Hillary’s hard road

Politics is about compromise, but in this year of revolution many voters think Clinton herself is compromised

By Tony Keller, The Globe and Mail, July 28, 2016

The pat answer to why Hillary Clinton is not a shoo-in to become president, why she nearly lost her party’s nomination to some unknown old guy, and why her unfavourability rating is as stratospheric as Donald Trump is: She’s a woman. And people don’t like her personality.

If only it were so simple.

America’s legions of Hillary haters are a species that thrives in both blue and red states. Ms. Clinton has spent nearly two decades trying to become president, and she has to some extent aimed to be all things to all people. But a lot of those people have come to see her, fairly or not, as embodying all the things that enrage them.

The first and biggest group of Hillary haters: conservatives. The fault lines in the U.S. political landscape have grown into canyons, and most Republicans think Democrats are living in another country. For a solid core of at least a third of the electorate, there is no chance of them voting Democrat, no matter who is the leader. Just ask President Barack Obama, who tried to do deals across the aisle. Even if he surrendered, the other side wouldn’t accept.

If Jesus Christ himself were the Democratic nominee, the GOP would right now be questioning his parentage, demanding to see his birth certificate, calling him soft on crime, accusing him of turning the other cheek to America’s enemies, and mocking him as someone who only got the job because of his father. Millions of churchgoing conservatives would agree with that assessment, and vote likewise.

The other group of Hillary haters are Bernie’s diehards. Republicans say she’s a socialist. But for left-leaning Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders, the problem is that she isn’t much of a socialist. To them, she’s not the answer to what’s wrong with America. She is what’s wrong.

Way back in the 1970s, a young Ms. Clinton may have been on the left wing of the party.Unknown But experiences in the 1990s, such as her failure to pass universal health care – unfairly derided as Hillarycare – taught everyone in the Bill Clinton presidency a lesson: To keep power, and to pass legislation, they had to win over some soft-conservative voters. And to do that, they had to move the centre of the Democratic party to the right.

Her primary campaign suffered from that legacy. Time and again, she had to apologize for 1990s policies, like bank deregulation, or the tough-on-crime measures passed by her husband, which had an outsized impact on African-Americans.

During protests Tuesday night outside the Democratic National Convention, one Bernie die-hard was holding a sign that read: “A Vote For Hillary Is A Vote For Trump.” Mathematically speaking, this is nuts: Every vote for Ms. Clinton makes it less likely Mr. Trump will win. But many voters see Ms. Clinton’s record, and her exceptionally deep fundraising connections to Wall Street, as proof she’s on Team Oligarch.

And the revolution that has swept through both parties this season, destroying the traditional GOP and forcing Hillary to accommodate Bernie’s left-wing ideas, is a revolution against the establishment. There is no one more establishment than Ms. Clinton. She’s been around a long time, giving her an extremely long record to defend. She first entered the White House a year before Jean Chrétien was elected prime minister. Imagine if Aline Chrétien were about to become Canada’s next PM.

Does the fact that Ms. Clinton is a woman explain why Donald Trump has a big lead among men? Partly. But the Republican-Democrat gender gap has been there for years. And it cuts both ways: Mr. Trump trails badly with women.

To become president, Ms. Clinton doesn’t have to get all the Bernie diehards to join her. But she has to win over most of America’s left-leaning primary voters. At the same time, however, she needs some soft conservatives, especially blue-collar men, to back her, too.

That’s why Ms. Clinton named a conventional-looking white guy as her vice-presidential running mate rather than, say, Mr. Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Message: Not too much change. It’s also why Bill Clinton was sent out on Tuesday night to deliver the opposite message: that Hillary is “the best darn change-maker I have ever known.” To drive the point home, the audience was told to wave signs that said, “Change Maker.”