Published on January 7, 2008.
Hillary Clinton made one thing very clear at Saturday night’s Democratic debate: her likability tour is definitely over!
Baring her claws at opponents Barack Obama and John Edwards, the real Hillary was finally in evidence. The mask was off and her rage, arrogance, and sense of entitlement were on full display.
It was not a pretty picture.
From the first moment that she entered the stage, Hillary’s body language shrieked one thing – smoldering, simmering anger. The constant smile and the cackling laugh that have been her campaign trademark were suddenly gone. In their place was a furious, primal glare.
And it wasn’t just aimed at her opponents. She seemed to be angry at the voters, too. It was as though she wanted to scream at them and say: “Don’t you get it? I am the best possible choice for president! Trust me on this one! I know that I was meant to be the next president. But now, because some Iowans- from a state that means nothing – don’t understand what’s going on, I have to fight against these losers? I am the Senator from New York. I am the former First Lady. I’ve been to 80 countries. I am responsible for the Irish peace process. I could have stopped Rwanda. I will stop Iraq. I am the only one with the experience to get big that starts on Day One. What’s wrong with you people?”
Shrieking at John Edwards, she fell back on her “thirty-five” years of working for change, which, at this point has become the oratorical equivalent of Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.
For the first hour of the debate, Hillary almost seemed disoriented, and, to use one of her favorite words,”bewildered.”
She – and her advisers – just don’t get it. She – and they along with her – have never faced a serious opponent. So, they believed that she and their flawed strategy were all invincible. They thought that they could sell her as the inevitable, experienced Washington insider. There is no stupider message for a democratic candidate. The democrats are the party of insurgents, not incumbents. And yet these folks dressed her up in a costume that said “status-quo.”
It’s political consulting malpractice.
Relying on microtrends, they never noticed the looming macrotrends that were gathering to defeat her.
The big problem Hillary faces is that, like a car engine running on empty, she is now trying to wage a negative campaign without any real negatives to throw. Her attacks on Obama have all of the inflection and vitriol of a negative campaign, but none of the ammunition. She can’t get a handle on Obama and cannot bring him down. She simply doesn’t understand what’s going on. Like Lyndon Johnson in 1968, she’s in shell shock. And it shows.
Her attack on Obama for not covering everybody under health insurance fell flat when he countered that adults should be trusted to make their own decisions, but should certainly be required to cover their children. TouchÃ©.
Above all, she has not adjusted to the fact that an election that she believed was going to be about race and gender now turns on age. Her pollster and strategist – and her husband – apparently missed this entirely.
Now, with young people voting overwhelmingly for Obama, it is his freshness and likability that contrast so sharply with her harsh and brittle persona. His veracity shows up very well against her phoniness. It was certainly evident in the debate.
Yes, the likeability tour is over and the negative campaign has begun. But Hillary has no ammo.