With Super Tuesday over, Clinton is once again demonstrating her inability to dispatch a “lesser opponent.” That inability to “close” cost her 2008’s nomination and eight irretrievable years. This time it could cost the presidency and her reputation.
For this year’s nomination, Hillary Clinton faces the junior Senator from America’s second smallest state. He is a self-described socialist and would be America’s oldest president at inauguration — by over five years — if elected. If ever a profile existed for someone for the Democrats’ most famous politician to beat handily, Bernie Sanders would seem to have it.
Yet, even with Clinton’s numerous Tuesday wins, her troubling pattern of keeping her competition close continues. Clinton has won ten of fifteen contests, but in three of them — Iowa (+0.3%), Nevada (+5.3%), and Massachusetts (+1.4%) — she won by the barest of margins. In sports betting parlance, she would just be “8 and 7 against the spread” and anything but a safe bet. Far from closing Sanders out, Clinton appears set to bring him along over the entire primary campaign trail.
Not “closing out” a challenger is always dangerous. Just eight years ago, Obama taught Hillary that lesson.
Failing to do so in a presidential nomination fight at best saps a candidate for the general election. It uses up money, which there is never enough of in politics and which grows progressively harder to come by. It also raises doubts in your supporters — America may like underdogs, but we love winners.
Failure to close also extends the campaign, effectively doubling the time a candidate has to perform under pressure. That entails external risk, but it also requires a candidate to take more of them in order to win. Finally, it is hard to stay fresh and new. As Clinton is finding out, “fresh and new” are important campaign commodities — especially this year.
While successfully closing out an opponent is important to any campaign, it is particularly so for Clinton. Her public relations strategy has always been to create an air of invincibility and inevitability about her prospects — especially prior to the actual campaign. It is a singular accomplishment of her organization, because Clinton’s campaign reality has been the opposite.
In actual campaigning, Hillary Clinton has proved frail on the trail. In stark contrast to her husband, she is a poor campaigner. Whereas Bill Clinton thrived in chaos, Hillary needs to work from a script. And the longer a competitive campaign goes, the more it deviates from even the best of scripts.
In presidential politics, anything can happen to any campaign at any time. However, “things happen” to the Clintons like they do to no other political operation. Further, Hillary’s operation has a variable for volatility like no other — Bill. No other carries a figure of such stature or uncontrollable unpredictability.
And of course, when the Clintons are not acquiring new baggage, they are transporting the old — a moving van’s worth.
So if everyone needs to be able to close out an opponent, no one needs it like Hillary.
Making Clinton’s inability worse this year is that her conventional assets, which should aid in closing out Sanders, are 2016 liabilities.
Her long-held aces-in-the-hole are her establishment connections. This time those aces are deuces in 2016’s anti-establishment atmosphere. The more the establishment tries to help her, the more it risks driving away the rank-and-file Democrats she needs to win. This year their sentiments are against the very advantages on which Hillary is so dependent.
Her connections make her an insider; her privilege, an elitist. The favors she has banked over the years now look like quid pro quos. The dollar edge she has comes from the now out of favor wealthy and big business.
What appeared a 2008 aberration now threatens to become a pattern in 2016. If not for the nomination — where delegate distribution rules are stacked in her favor — then in the general election.
It seems Hillary Clinton increases an opponent’s viability simply because her own is so precarious. Sanders is just an effect, not the cause, of her problems. So even with the nomination, Clinton threatens to re-create the same dynamic against Republicans’ nominee.
For now, Sanders is in the enviable position of being able to run a respectable campaign by simply saying “No more Iraqs or Goldman Sachs.” From there, he can cast around for other issues to put him over the top in select states. Given time, and her track record, Hillary may even provide these issues herself.
Hillary is indeed on the threshold of history, but it may be the wrong kind. There is a special place in political hell for two-time losers. Not since Democrat Adlai Stevenson 60 years ago, has anyone lost twice at the national party level. And Stevenson won the nomination both times and lost to the shoo-in Eisenhower.
The hottest corner of such a hell surely will be reserved for candidates who twice squandered overwhelming front-runner status. And it is likely the loneliest too, because it is hard to think of anyone who has ever done it.
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