We all know — and are still suffering for — the fact that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was defeated by an incumbent who had (and continues to have) abysmal approval ratings while presiding over an economy that is leaving millions of Americans living a nightmare rather than the American Dream.
Prior to the 2012 election, polls, reporters and pundits across the political spectrum pointed out how Barack Obama was vulnerable. That conversation, as true as it was, neglected the weaknesses of Mr. Romney, which were further magnified to the point of caricature by the Obama machine and its useful pawns in the “mainstream” media.
When it comes to 2016, it is becoming increasingly likely that we’ll see a mirror image of this play out to the benefit of the GOP.
Let’s go over some of the main weaknesses of candidate Romney as over-analyzed in the pre- and post-mortems of the 2012 election:
A version of each of these (with the possible exception of the third, depending on which other Democrats enter that party’s primary fray) is likely to have an analogue for Hillary Clinton, leading to 2016 playing out as a repeat of 2012 with, as strange as it might seem, the Democrat being portrayed as the out-of-touch barely-likable fat cat.
TOO RICH FOR MY BLOOD
While Mitt Romney was made fun of for his La Jolla, California mansion and its car elevator, Hillary Clinton is pounding the pavement giving quarter-million dollar speeches. Last March, she charged $300,000 for a speech at UCLA, making her $225,000 fee for a June appearance at UNLV seem like a bargain.
The University of Buffalo didn’t negotiate as well as UNLV, paying $275,000 for Clinton to speak in 2013. In case that wasn’t enough, the contract also provided that Hillary “will be the only person on stage during her remarks” and that if she requests it, the event sponsor must “pay for and provide a presidential glass panel teleprompter and a qualified operator.” The university was not permitted to record Hillary’s speech and any transcript was to be owned by her. And the sponsor agreed to spend another $1,000 for a stenographer (because who can get by on $274,000 for a 90 minutes of work?).
How many scholarships could be funded for what Mrs. Clinton takes from those schools or their donors? How’s that going to sell with the university crowd, students and employees alike, whom Barack Obama so relied on for his elections?
Earning millions of dollars a year for a handful of days of being pampered, flying in private jets, and uttering banal trivialities about life is unlikely to endear Mrs. Clinton to the “ordinary” American voter. Add her ridiculous woe-is-me comments about having left the White House “not only dead broke but in debt” and trying to find the money for “mortgages” (yes, that’s plural) make her seem even more disconnected from the difficult economic realities that millions of Americans face.
While husband Bill won’t be on the ballot, as the Nonprofit Quarterly points out, Hillary’s speech income is a pittance compared to the former president’s more than $100 million collected in speaking fees alone since 2001. And now even daughter Chelsea Clinton is earning big bucks just for showing up. The Clinton machine is a money machine, pure and simple. (Well, maybe not so pure.)
HARD TO KNOW AND HARD TO LIKE
Like Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton is an uninspiring campaigner. Her lack of personal warmth is even more remarkable for a woman; it’s hard to watch her without feeling a chill come over you, and her insincere cackle doesn’t help. (Such things may seem superficial, but “connection” with normal people is absolutely critical in presidential politics.)
In losing the 2008 nomination which Hillary Clinton must have felt was her inheritance if not her birthright, she said she thought she was “that bad,” to which Barack Obama responded, “You’re likeable enough, Hillary.” Except that Obama went on to prove, by his victory, that she wasn’t. There is no reason to think that’s changed in the ensuing years.
THE CHALLENGE POSED BY A TOUGH PRIMARY
In order to win the GOP primary, Mitt Romney moved hard and fast to the right. He probably had to but it served him poorly in the general election as he struggled to get back to the center without appearing to be a hypocrite or flip-flopper. He wasn’t tarred for his position changes as badly as John Kerry was in the memorable windsurfing ad, but he was never able to close the sale with the American people.
