Hillary Clinton must be having déjà vu. As was the case in 2008, Clinton was presumed to be the Democratic nominee heading into this year’s election. Clinton was supposed to be unstoppable, and there was no one to point to as a potential challenger.
Barack Obama, then a young, little-known Senator from Illinois, came out of nowhere in 2008 and overcame Clinton by offering hope and change. Now, a 74-year-old Democratic socialist from Vermont, known as Bernie Sanders, is giving Clinton a fight she never anticipated. Once again, an unknown entity was able to go to the left of Clinton and challenge her status as the presumptive nominee.
However, there’s a reality that many liberals are afraid to face: Clinton is not the first-rate candidate she’s been made out to be.
The biggest problem facing Clinton this time around is that her campaign lacks a central theme. Every political candidate needs to have an elevator pitch for their candidacy. Donald Trump’s is “Make America Great Again,” and he presents himself as the only candidate that can get that done. Sanders’ is that the system is rigged, the middle class has been crushed by Wall Street’s greed, and we need a political revolution to change all of that. Marco Rubio’s is that the policies of old are clearly not working, and he’ll usher in a new American century to revitalize the American dream.
Still, I honestly can’t tell you what Clinton’s pitch is, because her message is all over the place. One day she is a “progressive who likes to get things done,” the next day her pitch is that she is the heir apparent to Obama. Some days, she says that Sanders is unrealistic and is only a one-issue candidate and, other times, she’ll make the case that she’s the only candidate qualified to be commander in chief. These are all fine arguments to make, but they lack a central theme to tie them all together.
Clinton needs to have a fervent message, especially when she has an authenticity problem according to a sizable portion of the American population. In 2015, Quinnipiac University surveyed potential voters’ opinions on Clinton, among other candidates. The results were troubling. 61 percent of responders said that Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, and the two words associated most frequently with Clinton were “liar” and “dishonest.”
I don’t necessarily agree with these characterizations, but it’s hard to see Clinton exceeding expectations in a general election when the majority of Americans deem her “dishonest.”
Additionally, this primary hasn’t forced Clinton to address her tenure as Secretary of State, which is bound to be her biggest liability in the general election. Clinton is campaigning in the primary that her experience is why she is ready to be commander in chief, but that is exactly what Republicans will point to in the general election to prove why she shouldn’t be president.
It’s easy. Clinton will say she has foreign policy experience, but Republicans will say the Middle East further devolved under her watch. Republicans will make the pitch that the “Obama-Clinton foreign policy” has made America fundamentally less safe and led to the appearance of ISIS. Clinton is campaigning on how great the Iran deal is, but Republicans will say it is a disaster and puts Iran on the path to a nuclear bomb. Without a doubt, Republicans will point to Benghazi and say that Clinton let four Americans die under her watch.
Once again, I don’t agree with the majority of those attacks. However, the election won’t be about how Democrats feel about Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. The most recent polls show the majority of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s foreign policy. So, it’s not going to be tough to make the case that America doesn’t need another four years of liberal foreign policy.
All of Clinton’s weaknesses further prove the point that she needs a rallying cry, a message that will cut through all of the Republican attacks. Her message needs to push her negative characteristics into the shadows and bring her most positive characteristics into the spotlight.
I’ll offer Clinton some unsolicited campaign advice. Her message needs to be “I’m a fighter. I fought for children in my time at the Children’s Defense Fund. I fought to get 9/11 first responders the health insurance they desperately needed. I fought to enhance women’s rights across the globe, and we need to end the boy’s club that is politics. When I’m elected into office, I’ll fight for you.”
To be fair, her latest message has been that “we’ll tear down all the barriers that stand in the way of Americans fulfilling their potential,” and it was incredibly effective at the last PBS debate. Clinton needs to hammer that message hard, and then she’ll become the formidable candidate we all expected her to be.