While perception grows that Hillary cannot be beaten, evidence grows that she cannot win. Scrutinizing her record closely, it is clear Clinton’s perceived strength is more popularity than political appeal. To avoid weaknesses, her 2016 strategy is to avoid a campaign as much as possible – and make victory seem like a foregone conclusion.
The latest evidence against Hillary being 2016’s heir apparent came from the most recent Quinnipiac poll (of 1,623 registered voters nationwide, MOE +/-2.4 percent, released 11/26) on the most prominent 2016 contenders.
In matchup after matchup, Hillary bested possible Republican nominees. Hillary beat Christie 43 to 42 percent. She beat Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Jeb Bush – each 46 to 41 percent. She beat Rep. Paul Ryan 46 to 42 percent. And she beat Senator Ted Cruz 48 to 37 percent. She beat them all, with the exception of Mitt Romney, whom she narrowly trailed 45 to 44 percent.
Yet the real keys in these hypothetical match-ups were her small margins of victory and that her total was well under 50 percent each time.
Such outcomes are amazing for someone with Clinton’s name recognition. Like a celebrity, she is known by face and first name-only: “Hillary” can only mean one person.
She was First Lady for eight years – arguably the most prominent ever. She won two Senate terms in one of the nation’s largest states. She was 2008’s presidential frontrunner. She was Secretary of State for four years in the current administration. And she is perpetually in the news – including a recent book and nationwide tour to prepare the way for 2016. She is more famous, and more often covered, than any living former president – including her husband.
In comparison, with the exception of Romney, her challengers have scarcely more exposure than Hillary did as First Lady of Arkansas, where she began her national rise.
Yet despite her head start, she cannot break 50 percent against far less well-known challengers. That shows two very important things. First, she is not as accepted by the public, as she is exposed to it. Second, her opponents’ support is largely a factor of opposition to her.
Hillary actually has few real accomplishments, except holding important jobs. Hers is a resume without results.
Hillary did not have them as First Lady – unless you include the spectacular, failed health care plan. She did not have them as Senator. And she did not have them as Secretary of State – arguably the area in which this administration is weakest.
Nor did Hillary have real accomplishments in her campaigns. She has run three and won two. That is not bad, until you consider the actual circumstances. The two races she won were in handpicked New York – one of the nation’s bluest states. Obama won his two presidential races there averaging 63 percent of the vote against national opponents; Hillary won hers averaging 61 percent against state opponents.
Her 2008 loss was to a then-unknown in the Democratic primary – her base.
With these results, why is she presumed so politically powerful, eight years after she lost her last race? And why should we expect her to reassemble Obama’s coalition – the one that rejected her then?
What Hillary has done since leaving the administration hardly beckons voters to her from across the political spectrum. She has earned big money in a short time. This first private sector experience in decades will hardly change conservative or moderate minds about her. As for liberals, a Democratic core constituency, this experience is repellant.
This raises the question any prospective candidate faces: Where is your support? For Hillary, her base is the Democrat establishment – and as 2008 proved, not even all of that.
Hillary is a polarizing figure. And still is. According to the Quinnipiac poll, her favorable to unfavorable score was 50 to 45 percent.
In reality, Hillary’s base is popularity, not people. It comes from continuous exposure, but that does not equate to votes.
Hillary’s real hope is to clear the field – both for the nomination and for the presidency. The strategy is to make her victory seem a foregone conclusion. Thus, she would avoid her past pitfalls in a contentious contest.
This will not be easy. America has not had a presumptive president-to-be since Eisenhower. And it is unclear if Ike himself could do it today, when White House races run well over a year with unremitting exposure.
Hillary’s task is far harder than most understand: It requires her to win without running.
J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a Congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.