It remains to be seen whether a credible Democratic challenger to Hillary’s left will enter the primary race. While Elizabeth Warren is the darling of the “Progressive” wing of the party, it is unlikely she will run if Hillary does. Vermont’s socialist Senator Bernie Sanders who has made noises about running is not a strong enough candidate to make Hillary respond by moving leftward the way she would have to if Warren ran. Former Virginia Senator and Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb might be an interesting option for moderate Democrats but he would not force Hillary to move leftward the way Romney felt pushed to the right in 2012. Sadly, Webb is out of touch with the Democrats’ radical base and has no chance at the nomination. In short, this particular weakness of Mitt Romney — having to move to the fringe to win a primary — is the least likely to find its mirror image in Hillary’s 2016 efforts, but it is still worth watching for.
GAFFES AREN’T JUST FOR REPUBLICANS
Progressives live in a bubble in which they believe that Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments are the only sort of political rhetoric that turns off voters. They are, of course, wrong. American voters don’t like ignorant liberal comments any more than they like ignorant conservative comments (though they’re more likely to be fooled by the former).
So when Hillary claims (even though she later walked it back slightly) that corporations and businesses don’t create jobs, it doesn’t pass the giggle test, even for most liberals. But it’s no laughing matter for the millions of unemployed or underemployed Americans.
Despite the president’s abuse of data in claiming that he’s helped create 12 million jobs, the fact is that the number of Americans actually working is barely higher than at the beginning of the recession more than seven years ago and the percentage of the American labor force who are actually working or looking for work is hovering at an all-time low.
Few Americans have spent their entire careers self-employed and even those people know that businesses do create almost all jobs in America. (That’s not to say that all those businesses are large; small business is a bigger job creator than big business.)
Although it was in a different context, Hillary’s failed (both in terms of language and policy) “reset” with Russia will also continue to haunt her.
And perhaps the biggest gaffe of Hillary’s political career, one which, if there is any justice, will shadow her for the rest of her days, was her response to Senator Ron Johnson regarding the motivation of the people who murdered four Americans in Benghazi: “What difference at this point does it make?”
As with any political candidate, but especially those in the crucible of a presidential campaign, gaffes and misstatements can do great harm. When those errors relate to topics Americans care about as deeply as their jobs and the deaths of our soldiers and Foreign Service officers at the hands of radical Islamists, their impact will be that much more dramatic.
BOXED IN BY THEIR HISTORY
Mitt Romney’s arguments against Obamacare were, due to his own history of implementing state-run health insurance, too subtle and ineffective. He never found a way to criticize Obamacare that didn’t seem as if it would also be implicitly criticizing himself on an issue of great importance to the country, so he ended up barely going after the issue at all.
Hillary will have the same problem: Obamacare remains unpopular with Americans, but Hillary Clinton is known as the grandmother of socialized medicine in America, having tried (and spectacularly failed) to impose what was then called “Hillarycare” on to an unwilling public. The GOP won’t let the public forget this connection. Indeed, in Barack Obama’s June 2008 speech following his winning the Democratic nomination, he reinforced the point: “And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country — and we will win that fight — [Hillary Clinton] will be central to that victory.”
From Obamacare to Libya to Syria to Russia to “soak the rich” tax policies, Hillary will be in the untenable position of having to simultaneously praise and campaign against her unpopular predecessor. She’ll have to say, “Obamacare is a good idea, but…” And that’s a lose-lose proposition, with many moderates not agreeing with the first half and many liberals not agreeing with the caveat. Turning off swing voters and the base at the same time hardly seems like a winning strategy.
The foreign policy caveats will be even worse. Just how will Hillary talk her way out of the mess that is Libya? “We were right to topple Gaddafi, but…”? Much squirming awaits. More broadly, she will have to defend her time as Secretary of State during which she traveled nearly a million miles to accomplish approximately nothing except the weakening of the United States.
Romney had his “binders full of women” — because he went out of his way to hire women into important positions in his gubernatorial administration. The left pilloried him as somehow misogynist for forgetting the word “résumés.” Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, has a record of paying her female Senate employees less (an average of nearly $16,000 per year less) than she paid the men in her office even as she bemoans the mostly-mythical “gender pay gap.”
