Cochran's mental faculties-not to stereotype, but at 76, all of these comments about bestiality and not knowing that Eric Cantor lost beg the question of whether Cochran is mentally aware enough to hold major public office).  I haven't finished Hillary's new book yet, but I definitely have opinions on how her book tour is going.

Hillary Clinton is a personal hero of mine, but I'm objective enough to know when things are going badly, and if this book tour is a proxy kickoff to her 2016 presidential race, the only Democrat who should be happy about that is Joe Biden.  Coupled with the "dead broke" comment (she's married to a former president-there's no such thing as "dead broke" in that situation), this was the wrong time to lose your temper.  I get that Hillary (who was asked by Gross about her shifting views on gay marriage) feels a bit trapped on the gay marriage issue-she was forced to voice her support for it after almost every major Democrat in the country came out for gay marriage (claiming she couldn't because of her position as Secretary of State, but more likely because Joe Biden had already jumped the gun and her boss needed to be next), but the reality is that she did change her position on gay marriage late in the game.  I don't think anyone actually believed Hillary (or Obama, or Joe Biden, or any major Democrat running that year) didn't support gay marriage in 2008, but she only officially changed her position on that issue two years ago.  You need a better answer than righteous indignation when asked about gay marriage.

And really, Terry Gross?!?  You're not going to get a friendlier quality journalist for your cause from the left.  This is a woman that FOX News correspondents complain about, not Democratic presidential candidates.  You still have to get through someone truly unfriendly to your cause like Chris Wallace or someone particularly probing in their political interviewing like Dana Bash.   Terry Gross is hardly the hardest moderator you're going to get on the campaign trail, and gay marriage is one of the easier topics you're going to have to broach.  Imagine Wallace interviewing you about Benghazi or Bash taking you on regarding how your presidency would differ from Barack Obama.  These are tough questions when matched with tougher interviewers, and if you want to be president (and let's face it-you do...that much is clear from this book and this rollout), you're going to have to be ready for it.

Because at this point, I'm getting an eerily Fred Thompson-like vibe from your campaign and we both know that's not the case, or at least not a campaign you want to emulate.  The field is largely cleared for you, but not completely, and those last remaining guys in the race have the same sorts of energy that Barack Obama had in 2007, if not necessarily the same level of fame.  Martin O'Malley may seem a bit bland, but he has a resume as governor that reads like a progressive wet dream.  Brian Schweitzer is someone who is not afraid to court the disenfranchised left wings of the party.  And Joe Biden has something that you have always been accused of lacking-the personal touch.  You may be the frontrunner for 2016 in the primary, but that doesn't always translate into the person who actually wins, particularly for the Democrats (just ask Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas, Howard Dean, or, well, you).

This may sound harsh, but Hillary Clinton is not her husband nor Barack Obama nor certainly Joe Biden when it comes to connecting with average voters.  Secretary Clinton elicits admiration and deep respect from her audience, but she has never exhibited the warmth and connected nature with her constituents that someone like Bill Clinton has.  This is something that someone like, say Chris Christie is going to pounce upon and probably outdo you on on the campaign trail.  Christie is able to connect with your average voter in a way that, I would argue, Hillary Clinton does not.  Republicans taking a glance at this race are looking at a country that likes Sec. Clinton, an electoral map that greatly favors Sec. Clinton, and a primary electorate that is all but settled on her being their nominee.  Their best bet for 2016 is to make this race a referendum on her, and despite what Karl Rove thinks, that doesn't start with calling her old and sick.  It starts with calling her out-of-touch, because it's hard to believe someone who has had secret service protection for over twenty years still has the common touch.

This is also important because Hillary Clinton is far too cautious on the campaign trail, and that's what cost her the nomination in 2008.  She was too unwilling to make risks, too insulated in her circle of close Clinton confidantes, and unwilling to accept that the country would pick someone with far less experience and far shorter roots in the Democratic Party than she had.  She didn't champion her history-making race in the same way that President Obama did, she didn't make the emotional connections with voters that she needed to do.  Barack Obama has a number of faults as a candidate that the Clintons don't have, particularly that he is not as good at looking at the other important elections for the Party, focusing on all races and not just his own race, which is partially why we took such a shellacking in 2010, but note I said the Clintons there-Bill is much better and more willing to stump for candidates than Hillary is.  As Twitter and the 24-hour news media have made the country more about straight-ticket voting, being an advocate for your party is deeply important (and as we have seen in the past three years, unless you can win both houses and the presidency, it's difficult to get anything done in Washington).

Which brings me to what will be my final point (in this article, at least-Hillary's not going away and there will be lots more to discuss as a result), which is that, once this book tour has completed, it's time for Hillary Clinton to start campaigning again.  I'm not saying she needs to start running for the White House in August, but she needs to get out there and support Democratic candidates around the country in the way that Bill Clinton has the past couple of cycles.  Start out in friendly territory: I'm sure that Mark Udall, Gary Peters, or Mike Michaud would love a stop by Secretary Clinton.  And don't ignore the historical nature of a potential Clinton candidacy (by that I mean that the likes of Kay Hagan, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Mary Landrieu, Michelle Nunn, and Jeanne Shaheen should also be campaign stops).  And don't just go out and support people who endorsed you in 2008-make a point of choosing people who endorsed Obama in 2008; it will show that you've learned from your insulated behavior in the past and are willing to move forward for the party.  You'll be greeted with adoration, and more to the point, it will get your toes wet on the political scene.  Because if the Terry Gross interview is any indication, you're out of practice.  And that's not going to fly for a president.

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