In recent weeks, the conventional wisdom on Hillary Clinton seems to have shifted. Her White House bid has gone from being perceived as an inevitable juggernaut to decidedly shaky ground.
While this might seem surprising, a growing number of political insiders have suggested they saw this coming for a very simple reason: Clinton just isn’t very good at campaigning.
Clinton’s recent book tour was supposed to serve as a soft launch for a 2016 bid, but it quickly ran into obstacles. First, Clinton made a series of gaffes about her wealth. Then, last weekend, an interview with Clinton made headlines for her criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign-policy positions.
As a result, Clinton’s team, who declined to comment on this story, ended up on the defensive and issuing a statement assuring the public she and the president would end up “hugging it out.” After all this, Clinton’s poll numbers have taken a hit with a recent survey showing her slipping against her likely Republican rivals.
Several prominent observers have explained this by suggesting speaking off-the-cuff is Clinton’s Achilles’ heel. While no one can question Clinton’s vast experience, fluency with foreign-policy issues, and the history-making nature of her presidential aspirations, a lot of insiders clearly doubt she has solid skills on the campaign trail.
“Whatever HRC’s other merits, she never been a great candidate, and seems way out of practice now,” wrote former New York Times chief national correspondent Adam Nagourney on Twitter after Clinton’s aides promised the hug summit between her and the president.
National Journal Political Editor Josh Kraushaar echoed that assessment in a story on potential Democratic opponents for Clinton published last month.
“Clinton brings undeniable assets to the table — she’d be the first female president, the Clinton brand is still strong, her fundraising is unmatched — but her recent exposure on the book tour has demonstrated her political limitations as well,” Kraushaar wrote, adding, “She’s not a particularly good campaigner; she’s skilled at staying on message but tone-deaf to the way comments about her wealth could backfire among an economically anxious public.”
“I still predict Hillary won’t be the nominee. She’s an awful campaigner,” Gabriel tweeted in February.
Vox’s Ezra Klein has published a pair of pieces analysing Clinton’s slip-ups. In June, he called Clinton “rusty” and said her awkward comments about her personal fortune “occasioned a rapid reassessment of whether Clinton is really the fearsome campaigner so many assumed.”
“Clinton’s chances in 2016 are generally overhyped,” Klein concluded.
Back in June, Klein offered a ray of hope for Clinton supporters that was a rather backhanded compliment.
“Clinton’s string of highly public, vaguely embarrassing interviews speak to one of her real advantages: she can spend the next two years relearning how to run a national campaign,” wrote Klein.
On Tuesday, Klein published another assessment of Clinton’s tortured rollout. He declared her “not inevitable” and argued her trouble on the campaign trail might be because her views are out of step with the public.
“There is a pattern that has emerged in almost every recent interview Clinton has given: liberals walk away unnerved,” Klein wrote. “She bumbled through a discussion of gay marriage with Terry Gross. She’s dodged questions about the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s had a lot of trouble discussing income inequality.”
There’s a nightmare scenario for Clinton supporters lurking under the surface of these critiques of her campaign skills — the idea that 2016 would be a repeat of 2008. Right now, as a powerful front-runner, Clinton is in a similar position to the one she enjoyed heading into that race. Her slew of stumbles have raised the possibility she could end the race in the same position as 2008 — bested by an opponent who was more electrifying and better able to connect with the public on the campaign trail.
MSNBC producer John Flowers hinted at the possibility of this 2008 déjà vu in June when he tweeted about coverage of Hillary’s wealth gaffes. Flowers referenced the movie “Memento,” in which the protagonist suffered from amnesia, to express his surprise that people were shocked to see Clinton struggle on the campaign trail.
“Why do people go ‘Memento’ on the fact that Hillary is a terrible, miserable, never-once-very-good campaigner?” asked Flowers.
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