While Mitt Romney was boxed in by his past government service on one important issue, Hillary Clinton is boxed in on multiple sides by her recent and not-so-recent history.
IF IT SMELLS LIKE CORRUPTION
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the financial sleaze factor. Not just how much Hillary and her family make but how they make it and from whom. As discussed earlier, the perception problem for Romney wasn’t so much that he is rich but that he got rich by firing people and that being rich caused him to be out of touch with ordinary people. Hillary has those problems as well.
But Hillary’s situation is arguably much worse. It’s not just the huge fees for speeches; it’s not just being out of touch. Instead it is the issue of potential corruption, of selling access, of pay-to-play, which has always characterized the Clintons but which is reaching a new level now.
It’s one thing to give an overpriced speech at a college. But even the liberal Mother Jones magazine is calling out Hillary’s “speaking circuit payday” in which “she’s pocketing checks from corporate heavyweights—and raising questions about access and influence,” particularly from Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs (long a haven for Democratic power players).
That’s not all: The fees are often, perhaps always, funneled through the Clintons’ “charity,” the Clinton Foundation. (See for yourself in the University of Buffalo contract linked above.) Inquiring minds want to know: Just how does that work to protect the Clintons from income taxes? Harry Reid tried and failed to argue that Mitt Romney was a tax evader. The claim might have much more resonance when it comes to Hillary. How does Hillary herself get paid? Does she really think Americans will view those speaking fees as laudable Clinton philanthropy just because the checks aren’t made out to her personally?
But wait, there’s more: In the past week, we have learned that, as the Hill put it, “Countries including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman have collectively contributed millions to the Clinton Foundation, which has dropped a self-imposed ban on donations from foreign governments.”
The not-so-balanced folks at CNN imply that this story is little more than Republicans trying to give Hillary a campaign “headache”; they helpfully quote current Virginia governor and former Clinton fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe: “If the biggest attack on Hillary’s going to be that she raised too much money for her charity, okay, I’ll take that.”
No, Terry, that’s not going to be the biggest attack.
I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care, just what the Clinton Foundation or its affiliated Clinton Global Initiative claim to want to do for the world. What I wonder is whether the sultan of Oman believes that whatever his own charitable impulses are (of which I doubt there are many, but perhaps that’s just uncharitable of me) will be best achieved by funneling money through a slush fund an organization that has spent roughly $60 million in travel expenses since 2003 including over $8 million in 2013 alone.
The Clinton Foundation does not appear to be a paragon of fiduciary responsibility; those who donate to charities usually care a lot about the efficiency of the operation. The well-respected Charity Navigator rates non-profits based on “their Financial Health and their Accountability & Transparency.” In 2013, the Clinton Foundation was raised from two stars to three stars (out of a possible four.) But you won’t be surprised to learn that Charity Navigator no longer rates the Clinton Foundation due to its “atypical business model.” You don’t say…
So, the question remains: Just what do these Middle Eastern terrorist-funding billionaires and the comparatively low-budget hundred-millionaires at Goldman Sachs think they’re buying?
Contributions by foreign governments and plutocrats are a problem for Mrs. Clinton that, despite the hopes of Mr. McAuliffe, will not go away. They hurt her among all sectors of the electorate, including her party’s liberal base. Indeed, I suspect this will be the final nail in the coffin of Hillary Clinton’s political ambitions. It’s one thing for a presidential candidate to be rich. It’s another thing to be for sale.
For several reasons, Mitt Romney lost an election that many thought he could and should have won. It will be rather ironic when, four years later, and despite the inevitable lack of media curiosity when it comes to errors or malfeasance by a Democrat, we see those very same patrician weaknesses — amplified by an appearance of corruption far more credible than any of the spurious mud slung at Governor Romney — take down Hillary Rodham Clinton.
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