Hillary Clinton is really boring. A terrible campaigner. An awful politician who will have a tough time against Donald Trump.
And that’s the assessment coming from her allies.
It’s a bit of political jujitsu, taking your candidate’s weaknesses and trying to spin them into strengths. It is also a classic case of lowering expectations.
Above all, it looks like a coordinated effort by Hillaryland to blunt criticism of the presumptive Democratic nominee who’s still having trouble beating a 74-year-old socialist in many of the primaries.
My own reporting indicates that Clinton has decided she’s never going to out-Trump Trump, she’s never going to be flashier, so she would rather run as the candidate of stability. The campaign believes that if she’s seen as a nerdy wonk with lengthy position papers, that’s not a bad contrast with a Republican accused by some in his own party of being thin on policy specifics.
I was thinking about Hillary and the media even before this latest spate of stories. On my show, I often look for good sound bites after she has done an interview—she doesn’t do that many–or given a speech, and there’s very little to work with. The same thing applies to finding a juicy quote or two for a column. (This is not exactly a problem with Trump.)
I’m not referring here to Clinton’s disciplined refusal to respond to Trump’s attacks. That may make sense from her point of view. It’s her plodding, cautious, bureaucratic style that often fails to break through. Her answers may be substantive, but to use a television term, she doesn’t pop.
Does this matter? Well, Trump has driven the news coverage surrounding this campaign from the day he got in the race. Clinton just doesn’t make that much news.
The Clinton camp’s view is that she gets plenty of good local press when she campaigns in such states as Kentucky, which votes today, and there’s little desire to compete with Trump in racking up segments on the cable networks—especially if those are about his relationships with women or not releasing his tax returns.
For many months, the imbalance in the national media could be explained away by the fact the Republican contest was a wild roller-coaster ride while Clinton was easily cruising to the Democratic nomination. But now that it’s essentially a general election—even though Bernie is still hanging around—Trump is still dominating the news.
Some of the Trump stories are obviously negative, as with the lengthy New York Times report saying he “crossed the line” with some women. (That story took a hit when the woman in the lead anecdote, Rowanne Brewer Lane, who dated Trump after he asked her to change to a swimsuit at a pool party, told “Fox & Friends” and others that her experience was positive and the paper unfairly spun her words.)
But even the critical stories give Trump a chance to counterpunch against the media (such as calling the Times report a “lame hit piece”), grabbing the available oxygen and denying it to his Democratic opponent. Clinton tends to make news more through her aides and surrogates than with her own words.
That’s why a Time magazine headline declares: “Hillary’s new plan to trump Trump—by being boring.”
She doesn’t want a “mud fight” with Trump, the piece says. “She’s a lousy politician, by her own admission…Americans like Hillary Clinton the nerdy technocrat. They do not like Hillary Clinton the candidate.” The magazine casts the race as “the great boor vs. the great bore.”
The Washington Post weighed in yesterday by quoting “more than a dozen Clinton allies” who identified her “weaknesses” against Trump, “including poor showings with young women, untrustworthiness, unlikability and a lackluster style on the stump.”
Advisers, the Post says, are trying “to soften her stiff public image by highlighting her compassion…She is scripted and thin-skinned, they say. And with a sigh, they acknowledge the persistent feeling among a lot of Americans that they just don’t like her.”
They just don’t like her. Well, the polls show that many voters don’t like Trump either. But those who do are passionate about the billionaire, just as Sanders supporters are passionate about their man. Clinton, despite her long experience, doesn’t come across as an inspirational figure.
Stories like these don’t appear in the press by accident. Those in Clinton’s orbit are trying to justify a soft-spoken strategy that, at the moment, is being drowned out by the high-decibel Trump. They want Hillary to be viewed as a reliable grandmother, not the calculating politician who is under investigation for using a private email server, and not as risky as the bombastic Trump.
But she still has to find a way to make news, on her own. The danger is that she’ll come to be viewed as a dull and conventional candidate in a year in which voters are rejecting politics as usual.