Clin­ton needs a do-over

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - JONAH GOLDBERG jgold­berg@la­times columnists.com

Al­most ex­actly two months af­ter Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s an­nounce­ment that she’s run­ning for pres­i­dent, she will give her first “of­fi­cial cam­paign an­nounce­ment speech,” on June 13, ac­cord­ing to her Twit­ter ac­count.

In other words, the Clin­ton cam­paign wants a do-over. Her ini­tial roll­out was the most dis­as­trous non­fa­tal pres­i­den­tial cam­paign de­but in mod­ern mem­ory.

Her ini­tial an­nounce­ment video in April — which most out­lets ac­cu­rately re­ported as her of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment — was well done. Af­ter that, ev­ery­thing went down­hill; a steady stream of news sto­ries and damn­ing al­le­ga­tions about her fam­ily foun­da­tion and ten­ure as sec­re­tary of State has dogged her al­most daily.

Her best mo­ment since an­nounc­ing was when she was cap­tured on grainy se­cu­rity video at an Ohio Chipo­tle fran­chise buy­ing a bur­rito bowl. ABC News and Mar­ketWatch dubbed it an “adventure.” Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin ex­plained that Clin­ton’s ex­cel­lent adventure was “fun” and “new.” “We’ve never seen her get a bur­rito be­fore.”

Put “Bur­rito day” in the win col­umn.

In the “loss” col­umn: plum­met­ing poll num­bers. In March she en­joyed a 15-per­cent­age-point lead over Jeb Bush, ac­cord­ing to a CNN poll. She had roughly sim­i­lar dou­ble-digit leads over Marco Ru­bio, Rand Paul and Scott Walker.

Those leads have nearly evap­o­rated. Bush, whose roll­out has also been less than stel­lar, now trails Clin­ton by 8 per­cent­age points, ac­cord­ing to CNN (but only 3, ac­cord­ing to an ABC/Wash­ing­ton Post poll). Walker and Ru­bio are 3 per­cent­age points be­hind her and Paul is 1, i.e. sta­tis­ti­cally tied.

Worse, the public is sour­ing on her, like a car­ton of milk left out in the sun. A ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans polled by CNN now view her un­fa­vor­ably (50% to 46%), her worst polling per­for­mance in 14 years. Fifty-seven per­cent be­lieve she is un­trust­wor­thy, and fewer than half (47%) said she cares about peo­ple like them. In 2008, her im­age took a beat­ing in her long and bruis­ing pri­mary fight with Barack Obama. Her im­age is worse to­day.

The Clin­ton cam­paign has now con­ve­niently em­braced a strat­egy that says none of this mat­ters very much.

Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haber­man re­port in the New York Times that the Clin­ton cam­paign has turned its back on a “na­tion­wide elec­toral strat­egy,” opt­ing in­stead to re­assem­ble the Obama coali­tion of 2008 and 2012. To do that, Clin­ton needs to run to the left and pick po­lar­iz­ing fights that gal­va­nize low-in­for­ma­tion and hard-to-mo­ti­vate vot­ers.

The days of try­ing to win swing vot­ers and in­de­pen­dents are ap­par­ently over. To­day it’s all about that base. “The high­est­premium voter in ’92 was a voter who would vote for one party some and for an­other party some,” James Carville, a long­time ad­vi­sor to the Clin­tons, told the New York Times. “Now the high­est-pre­mium voter is some­body with a high prob­a­bil­ity to vote for you and low prob­a­bil­ity to turn out. That’s the golden list. And that’s a hu­mon­gous change in ba­sic strate­gic doc­trine.”

Carville’s right that it is a big change in doc­trine, but it’s un­clear whether the doc­trine is right. So far the en­tire the­ory rests on the prece­dent of one can­di­date: Obama. “If she won,” Martin and Haber­man write, “it would sug­gest that the so-called Obama coali­tion of young, non­white and fe­male vot­ers is trans­fer­able to an­other Demo­crat.”

As I’ve been writ­ing for a while, I’m ex­tremely du­bi­ous. Here are four rea­sons. First, Obama didn’t re­ally run as a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure in 2008. He ran as a post-par­ti­san re­former who would end grid­lock and fix the fail­ures of the two-term in­cum­bent (as did Ge­orge W. Bush and Bill Clin­ton be­fore him).

Sec­ond, Obama was a very good politi­cian with­out much bag­gage (that the me­dia were will­ing to re­port on). Clin­ton is a medi­ocre politi­cian with moun­tain­ous bag­gage. Third, Obama’s coali­tion has never been trans­fer­able to any other cause or politi­cian, de­spite the pres­i­dent’s best ef­forts. And last, Clin­ton is run­ning to stay the course.

The Obama retreads around Clin­ton boast of their will­ing­ness to break with the prac­tices of the past. But it looks more like they can’t break out of their own Obama bub­ble.

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