Here’s my bet. Hillary Clinton turns out to be a far better general election candidate than most people think. She’s struggled in the primary this year as she did in 2008. Fighting Republicans, though, is a whole different matter. Nobody has more experience.
The Clintons just aren’t very good at fending off attacks from their left. In 2008, Bill Clinton, who was once called our “first Black president” by Toni Morrison, was derided for making racially inappropriate comments when African-American leaders started to abandon his wife in South Carolina. This year, Hillary Clinton has failed to connect with the millennials who are driving Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
This fall will be different. African-Americans have rallied to her cause. While younger voters will still be important, Clinton can connect with middle-income, middle-aged white voters, particularly women, who make up swing voters. Barack Obama’s campaigns depended on a strong outpouring of the base. Clinton will win with a decisive victory of the middle.
Sanders supporters think that she will be the subject of withering attacks from Republicans. So what’s new? She’s been enduring and weathering those attacks for almost 25 years now. If anything, she’s better equipped to respond than any Democratic candidate in our lifetimes.
Besides, GOP attacks will fall flat. For one to work, it needs to be relevant to the voters, grounded in truth, and delivered by a credible messenger. Even if the GOP can find subjects that meet the first two criteria, they won’t find one that meets the third. Republicans have overplayed their hand in attacking Hillary to the point that they’re no longer believable.
Since Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Hillary has been an obsession of the right. They’ve accused her of everything from treason to murder. Any new charge that pops up in the last six months of the presidential campaign will be met with eye rolls from most voters. Clinton is the most vetted presidential candidate we’ve ever had. None of the charges against her have stuck and anything new that comes out will be met with skepticism, even if it’s true.
Clinton faces problems with trust but some of that will go away once she’s the nominee. I suspect her high disapproval rating is driven as much by resentment of the left as from the middle. Her unfavorable ratings started climbing after Sanders got into the race. Once he’s out, they’ll start coming back down as she solidifies the Democrats behind her.
Over the next six months, Clinton will become a formidable candidate. She’s more comfortable appealing to the middle than to the base. She’s not inspirational like Obama or ideological like Sanders. Her brand of politics appeals to a middle that is narrower today than it was when her husband ran, but is still a substantial part of the electorate. What she loses with the base, she’ll make up with moderates. And compared to Donald Trump, she will re-emerge in the general election as the stateswoman in the race.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >