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Don’t count on America being ‘Ready for Hillary’

Her campaign’s tone-deaf slogan, ‘Ready for Hillary,’ provides the central clue as to what has gone wrong up until now

Dr. John C. Hulsman

Published: Updated:

While Donald Trump has shot across the summer political sky like a meteor, the other major story of the season has—at least internationally—largely gone unremarked upon: the surprising difficulties of Hillary Clinton. The odds-on favourite (again) for the presidency has run into a series of problems, from the self-inflicted wound of her email server scandal, to her regal disdain toward speaking with the press. While still the overwhelming frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination, the sense that Secretary Clinton would easily waltz into the White House has been upended.

Her campaign’s tone-deaf slogan, ‘Ready for Hillary,’ provides the central clue as to what has gone wrong up until now

Dr. John C. Hulsman

Her campaign’s tone-deaf slogan, ‘Ready for Hillary,’ provides the central clue as to what has gone wrong up until now. It conjures up feelings of entitlement (it is up to America to accept that Mrs. Clinton ought to be president), that it is her rightful turn to ascend to power, that just don’t sit well in the Republic of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In a presidential contest that began with yet another Bush and yet another Clinton as the frontrunners, the country seems dissatisfied with accepting it is merely another oligarchy. This yearning for change—a quality neither Secretary Clinton nor Governor Bush embodies in the least—explains the summer ascent of both Trump on the right, and avowed socialist Senator Bernie Sanders on the left. While neither will win, they are the first salvoes in the war to find a true, viable candidate who is not part of the old caste.

No electoral colossus

Secretary Clinton opens the door to such yearnings, for the simple fact remains she is just not that good at running for office. Despite her undoubted competence, ferocious work ethic, and mastery of the issues, Secretary Clinton is a pale shadow of her husband on the campaign trail, who along with Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt, was an electoral colossus of the twentieth century.

In contrast, Secretary Clinton is passionless, programmatic, and seems to look upon campaigning as a dutiful child looks upon eating vegetables: something that must be done, but not without any great joy. That innate lack of enthusiasm is infectious. Unlike former President Clinton, his wife is respected by many, but loved by a very few. That leaves her open to defeat.

Thirdly, with the never-ending scandal involving her use of a private email server while Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton has already made a big mistake, with significant political repercussions. While she is unlikely to face charges (as frankly she should) for mishandling classified documents on her personal server, the whole episode plays to America’s worst fears about her.

Yet again a Clinton has bent the rules, seeing them as for other, smaller, people. Yet again, Mrs. Clinton has tried to control the overall narrative about her dealings with the world, determining which emails are worthy of sharing with government investigators, and which are her private concern, an unedifying inversion of standard government practice. Worst, of all, yet again, a Clinton had blamed the rest of the world for a mistake that is clearly her fault alone. This plays into an unhealthy settled narrative about Secretary Clinton, bringing back memories of all that was bad about her husband’s presidency, without all that was good.

Political damage

While criminal damage is likely to be avoided, the political damage has already set in. A Quinnipiac survey of July 30 found that only 37% of Americans consider Mrs. Clinton honest and trustworthy, compared with 52% who think that of Jeb Bush. Fully 57% consider Mrs. Clinton downright untrustworthy. Her unfavourable ratings are now the worst they have been in her 23-plus years in national office.

This then is a vulnerable candidate. Given her formidable campaign war chest, and her vast organisational advantage, it remains the case that Hillary Clinton is the pre-eminent favourite to win the Democratic nomination, while stirring up limited enthusiasm in the more general electorate. The key political question remains as to whether she is capable of holding together the Obama coalition of students, White liberals, Hispanics, and African-Americans, which so recently revolutionised American politics.

Her joyless slog to the nomination suggests this will be harder than seemed the case. Will African-Americans, with President Obama off the ticket, vote for her in the overwhelming numbers needed to secure victory? Will students, traditional laggards at the polls, bother to vote for anyone at all, given the relative lack of enthusiasm Secretary Clinton fails to inspire? Will pivotal independents, who so often determine American political elections and who are turned off by her sense of entitlement, decide to support Mrs. Clinton? If the answer is no to any of these questions, Secretary Clinton is far less of a sure thing than she seemed at the start of the campaign.

The coupled rise of Donald Trump and relative fall of Hillary Clinton are bookends of the same American political phenomenon: American presidential politics is entering an unsettled time, where a volatile electorate seems to be desperately looking for new faces with new answers to the country’s ills. Perhaps beyond everything else, it is this yearning for change that is the biggest single obstacle standing in Secretary Clinton’s path to the White House. Whatever the case, don’t assume America is “Ready for Hillary.”

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Dr. John C. Hulsman is the President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), a successful global political risk consulting firm. An eminent foreign policy expert, John is the senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the city of London. Hulsman is a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of all or part of 11 books, Hulsman has also given 1490 interviews, written over 410 articles, prepared over 1270 briefings, and delivered more than 460 speeches on foreign policy around the world.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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